One of the most difficult things for many of us to do is to forgive. Today on Think, a psychologist who studies people’s ability to heal after a trauma told Krys Boyd that forgiveness is a key to moving on.
Dr. David Feldman says that part of the reason it’s hard for us to forgive is that we don’t understand what it means.
“I think a lot of people think that forgiveness is a gift that you give to the perpetrators – the gift of pardon or clemency," he said. "I think sometimes also people think that it means forgetting.”
The gift part, he says, is correct. But when we forgive, we’re giving a gift to ourselves.
“It’s permission to let go of the anger and the hurt and the pain of the past and to turn your sights forward and put one foot in front of the other to create a better future," he said. "I love the saying ‘forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.’”
In theory, that all sounds great. But Feldman says that for healing to happen when we pardon someone, we’ve got to really mean it.
“To force someone to forgive when they’re not ready is to re-victimize them," he said. "I think that people need to forgive when they naturally come to it. But the research is pretty clear that for people who do that naturally, it’s a good choice for them.”
Feldman sites a study that asked people to think of a recent time when they had been wronged. One group was told to dwell on how they had been wronged while the other was told to think about forgiveness and understanding.
That second group reported lower blood pressure, less tension and a greater sense of well-being.
Dr. David Feldman’s new book is called Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success. Think re-airs tonight at 9, or find the podcast at kera.org/think.