Injured animals either lash out or cower away. Humans have another choice. When we are hurt, we choose revenge or forgiveness or flight. For thousands of years, mercy and forgiveness have been seen as virtues, helping to heal and build civilised societies. Recent studies have found that forgiving others actually benefits us as much if not more than those we forgive. Yet there are so many messages in the media encouraging us to seek revenge, and those who forgive are seen as condoning evil. Let’s look a bit deeper.
When we are really hurt physically or psychologically, it triggers the flight or fight response. This switches off our thinking brain, leaving us with only primitive responses–so we lash out or run away. The greater the pain or fear, the less we are able to think straight. So we turn to the easiest and most instinctive way to react, which is not always the best option. (Click for more information on how to stay calm in situations like this)
The choice between revenge or forgiveness seems obvious–it is only later that the cost of revenge becomes clear. Feeling revenge is instinctive, but you don’t have to follow through on it. Not only may revenge escalate the conflict, but it may also hurt your mental and physical health.
Dr Leon Seltzer gives 5 reasons on why you should avoid revenge:
- it’s primitive and savage
- the costs of revenge are high,
- revenge corrupts the person seeking it
- Calculating and carrying out revenge is “foolish, about denying, self-defeating and even stupid”
- Revenge accomplishes nothing.
To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves. — Alexander Pope
Revenge is the easy and immediate response of the injured. Choosing forgiveness is not denying hurt or saying that I deserve to be hurt. It is not excusing others for causing harm. Forgiveness releases my anger, saying that what has been done to me is wrong, yet I will not let the other’s actions define me and constrict me. Forgiveness means deciding to free ourselves from the anger and blame.
Everett Worthington developed the REACH model to help people forgive, even without the other person’s involvement. First, recall the hurt and pain you feel. Imagine how you would like the other person to respond to your hurt. Decide to give forgiveness as a gift. Write it down. Remind yourself that you have forgiven, and move on.
Robert Enright described 8 Keys to Forgiveness which are
- Know what forgiveness is and why it matters
- Become “forgivingly fit”
- Address your inner pain
- Develop a forgiving mind through empathy
- Find meaning in your suffering
- When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths
- Forgive yourself
- Develop a forgiving heart
Why should we forgive? People who forgive others have better health, are more successful, happier and live longer. Think of the energy and time we waste obsessing over past hurts and planning revenge. Think of how much it hurts when we remember that insult or injury again and again. By forgiving and moving on, we free time to be joyful and concentrate on what is important in our lives.
So, will you choose revenge or forgiveness? If you need help forgiving, contact me.