Forgiveness and Mental Health

By Eyob B. Kassa

Is there a connection or association between forgiveness and mental health? The answer to this question depends on how you define forgiveness and mental heath. Traditionally, forgiveness is more associated and defined from a religious point of view. Of course, how we define forgiveness is basically depending on the context. However, forgiveness whether in its religious or spiritual context, has a profound and life transforming power on both the victim and offender.

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not denying or minimizing the hurt. Forgiveness is not necessarily forgetting, because deep hurts cannot be forgotten so easily. So, what is forgiveness then? Forgiveness is a deliberate choice or decision that is based on self-awareness to the extent that our capacity to forgive is totally based on our broken nature and need of deeper healing. In simple terms, forgiveness is an act of caring for yourself, because no matter how much you hurt, if you still hold someone’s “sin” you are still hooked to that person and situation. And that is not a wise thing to do. Often times we are struggling with the concept of forgiveness because we know and feel that what has been done is wrong and justice is not served. I think that is true. What has been done is wrong and justice has not been done. However, there is no right time to forgive unless you do it for yourself. You cannot change what has happened, but you can change how you think and free yourself from that person’s hook. One of the key misconceptions we all are making is that forgiving someone means about them. No! Forgiveness is not about the other person; it is about you! Forgiveness is a choice, a conscious decision of your will. By failing to forgive you are punishing yourself not others.

Your health is depend on your choice to forgive

Unforgiveness has a profound effect on your health. The bitterness, anger, frustration, disappointment, etc., all that emotional and psychological baggage that accompanies unforgivenss leads to physical as well as mental illness. Forgiveness liberates your soul, mind and body. When you are unable to forgive, your anxiety and stress level increasing, your heart starts beating faster, your body starts shaking, your muscle tension double, the blood flow to your heart is constricted, your digestion is impaired, you start developing hopelessness, helplessness, low self-esteem, as the result life and anything in life will have no meaning, no value and no purpose to you. In general, unforgiveness has a huge amount of impact on your physiological, psychological, behavioral, and social paths.

How to forgive?

First of all, forgiveness is a process. Though it depends on the severity of the hurt, forgiveness is a process that takes time. Secondly, forgiveness requires both our willingness to work through and effort to move forward with hope. Sometimes we say, “He/she doesn’t deserve it. Because I am the one who got rapped, molested, intimidated, beaten, abused, rejected, etc.” The list goes on and on. I don’t think no one deserve forgiveness after such atrocity. But it is not about who deserve what, it is about YOU! What YOU deserve!
Something bad happened to you, something that you didn’t allow or won’t to be happen. But, you have a choice not to be controlled by what happened in the past. There is a way, there is a hope to live and move forward from the past. But that depend on your willingness to work through, change your perception and develop a new attitude about life and the life ahead of you.

How can you reach to that state of forgiveness?

1. Acknowledge: Don’t minimize or ignore what happened. Forgiveness is not about denying, it is about acknowledging and the ability not to hold on to the hurt. Forgiving someone does not mean forgetting of what happened. Rather, it means letting go of your hurt and anger, and not making someone endlessly responsible for your emotional well-being.
2. Accept: You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge and you cannot change what has already happen. Forgiveness is not about what happened (I am not minimizing the reality here) but it is about now and the future. Don’t waste your energy focusing on the past while you still have a chance to move forward to the bright future. Instead of mentally and physically replaying your hurt, try to seek out new ways to get what you want.
3. Act: Acknowledging the fact and accepting what has happened is not enough unless you are willingly and boldly act on what must to be done to move forward. Part of this process requires your action to forgive the person. Remember, forgiveness is not about the other person; it is about you. So, do it for yourself. Be the change you want to see in yourself.
4. Activate: When you have so much pain and hurt in your soul, your mind is filled with a tremendous amount of negative thoughts. As the result you are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and pain. However, there are effective ways to activate and renew your way of thinking positively. The process of activating constructive and positive thoughts starts by recognizing or identifying every negative assumptions and twisted thoughts that you have in your mind. How you can do this? Well, there are lots of ways to cultivate such a constructive thinking. Some of them are talk therapy, prayer, positive associations, and so on.
5. Aspire to the greater joy: The process from victim to victor is a journey. It can be long and it can be challenging, but it is not impossible. Step by step, day by day and year after year, over the process of time you will overcome and healed from all your past. However, moving away from your part as a victim to victory is in your hand. Don’t let the other person control your life by choosing not letting go. Aspire to a better future. When you’re holding onto something, you’re less open to give or receive. So, you need to let go of the past, so you can have a future.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])