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A Definition of Forgiveness

There isn't a definitive definition of forgiveness. But there are agreements about certain key ingredients. Forgiveness is:

  • Character strength.
  • A virtue.
  • A process: it happens slowly. It's a unique individual journey.
  • A process that helps you move from resentment to inner-reconciliation.
  • Proven to liberate you from anger, resentment, fear and vengeful thoughts.
  • Not about making a right out of a wrong. It isn't about "forgetting."
  • A choice, a proactive choice.

A very simple definition of forgiveness could be this: Forgiveness is pardoning yourself or another from an offense. Forgiveness is healing the wounds inflicted by harm.

A more complex definition of forgiveness, but not definitive, is this: forgiveness is a series of proactive changes a person consciously makes. These changes help a person heal from the pain caused by the other person they are in relationship with. The act of forgiveness leads the person who forgives towards experiencing more positive feelings instead of negative feelings. It changes thoughts, emotions and ultimately behavior towards the person who caused harmed. It increases positive feelings in the life of the person who was harmed.

Forgiveness is a value and a virtue. It is also a form of mercy. Historically, it comes from the traditions of major religions; however, you don't have to be religious to benefit from the importance of forgiveness.

Each major religious tradition
has a definition of forgiveness

In Judaism, forgiveness and repentance go together. When the individual who causes harm, the transgressor, demonstrates remorse the person he hurt "is morally required to forgive".

In Christianity, forgiveness doesn't rely on a repenting transgressor. A person can forgive without the transgressing person showing remorse. However, reconciliation, too, is a component of the forgiveness process. Reconciliation is the healing of a "broken relationship". In order for the relationship to heal, to be reconciled, the person needs to forgive.

In Islam, like Christianity, forgiveness doesn't rely on the transgressor's repentance. The act of forgiveness is a foundational tenet and vital in two ways. It enables a person to receive forgiveness from Allah for their own sins and to live a happy life. Interestingly, Islam permits revenge only when it is equal to the harm caused by the transgressor. Taking the higher road of forgiveness is seen as the better choice. Why? It's likely not possible to achieve a balance of being "equal in harm". Consequently, you may offend Allah.

In Buddhism, the concept of forgiveness doesn't exist like it does in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Forbearance and compassion are two concepts that come close. In fact, they are central to Buddhist view. These two virtues arise from the central Buddhist tenet of easing suffering. Similar to Christianity and Islam, the acts of forbearance and compassion towards a person who caused harm occur regardless of the their repentance.

In Hinduism, forgiveness is given when a transgressor demonstrates remorse and repents. In order for a broken relationship to be fully restored, repentance and forgiveness are vital.

In the end, whether or not the historical information above is a part of your spirituality, the act of forgiving someone who has caused you harm, and even self-forgiveness, are powerful ways to heal. And a path to an empowered heart.

The definition of forgiveness is quite simple to read but the steps to forgiveness are complex. It takes great effort.

Find more to help you forgive

The effort is worth making. The steps are worth taking. The power of forgiveness empowers you to live a life of less stress. And it improves relationship: relationship to yourself and to others. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself as an act of self-love for your health and wellbeing. Forgiveness helps you let go, move on and live again.

As you have read in each definition of forgiveness, forgiveness is both an empowering concept and complex subject. My hope is to share with you useful, beginning information as well as stress relief tips that may useful on your healing journey. If you find you need help, do reach out and ask for a hand from a loved one, spiritual advisor and/or integrative health professional. You're worth it.

And stress relief techniques for pain and stress reduction . . .

Here are links to pages that may be useful steps in forgiving for you:

Forgiveness exercises
Forgiveness letter
Prayer for forgiveness
Importance of forgiveness

Source: Character Strengths and Virtues: A handbook and classification by Christopher Peterson and Martin E.P. Seligman

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