By Anita Manley
I have learned a great deal about forgiveness over the years. Having struggled with a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my adult life, I have learned how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness. I’ve had to do a lot of both.
Learning to forgive others, no matter how long it takes, is very hard work. Soul-wrenching work. Asking for forgiveness is also a challenge, but the work of forgiveness does not lie in my hands in this situation. I can only try to show that I truly am sorry and be there for them when and if they are ready to forgive me and hopefully welcome me back into their lives.
I have learned that really, forgiveness is not about the other person who betrayed you, or abandoned you, or lied to you or did you harm, it is about YOU. It is about YOU learning to let go of the hurt, anger and seething pain.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. *
I have found that talking with friends, or a counsellor, or writing endlessly in my journal – are things that have helped me to sort through my thoughts, given me solace… and perhaps I even found answers to why I was so hurt and angry. I learned to have compassion for myself. I have learned to forgive myself, which was probably one of the hardest things to do. To forgive myself for not being there for my daughters (due to my mental illness), when they so desperately needed me. To forgive myself for not living up to my standards of being a good mom. To forgive myself for unintentionally abandoning my daughters while they were teenagers. As you can imagine, this was very soul-searching work.
I also had to forgive all those people in my life who turned their backs on me while I was in the throes of psychosis, because they could not cope with my behaviour. This was easier to forgive, as I felt incredibly guilty and embarrassed by my own behaviour while ill. I found that once I was able to let go of the guilt, anger and shame; there was room for more joy in my life. I felt less depressed and there was room for healthier relationships.
Asking for forgiveness, was something even more challenging for me to do, since all I could really do was wait, and wait and wait for the people whom I unwittingly damaged, to do the hard work of forgiving me. I learned to be patient. I am still, to this day, working hard at building more trusting relationships with both of my daughters. My mental illness caused them so much pain, but both are working together with me to try to build, new, stronger relationships.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone? **
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
• Healthier relationships
• Improved mental health
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• A stronger immune system
• Improved heart health
• Improved self-esteem
So, do the hard work of forgiving someone in your life, for your own health and wellness. It doesn’t mean you have to welcome them into your life again, but let go of the anger, hate and resentment. If not, it will only harm you more than the person you are angry with.
Forgiveness is freedom!
** The Mayo Clinic