Forgiveness : Releasing bitterness and resentment

Forgiveness is a subject that has been talked about in many a forum and probably preached about in many a sermon, much to the annoyance and probably resentment of those

  • PublishedMay 13, 2014

Forgiveness is a subject that has been talked about in many a forum and probably preached about in many a sermon, much to the annoyance and probably resentment of those still smarting from a recent or probably what they consider an unforgivable hurt. It is also a subject that will never stop being discussed. As long as there are people in existence, there will always be a need for forgiveness. People are prone to error every so often, some more than others.

Forgiveness has been defined as letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. Psychologist and author of the How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, refers to forgiveness in her book as “a shift in thinking toward someone who has wronged you, such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.” Letting go of the desire for revenge and ill will towards someone who wronged you largely constitutes forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an action that has many benefits, many of which have been researched. According to various studies, there is a powerful connection between forgiving others and our own well being, a fact you may well be aware of. Nonetheless, forgiveness is still a thorny issue. First, we need to understand that forgiveness is a process that takes time and not a one or two-time event.

“Forgive and forget” is an adage that many people try to adhere to, rather unsuccessfully. However, forgiving is not forgetting, but neither is it holding on to grudges or past hurts. Forgiving as a process involves acknowledging to yourself the wrong that was done to you, reflecting on it, and deciding how you want to think about it. A misguided focus on forgetting a wrong might lead to denial or suppressing of feelings, which is not equivalent to forgiveness. True forgiveness happens when you recall the wrong that was done without feeling resentment or a desire to pursue revenge. While we may forget some wrongs done to us with time, forgetting is not a prerequisite for forgiveness.

When wronged, it is easy to feel like forgiving is condoning or excusing a wrong. Even so, true forgiveness does not minimise or justify a wrong done. Neither does it translate to the denial of the feelings of injustice felt. Even after you forgive, it is acceptable to take healthy steps to protect yourself, including a decision not to pursue reconciliation, which leads to the final misconception about forgiveness.

Forgiveness and reconciliation do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Reconciliation requires two parties coming together in mutual respect and working together. While it may at times follow forgiveness, it is possible to forgive without continuing a relationship. The person you have chosen to forgive may not be alive. They may also no longer be a part of your life because you believe a relationship with them is not healthy for you, which is perfectly fine.


As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Mahatma Gandhi, (1869-1948), Preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American pastor, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement

He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.

Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), English churchman and historian

Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim – letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.

C.R. Strahan, American artist and author

I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.
 C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963), Novelist, poet, academician, lay theologian, and Christian apologist

 Your thoughts

Whoever said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die was spot on! Whatever wrong has been done to us, we need to realise that forgiveness is first for ourselves, for our own wellbeing and peace of mind, and also that we are not perfect. We have been forgiven in many instances, whether or not we know it. We are not owed anything by anyone. Forgive. Let it go.

Alex Mwende, 26, Writer

Published on May 2014

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