Practice The Power Of Forgiveness
Practice The Power Of Forgiveness
In her article ‘Why I Have Forgiven The Man Who Hurt Me The Most’, Boonn Hem writes a powerful account of her life under her abusive father. She talks about how both her parents fled their poverty-stricken village in Battambang, Cambodia in order to escape the bloodthirsty regime of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot. That regime saw the deaths of millions of Cambodians at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and her parents were the lucky ones as they managed to flee to Thailand and from there to the USA.
But their difficulties didn’t end there. Her parents were thrust into an unfamiliar land where they had nothing and no one. Longing for her homeland caused her mother’s depression. The stress, the hardship, and the PTSD that both her parents suffered led to her father’s alcoholism. The constant verbal abuse he spewed completely destroyed Hem’s self-esteem and confidence resulting in her suffering from depression and anxiety and requiring many, many hours of therapy. Despite it all, Hem writes that she chose to extend forgiveness to her father.
While forgiving one’s abuser might seem like an impossible thing to do, it is actually a tenet of positive psychology and it doesn’t require the victim to grant them a blanket pardon for their sins. This forgiveness is to help the victim find peace in their own lives and it is not an easy thing to come by for them. It is even worse when your abuser is someone you loved and trusted because there is so much confusion, anger, and resentment to process along with all the pain.
Of course, these feelings are natural but that doesn’t mean they can help you. Feelings of resentment can affect the victim in many ways long after they’ve escaped the abuser. They might stay emotionally crippled and unable to trust even the best meaning of people who reach out to them. This is why this act is for the victim and not for the abuser. According to Dr. Bob Enright from Wisconsin University who was one of the pioneers in this field of study, forgiveness isn’t just the ability to let go and move on or about letting the abuser go free. It doesn’t mean that justice shouldn’t be done. Rather, it is about former victims trying to offer something positive like empathy to their abusers. It takes incredible strength and determination to get to this point.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology looked into the effects of stress and forgiveness on physical and mental health. Researchers surveyed 148 participants who were all young adults. The surveys looked into the stress they had experienced in their lives, their attitude towards forgiveness, and their health in terms of both their mind and body.
Those who have had to deal with a more stressful situation were not as healthy as the others. But surprisingly enough, the study also showed that those who were capable of offering forgiveness to everyone including their own selves were much healthier despite the levels of stress they had endured. It was almost as if forgiveness was capable of shielding that person from the worst consequences of prolonged periods of stress.
The truth is that forgiveness works to heal the person who is the forgiver. It is a conscious choice that a person must make and they must be absolutely willing to do so when they make it. It is part of the way we deal with pain and sorrow. Anger can be an extremely negative emotion, especially when it cuts right through the core of a person. Your body becomes stiff, worn out, and weak if you carry it with you for too long. In a study that dealt with the link between anger and cardiac issues, it was discovered that anger and hostility can increase the risk of contracting coronary heart disease. Using psychological interventions to manage anger was recommended.
As part of his work, Enright created a system for forgiveness therapy made up of twenty steps divided into four groups of five. It begins with exploring these emotions of resentment and anger and then making the choice to forgive. Next is the effort to understand the abuser’s mentality which ultimately leads to finding empathy for that person. It is effective but it is definitely not easy.
One simple technique a former victim can try is to acknowledge their abuse by writing about it and then burning that paper. You can write about your feelings in the form of a letter to your abuser. Let them know about all the pain they have caused you, tell them about the years of suffering, and don’t mince any words and if you are able to tell them that you forgive them at the end, do it. Then burn that letter down and let that action signify that you are no longer willing to let that anger and rage get the better of you.
In her article, Hem looks for the reasons behind her father’s behavior and she sees their root in the difficulties her parents faced when they fled a tumultuous country to come to a new land which they knew nothing about. Though it does not justify her father’s behavior, Hem makes the conscious choice to not let the past control her future. She acknowledges that she cannot change him and so she lets go so that she can live her own life, free of his burdens.