Three Secrets of Forgiveness

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Heather wiped her tear-streaked face with tissue.  Memories of her father, who abandoned her as a child, still tormented her emotionally, two decades later.  As she moved through her home, vacuuming the living room and cleaning the kitchen, the tears ran down her cheeks.   Her husband Dan came home from work and asked, “What’s wrong?”  “I can’t stop thinking about how much he hurt me,” she replied.  “It’s insane how angry and hurt I still feel.”  What Dan said next changed her thinking forever.  “I come home every day, love you, support you and the kids, and you spend all your time thinking about him,”  Dan said.

Heather learned one of the secrets of forgiveness.  Forgiveness makes us happier and healthier. When we focus so much on our personal injuries, we fail to enjoy and appreciate the love and goodness right in front of us.  Heather immediately started feeling better when she took to heart her husband’s words.  Her anger and hurt stopped her from fully enjoying the man who came home and loved her every day.  As soon as she started spending more time thinking about her husband’s kindness and goodness, her mood improved.  As she felt stronger emotionally, she moved forward and forgave her father.

Raul’s fierce face filled with rage when he spoke of the molest of his daughter Angela.  “She was only 8 years old and he took her innocence,” he said.  “How can you forgive the unforgivable?” he asked.  Ten years later Raul still raged when he talked about the event that changed the course of the life of his family.  “How does your anger help your daughter recover?”  I asked.  “I can’t forgive my friend who did this to her.  I will hate him forever,” he replied.  “How does hating him help your daughter?” I asked.  Raul paused, his face softened, “It doesn’t,”  he said.  “Could you forgive him if your daughter’s life depended on it?”  I asked.  Raul looked up, “Of course,”  he said.  “I’d do anything for her.”  Raul discovered how his anger hurt both he and his daughter, stunting their recovery.  He learned the second secret:  Forgiveness is a choice.  Choosing forgiveness allowed he and his daughter to enjoy each other without the shadow of the molester clouding every interaction with anger and hurt.  Forgiving his daughter’s molester does not mean condoning the horrible act.  It also does not mean he must reconcile with his friend.  Raul learned to forgive, not forget, so that he could love his daughter more fully.   Love filled up the space in his mind formerly taken up by anger and resentment.

William felt proud of his career accomplishments.  He won numerous awards, rapidly moving up the corporate ranks.  William fully expected his good evaluations and exceptional performance would win him a V.P. position.  Instead the Fortune 500 company laid off thousands of managers, including William.  Unable to find a comparable job over 2 years later, William felt resentful and scared.  “I gave them the best of me and they threw me out with the trash,” he said.  William gradually learned the third secret of forgiveness.  Give up expecting life to always go as planned. Something he really wanted did not happen.  When he stopped resenting that, he became more creative, and started his own company.

Forgiveness is not easy.  When we work on making our life better after an injury, it helps strengthen us and provide the courage to forgive.  According to Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, people who are more forgiving have fewer health problems, less stress and healthier hearts.  Success really is the best revenge.