Opinion: Learning to forgive has long-term health benefits

Tiffany Soe

Elementary school was where the forgiveness started. It was when I began to learn sympathy and empathy. It was when I began to recognize when they were wrong and when to apologize. It was when I learned how to respond to those who hurt them with “I forgive you.”

In middle school, kids turned into teenagers, and simple problems turned into complicated ones. I learned how to lie better and learned to recognize who the “fake” ones were. It was like friend group versus friend group. The spread of rumors and lies were never-ending. And saying “I forgive you” became an overly-used phrase that had no meaning because no one had really meant it. No one had really meant to forgive others when the hate continued between the two groups because the damage had already been done. Both sides were hurt, and I knew that forgiveness couldn’t really be achieved because of the continuous hate and lies. It became a complicated mess where the lines of forgiveness began to blur. 

Did I really just forgive them for what they had done? Do I simply say, “I forgive you” and have it all be over? Will I ever stop hating them for their actions?

They say that time heals, but how the time is used depends on whether or not it will heal the damage that has been done, because like Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.” Ultimately, it is up to the person how they want to go about things: to move forward or hold a grudge against others forever.

It was when I entered high school that I realized the concept of forgiveness was often overlooked, or perhaps swept under the rug. It’s not a concept necessarily foreign to others, but the meaning of saying “I forgive you” has been lost.

People have been taught either one of two things: to forgive and forget or to use the term “I forgive you” as a reaction when not knowing how to properly respond to the situation. However, to forgive and forget is actually contradicting. According to Berkeley.edu, they say that forgiveness and forgetting don’t mean the same, nor is it excusing the wrongdoings. It’s releasing the unhealthy tension and resentment towards an individual or a group of people and the acceptance of what had happened. 

The misunderstanding of the value of forgiveness can create havoc, or become detrimental to one’s mental being over time due to the hate and anger within oneself.

Johns Hopkins Medicine states that “people who hang on to grudges, however, are more likely to experience severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other health conditions.” 

In contrast, people who do truly forgive “tend to be more satisfied with their lives and to have less depression, anxiety, stress, anger and hostility.”

With this in mind, I feel that “I forgive you” became loosely used after people began using the phrase as a reaction to situations, which meant that people were saying it to avoid confronting the issue because of the stress factor that goes along with confrontation or because they weren’t willing to put enough effort into doing the act of forgiveness. By continuing to loosely use the term, people won’t be able to gain closure from the incident, leaving them at a loss.

Forgiveness is a learning process. While there are instances where people shouldn’t be forgiven, such as serial killers who don’t feel remorse, continuing to hold onto the anger will only cause a lifetime of unhappiness for both ends. It’s not easy to forgive people immediately, but it’s important to accept what has happened, to free the internal bitterness, and to learn from the experience.

Knowing how to properly forgive can produce lifelong health benefits. With practice, we’re able to realize that forgiveness is one of the key components to finding happiness in life. Psychology Today says that continuing to cling onto anger “often leaks out against others who’ve committed no crime against us, as well as colors all our experiences, often ruining our ability to feel joy in many aspects of life.” Not being able to truly forgive can block the joys of life because of that anger.

When we forgive others for wrongdoing, it takes away the unnecessary anger and grudge against other people, and in return allows us to lift a weight off our chests and gain closure with others and within ourselves.