Human behavior suggests that people are hardwired to retaliate when they have been hurt by another person. Our pride or self-esteem is injured. Our expectations or dreams are disappointed. We lose something very valuable to us and want recompense for the damages.

But there are other resistances which block our motivation to forgive. Automatic thoughts or beliefs impede us from forgiving others. We tell ourselves, “I won’t forgive because he/she never accepts responsibility for what he/she does,” or “I would be a hypocrite if I forgave because I do not feel like forgiving” or “Forgiving is only for weak people.”

Explanations for behavior can also get in the way. When someone hurts us or lets us down we tend to assign internal causes for behavior to others. We argue that it is based on personality or character traits. We tell ourselves, “He’s just so forgetful or careless,” or “She doesn’t appreciate me,” or “She did that purposefully.” We judge them harshly.

Forgiveness has a huge impact on our own health and emotional wellbeing.

But when we do something wrong or hurtful/disappointing we tend to excuse our own behavior by attributing external causes. In those cases we say, “My child made a mess,” or “There was a car accident on the highway.” We tend to let ourselves off the hook and give ourselves permission to fail.

This is what psychologists call the “Fundamental Attribution Error.” We assign total responsibility or blame to others for their behavior while explaining away our own negative actions in terms of situational factors. In other words, it’s not our fault because…. It’s important to note that understanding and accepting the error in behavior does not relieve the offending person of moral responsibility. Forgiving someone does not cancel out the consequences of their actions.

Lack of empathy for others can also get in the way of our ability to forgive, since empathy is the psychological highway to forgive others. We can develop empathy for others by beginning to change our way of thinking. It is impossible to fully know why a person acted the way that they did. The goal is to promote empathy and forgiveness, and look more realistically at the hurtful events from their point of view. This involves thinking the best of people rather than jumping to harsh conclusions about their character or intentions. Think of a time when you have needed forgiveness.

Don’t let resentment imprison you for life, it will destroy you and your other relationships.

When have you been able to have empathy for someone who has hurt you? Ask yourself, “Do I want things bitter or better?” Forgiveness has a huge impact on our own health and emotional wellbeing. The act of forgiving another is less about the other person as it is about our own hearts. Forgiveness is also for our benefit, but so often things get in the way.

Don’t let resentment imprison you for life, it will destroy you and your other relationships. Lewis Smedes wrote: “To forgive is to set the prisoner free…and to discover that the prisoner was you.”

Letting go of your hurts is often not an overnight experience. It takes time, but as you work toward it you’ll find that it is worth the effort.

The ability to forgive is rooted in being forgiven ourselves. Counselors point out that people who have been hurt often hurt others. None of us are flawless. As human beings we have a tendency to mistreat one another. None of us have led perfect lives or never needed to be forgiven for something we said or did. We all make mistakes.

In the Bible it says that God loves the world so much that he sent his only son so that we could be forgiven (John 3:16). During his time on this earth, Jesus felt immense pain, rejection, and humiliation, but with his last words before he died, He asked God to forgive the people who were killing him. Then Jesus, the only sinless person to have ever lived, died on a cross to pay the penalty for all of humankind’s sin. This made it possible for anyone to be forgiven by God and reconciled to their creator.

Forgiving others is so much easier when you’ve experienced the joy of being forgiven by God for every wrong thing you’ve ever done. With his help, you can forgive others, even if the scars run really deep. It may take time and effort, but it will be worth it.

If you’ve never experienced God’s forgiveness, here’s how you can today.

This article was written by: Lynette Hoy, NCC, LCPC

Photo Credit: Xavier Sotomeyer