On the one hand, we are taught that if we are wronged, we must seek retribution as this means we are standing up for ourselves. On the other hand, we are constantly bombarded by social and sometimes even religious and spiritual messaging that tells us that forgiveness is a good thing.
Where should you stand on the forgiveness spectrum? Should you forgive because it feels like the more righteous thing to do? Should you forgive because it makes us more pleasant to be around? Should you forgive because it is the short cut to avoid the pain and hurt we are experiencing?
Why is it important to forgive?
The most compelling argument for forgiveness is that holding onto anger, resentment, and sadness has a debilitating effect on your mental and physical health.
Several studies show that those who are angry have a higher inflammatory response. Higher levels of cortisol are observed in those with higher levels of anger, and chronic pain is more likely in those where anger is turned inwards onto the self. Research has even linked a higher likelihood of heart disease with those who are unable to forgive.
On an emotional level, holding onto anger and resentment does not allow you to be the best version of yourself. As long as you hold onto anger and hatred towards someone else, you are imprisoned and linked to the person whom you have this emotion for. It occupies tremendous mind space which can be freed up for more productive pursuits. You are defined by how you were wronged and victimized, and this is just too limiting a definition to choose for yourself.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not forgetting or condoning what happened to you. It is really not about not feeling anger and pain either. Forgiveness is not about the perpetrator either. Forgiveness is neither immediate nor is it easy.
Forgiveness is a process you engage in with yourself. Forgiveness is a choice you make. It is a process of being truthful to yourself about what happened to you and working through all the emotions it brings up. It is a process of acceptance and a choice to release the bitterness and free yourself from the shackles that holding onto the toxic emotions that bind you in. It is about giving yourself the permission to have a life that’s bigger than a single event or person’s wrongdoing.
How do you forgive?
There is no formula for this process. However, some tools that can help with forgiveness include accurately identifying and acknowledging you feel, trying to humanize the perpetrator and looking at him/her with empathy. This is not justifying their action, but rather understanding what made them who they are. Being committed to wanting a life that is larger than the wrong that happened to you. Forgiveness is releasing yourself from a mindset that is toxic only to yourself.
Ashika Mehta practices psychotherapy in Mumbai. She has completed her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Columbia University along with a BA in Psychology from Vassar College. Ashika also facilitates training programs for corporates and has conducted training for YPO and ASCENT.
Ashika has done intensive post-trauma work with those affected by the 26/11 terror attacks at the Breach Candy Hospital and facilitates therapy groups for those with chronic illness.
Ashika is passionate about working towards the prevention of the sex trafficking of at-risk women and children. As a Board Member of Apne Aap Women’s Collective, Ashika helps rehabilitate women in prostitution and creates educational and job opportunities for the children of sex workers.