Growing up I dealt with a lot of pain—from partners who betrayed me, parents who didn’t pay enough attention, criticism for being overweight, awkward and academically challenged. There were times when I felt my wounds would never heal. And holding on to those feelings of frustration, anger and sadness did nothing for me but prolong the pain. I stayed the victim, tied to my past. It was only when I started to practice forgiveness that I began to experience inner peace.
“People have accidents, make mistakes, behave selfishly and even intentionally try to hurt one another. We can’t escape it,” says clinical psychologist Ryan Howes. “Forgiveness is a vulnerable act that can feel like it opens us up to more pain. But we need to have a way to process and let go of the effects of injury, or we risk serious physical and emotional consequences.”
While we can’t control the behavior of others, we can choose how to react. Studies show that if we can learn to feel compassion and empathy for those who have harmed us, we will stop feeling angry and be able to move on. Forgiveness is scientifically proven not only to mend relationships, but also to improve your wellbeing.
So then, why can it be so hard to forgive? Ian Williamson at New Mexico Highlands University and Marti Gonzales at the University of Minnesota explored this question in a recent study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, and discovered techniques to work with rather than avoid the barriers to forgiveness. The key, they found, is finding how to forgive in a safe and genuine way.
Barriers to forgiveness include un-readiness, self-protection and “face” concerns. We’ve listed several ways to overcome these barriers, according to Williamson and Gonzales:
Many people spend a lot of time obsessing on how they were wronged, rather than looking at the situation in a larger context. If you can reframe your perspective to look at the big picture, you’ll begin to see the potential for change and in some cases, reconciliation.
It’s normal to be afraid of making yourself vulnerable. Forgiveness involves putting yourself out there with the risk of opening yourself up to further pain and hurt feelings. The self-protection barrier often applies to those who play the victim in their relationships. But if you can start to build your confidence and start to see yourself as more powerful in your relationships, you will not only be more likely to forgive, but also be able to cope with the outcome if it’s not a positive one.
This refers to the need “to save face” to protect our own ego and reputation. Being hurt by someone can damage our sense of self, which is why it’s important to spend time with good friends and family members who can help us cultivate a healthier, more positive view of ourselves. You will find it easier and safer to forgive.
My forgiveness journey was a long one. I had been living with my anger, frustration and sadness for too many years. It was time to for me to learn to forgive and let go.
Can you relate to any of these barriers to forgiveness? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!