A time to forgive

At the end of Yom Kippur many have spoken of a feeling of lightness as they feel relieved and forgiven.

Hug (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Hug (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
As Yom Kippur approaches, our thoughts turn to forgiveness, asking forgiveness and receiving it, from those we have hurt and those who have hurt us.
Forgiveness is a powerful gift that, when proffered with honesty and sincerity, can have far-reaching effects. As a mediator, it can still be surprising to see how swiftly the atmosphere in a room can be transformed by an apology and subsequent forgiveness.
There is an old saying which goes, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Scientific studies are proving just how true this saying can be. Amit Sood, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester explained that the effects on one’s health from bottled-up anger and resentment can range from anxiety and depression to higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks. One recent study in Missouri found that forgiveness can help protect against depression, which is no surprise to anybody who has felt that heavy weight lift when they let go of anger and are able to forgive.
When thinking about anger that you are harboring, the important question is: why am I angry and who do I need to forgive? Anger at others can often be misplaced and indicate deeper issues within yourself. Sometimes the answer is clear and other times it is not as straightforward as you would initially think. In a case of an employee who was angry with her boss for overlooking her for a promotion, on reflection she realized that although she was angry with her boss for ignoring all her hard work, she was also angry with herself for not putting herself forward.
Granting forgiveness can be hard.
It is not always possible to completely let go of all the hurt that you are carrying. In some instances, people may ask forgiveness and, although you may verbally grant it some negative emotions remain. Researchers Julie Exline and Roy Baumeister propose that forgiveness is a behavior that we need to perform (an action such as saying that you forgive the person who caused harm) and an emotion (a feeling that we are letting go). Although the most effective state is to have both the emotional and behavioral elements, you can forgive without letting the person you are forgiving know (this is certainly the case when someone has died or moved away). Alternatively you could just focus on the behavioral aspect and grant forgiveness even if you don’t feel it fully in the hope that it will take you down the road to full forgiveness.
When you are the one who wants to be forgiven, how do you go about it? Usually, the first step is to offer an apology. But how do you create a great apology? Will a simple “sorry” do? Researchers at the Ohio State University reviewed numerous previous studies on apologies as well as conducting their own. They found that there are six components of a great apology, which are: an expression of regret, an explanation of what went wrong, an acknowledgment of responsibility, a declaration of repentance, an offer of repair and a request for forgiveness.
The study found that, unsurprisingly, not all components are equal.
The acknowledgment of responsibility is the most important factor in creating an apology that will be received well. When we admit that not only is someone hurt but we have played a part in hurting that person, the apology is more authentic and more likely to be accepted.
The reticence of people to admit to any sort of responsibility due to a fear of being held legally liable means that people shy away from apologizing even when they think they are wrong. Ironically, in many cases (especially in medical cases) the lack of an apology can cause increased animosity and lead to litigation.
One of the advantages of saying sorry and asking forgiveness is that you are likely to feel better about yourself. In research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, people who asked for forgiveness for a wrongdoing were found to be more likely to feel like it was OK to forgive themselves.
In both apologizing and forgiveness, communication is key.
Very often when people are hurt they retreat and the original issue can be compounded or confused as time goes on. Simply picking up the phone and talking directly (instead of texting and emailing) can be a great help. The longer there is no communication the deeper and more complicated the issues can get.
As with forgiveness, an apology may be offered even where the apology is not complete as the apologizer does not take full responsibility for what the hurt party believes they are guilty of. A partial apology is still of value, although apologies should never be offered without any thought or honesty whatsoever, as insincere apologies can cause more offense than none at all.
Many look at Yom Kippur as an ordeal of a day, of fasting and prayer.
The rabbis say that Yom Kippur is a gift of a day, dedicated to forgiveness, where we have the opportunity to reflect on ourselves, and our relationships with others. At the end of Yom Kippur many have spoken of a feeling of lightness as they feel relieved and forgiven. To request forgiveness and to forgive may be incredibly hard, but the rewards are worth trying to strive for.
The writer is a licensed mediator (UK and Israel) residing in Jerusalem. She specializes in mediation for English speakers (www.mediationinisrael.com).