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How Learning to Forgive Can Improve Your Mental Health

Bill Howatt Bill Howatt
Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity, Organizational Performance

This op-ed was originally published in the The Globe and Mail on November 29, 2018.

As December approaches, you get an intense pang of discomfort that runs from head to toe. December means the holiday season is close, and for you this time of year is a reminder of a terrible conflict you had with a cousin that resulted in losing a large investment because you trusted your cousin. Losing the money hurts, but what hurts the most are all the lies, how the situation went down and how your cousin showed no remorse nor took any responsibility for your loss.

You start dreading the big family gathering on Boxing Day, because you know your cousin will be there. You plan to attend because you love your parents and wouldn’t want to disappoint them, and you enjoy seeing other family members.

Because you lose sleep every December anticipating the Boxing Day event and spend hours reliving the financial wrongdoing, for four years you haven’t been able to relax and enjoy the holidays. You know it’s not logical, but you simply don’t enjoy the holiday season. You dread it.

No one except your sister knows how you feel and how hard it is for you to be near your cousin. Nothing she can say helps, so she has defaulted to coaching you each year when you cross paths with your cousin to just smile, say hello, keep it light, and quickly move on to enjoy the rest of the family.

This micro skill focuses on how forgiveness can benefit our mental health.

Awareness

Forgiveness is an intentional and voluntary decision to focus on changing our feelings, thinking and attitude about a real or perceived wrongdoing. Some are offences that any observer would agree are not acceptable; others can be more subjective. We each have our own scorecard.

The process of forgiveness provides an opportunity to change and reframe our mental state as well as the negativity we have attached to a wrongdoing that may have occurred in our personal or working life. Forgiveness enables us to release negative thinking and emotions about a wrongdoing that is affecting our general mental health. Instead of harbouring anger, which can be all-consuming and disruptive to our mental health, forgiveness allows us to release it, along with other toxic, negative emotions, and focus on living in the present so we can enjoy our lives instead of living in the past.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or that there’s a resolution – or even reconciliation. It means changing our mindset from emotions like regret and anger that can hold us in the past and have a negative impact on our mental health now. Forgiveness can be for ourselves or others. We may blame ourselves for being wronged and take on guilt or even shame for something that’s happened. That can be as toxic to our mental health as carrying around anger.

Forgiveness starts with awareness of what it is and its benefits to our mental health.

Accountability

Forgiveness starts from within, and we’re the first to benefit by releasing negativity. Forgiveness can be covert or overt. Covert forgiveness happens when we forgive someone who may have never acknowledged that they did something wrong, or perhaps they’re no longer alive.

It can be challenging to forgive someone who hasn’t acknowledged their wrongdoing or has not attempted to apologize. However, forgiveness can be transformational.

Action

Forgiveness is about moving forward, not looking to the past or holding on to anger.

Coaching tips to support forgiveness:

The future is pure – Every new day is as pure as a new snowflake. Our future is what we allow it to be, and our past doesn’t need to define our future. One step to forgiveness is to challenge our daily focus to be on what we want to learn and do rather than replaying old memories. This can help us stay in the present versus living in the past.

Change your view – Context is important when moving past a wrongdoing. When we can reflect with no judgement on a situation that wronged us, over time this can help us accept that we did nothing wrong and that there’s nothing to be gained allowing negative past emotions to block our current life. This mindset can set up an opportunity to experience internal peace.

Be nice to you – Kindness provides the foundation to change your mindset so you can forgive. One mental tip to find forgiveness is to release the need to be right or to achieve revenge. Forgiveness is about changing your mindset so that you’re not cluttered by the past and can be more present and available to enjoy the moments and experiences in your current life.


For more information contact

Corporate Communications
613-526-3280
corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca


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