On Valentine’s Day, we have a tradition of saying “I love you.”
But do we ever have a responsibility to say “I forgive you?”
Experts in the study of forgiveness say we do, and that the act of forgiving is a skill we can all learn.
“You can set up classes and teach people to forgive in the same way you can set up classes to teach people how to play the piano,” says Dr. Fred Luskin, director of Stanford University’s Forgiveness Projects.
Though rehabbing the heart is a deeply soul-searching journey. Learning forgiveness includes learning stress management to deal with negative and resentful feelings. It can also mean learning to let go of the idea that you are "the center of the universe." In other words, says Dr. Luskin, no more Why me? How dare they? What were they thinking?
"One of the chief things that one learns is you have limited influence on people who have hurt you and much more influence on yourself," states Dr. Luskin. “You have to ask yourself what kind of person do you want to be. Do you want to take your wounds and become like a nasty bitter person? Or do you want to take your wounds and become something else with it?”
For many people, forgiveness is an admirable virtue, but a difficult goal. Experts caution against compulsory forgiveness, noting that thinking about forgiving someone shouldn’t have a predetermined outcome.
If you cannot forgive for the sake of the person who hurt you, you might consider doing it for yourself. The very act of forgiving has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve heart function, and reduce stress, anger, and depression.
“We have a responsibility to our physical health and our emotional well-being, as well as the health of our current relationships,” Dr. Luskin told us. “And practicing forgiveness makes a proven and positive contribution to each.”
Share your experience with us. Is there someone in your life you haven’t forgiven? Why not? If you did forgive someone who hurt you, how did you make the decision to do so?