Quick summary: Forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks that is asked of us in life. It requires us to be humble, honest, compassionate, selfless, accepting, authentic, open-minded, loving, positive, hopeful, empathetic and emotionally mature.

I will define forgiveness as – reaching point of complete acceptance surrounding a pain and suffering so that you and your environment are liberated from the suffering which is perpetuated by the negative emotions that were created by the act or thing to be forgiven. Forgiveness is freedom from automatically reacting to your suffering with actions that could be in conflict with your morality or ethics (people that do not believe in killing others would not suggest that killing others was reasonable retribution if they honestly felt forgiveness.) Forgiveness is feeling empathy and compassion for your offender… with forgiveness you do not condone behaviors which cause suffering, and you do hold compassion for those whose actions are dictated by their own suffering.

            True forgiveness is incredibly rare in my opinion… in many situations if you break down the act of forgiveness you find that it was truly either:

      An act of truce (“I agree to not react with vengeance or to seek retribution but I still hold negative emotions regarding the instance (which may affect actions in conscious and unconscious ways”).

      A change in the forgiver’s subjective perception of the event (I no longer think that the action that the person did to me is wrong… I therefore am no longer upset at them).

      A move towards indifference (“that person doesn’t live around me or effect my life anyway… thinking about that person is not worth my time.”). (this is very rational – our emotions are not dictated by ration)

      A move to initiate the recovery that follows true forgiveness (some people forgive as they believe that the action of forced forgiveness will make themselves more likely to eventually honestly reach forgiveness).

      A well intentioned effort to do the ‘right thing’ or to make the situation better (forgiveness is done because that is what is ‘supposed’ to be done and the person offers forgiveness in an effort to be someone extraordinary… the act is intended to serve ‘the greater good’ though the forgiveness might not actually be felt.)

So how do we reach forgiveness? Most of us have probably reached a point of forgiveness surrounding acts that did not create a large degree of suffering (“I forgive my brother for stealing my pack of gum when he was ten… I can understand the temptation and the act had no intention of hurting me.”)

What is more difficult to forgive are the acts that cause continual and life changing suffering such as murder, rape, intentional oppression, violence, destruction of something that was significant to us, acts of war, and actions that harm important relationships.

Why should we seek to forgive? If it takes so much effort why should the process of forgiveness be engaged?

I personally have never met a “bad” person… I have worked as a therapist in situations where my clients had engaged in “bad behaviors”… they all had endured their own suffering… some endured unimaginable suffering and found themselves suffering long after the cruel actions were no longer an occurrence in their lives.

If there are not bad or evil people then why are there bad and seemingly evil actions?

I have found that suffering is something that we all carry and it is something that grows despite a person’s intention… the suffering we carry seeks to spread itself to new people, things and environments.

When someone puts there own suffering onto another person in the form of a cruel or bad behavior, that suffering does not dissipate in strength… instead it seems to grow stronger.

Often the intention was not to spread the suffering… people try to make meaning of their own pain and suffering and in the process they at times will reenact and transmit the suffering they feel onto another entity. This creates guilt and more suffering for the person that continued the spread of suffering… and now forgiveness must be attained for the actions received and for the actions engaged.

The cycle of suffering in strong at this point…

The willingness to cause suffering to others in a futile attempt to relieve your own suffering is increased…

We become willing to sacrifice our own morals in an effort to relieve our pain…

We lose a degree of our free will and find ourselves acting automatically to the impulses of the suffering that we hold… and then we perhaps arrive at the truth that forgiveness is freedom… forgiveness is for your self.

This is why we seek forgiveness… to stop the spread of suffering… and to regain our own freedom.


The research has also found that forgiving people are statistically more physically and mentally healthy… so the scientific reason to forgive is that it is good for your health.


The process to reach forgiveness seems to require an enlightened individual… a wise person who is humble and patient in extraordinary ways… how can we become this type of person?


Ho do we become this forgiving person who can not only maintain but can increase their own health while ensuring that any suffering put onto them is eradicated with forgiveness instead of spread with vengeance?

How is it that just about every religion speaks of forgiveness while the human race continues to choose vengeance… to choose vengeance even in the name of the very religion which was trying to teach them the wisdom of forgiveness?


Perhaps we believe that we are less free than we are… perhaps the answer to the forgiveness quandary is to start with something seemingly simple – A CHOICE…


Yes I am saying that the 1st step toward forgiveness is to choose to try and become a genuinely forgiving person… If you value the path you will put your energy towards it.

  •       You will seek to empathize with the offenders of the world so as to recognize that when we offer forgiveness and empathy we offer the opportunity for resiliency to spread through the collective.


  •       Perhaps you will see that we are all victims of suffering and we are all hero’s when we triumph over suffering with forgiveness.


  •       There are no enemies in objective terms… an enemy who’s suffering can be healed with your empathy is your friend… they never were the enemy… and it is understandable why it would seem that calling someone an enemy would make your suffering better… but it will not.


  •    Life is not fair… it seems as though vengeance is an act of justice… this makes sense if you believe in bad people… but people are not bad only their action are… and I have yet to see a human help another human without using compassion, empathy, and acceptance.


  •       Though forgiveness seems to be an external process it is an action mostly for the good of your self… the injustice that was done onto you may have been from a source of suffering born hundreds of years ago… you can keep that suffering and pass it along to others with acts of vengeance… or you can heal yourself and in doing so you can heal countless others that would have suffered if not for your strength and resiliency.


  •       With the freedom of perception that is born of forgiveness who will have the presence and the sensibility to act for the advancement of justice and equality without being misled by the temptations of suffering unrecognized… without being led to perpetuate suffering with ideas of vengeance.


  •       You have the freedom to define the hero as the one who forgives as opposed to the one who seeks vengeance at all costs. (the typical movie hero)


I will not pretend that I have reached a point at which I could immediately forgive actions done directly towards the ones that I love… and I know that I am moving in the right direction. 

Forgiveness is a process… I can forgive enough to help people that have engaged in actions that have harmed others… I can offer empathy… and I can help them to heal… in this way I am growing with forgiveness and I cherish the opportunity to do so. 

“As I forgive I become free… I learn to accept… I gain purpose as forgiveness opens the door for me to help a wider range of people… and I gain love… unconditionally.”

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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