What exactly is forgiveness? Forgiveness entails not feeling angry towards someone who offended you. That is hard, isn’t it? It would be especially difficult to forgive someone if the pain is deeply rooted and complicated by various factors such as friendships, beliefs, and death. You know that you have truly forgiven someone if the thought of the offense does not engender hostile feelings.
When you forgive someone, it does not necessarily mean that you become close friends with the offender. In addition, you do not make excuses for the wrong doings nor forget the transgression. Forgiveness is essentially defined as replacing the bitterness with more peaceful thoughts and emotions.
The Four Stages of Forgiveness
According to the Enright model, forgiveness generally goes through the following four phases (Enright, 2001).
- Uncovering Phase: This involves the awareness of the nature and consequence of the offense. A number of questions characterize the initial stage as you try to make sense of the situation. The uncovering phase covers the confrontations and realizations of your pain as well as the perceived unfairness’ impact on your life.
- Decision Phase: This stage is when you commit to forgive based on the insights you have gained from the uncovering phase. You are in this phase if you find the willingness to begin to let go of your grudge.
- Work Phase: After deciding to let serenity take control, thoughts need to be reframed which leads to a more positive affect. This happens when you learn to separate the deed from the doer and see the offender in a more favorable perspective. This process could take much time as it encompasses mature understanding.
- Deepening Phase: Finally, full forgiveness transpires as you have a more meaningful acceptance of your suffering. This leads to a more active cultivation of pleasant emotions that many even help you find a different life purpose. In some instances, people who are in this stage feel the need to seek forgiveness from other individuals as well as the offender.
Why should you forgive unconditionally?
Some individuals are innately forgiving while others need much more time and effort to forgive both those who have wronged them as well as themselves. An interesting study pointed out that people who let go of hatred tend to live longer (Toussaint, Owen, & Cheadle, 2012). The research, which was led by Toussaint, analyzed data from 1500 adults. The paper, “Forgive to Live”, specifically linked conditional forgiveness with mortality. Those who admitted to a high level of only forgiving others based on certain terms such as a promise not to repeat the offense had higher mortality rates.
The researchers furthered that someone who usually engages in conditional forgiveness is more likely to have a chip on his shoulder. Giving sanctuary to negative thoughts and feelings, whether consciously or unconsciously, may medically compromise the heart. The inability to overcome grudges results to higher stress levels that have been popularly associated with diseases. The monumental benefit of forgiving unconditionally is that your progress does not depend on others’ efforts. Hence, you have more autonomy to navigate your personal healing.
- Enright, R. (2001). Forgiveness is a Choice. Washington: APA.
- Toussaint, L. L., Owen, A. D., & Cheadle, A. (2012). Forgive to live: Forgiveness, health, and longevity. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 35(4), 375-386. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9362-4