Healing power of forgiveness | Sunday Observer

Healing power of forgiveness

"The most important ingredient in forgiveness is love. At its best, forgiveness is done for the very sake of those who have trespassed against us. Then we see forgiveness at its most powerful - renewing friendships, marriages and careers. "

My first lesson in forgiveness came from my grandfather. As a young boy, I heard him tell bitter stories about having worked from mid-30s to early-40s in a sweatshop run by a wealthy local family. The factory supplied some engineering items to the Government.

There was sheer discrimination when the owner chose the day’s crew. Those who belonged to a certain caste were picked first and often filled the day’s quota. Some mornings grandfather denied his caste to earn the 10 shillings his family badly needed.

After we gained Independence, that wealthy family went bankrupt, while grandfather rose to power in local politics. One day, the former magnate’s son appeared in our living room with a note from his father. He was looking for a job. My grandfather treated him with complete politeness, and within a week got him a job in a shipping company.

“This was your chance to get even,” I said. “Why didn’t you?”

“What happened in those days wasn’t his fault,” my grandfather said. ‘ ‘Maybe it wasn’t anyone’s.”

As a hot-headed boy, I would have loved to see my grandfather avenge himself on that hapless youth. But, that day I acquired a far deeper respect for my grandfather as a man of forgiveness.

Healing power

I’m convinced that forgiveness is one of the untapped - and least understood - source of healing power. Essentially, it involves a decision to abandon the impulse to get even. Though the idea may seem passive to some, genuine forgiveness is a positive act that requires enormous spiritual strength.

Talking about forgiveness, I remember Mahinda who was a husky 28-year-old father with a serious problem. His surly manner made it difficult for him to hold a job. He stayed home and brooded for weeks at a time and was short-tempered with his two small children.

Mahinda finally sought out a psychotherapist. For eight months the psychotherapist got nowhere. He saw that Mahinda’s problem had begun with his own alcoholic father who had belittled him in the presence of friends and family. Through therapy, Mahinda began to understand the origin of his behaviour, but he couldn’t soften his bitter memories.

Nor could the therapist prevent Mahinda’s barely suppressed rage from spilling over into his relationships with other people.

One Sunday morning, Mahinda met and spoke with his priest, who suggested he try to forgive his father. Together they knelt and prayed for two hours. Mahinda felt a remarkable freshness and strength stir inside him. That afternoon, he went to see his father. “Thaththa,” he said, “This morning I asked God to help me to forgive you. I think he has granted me my request. Let’s start once again.” His father began to cry and embraced him.

His family was amazed and overjoyed by his transformation that occurred over the next several months. He became a gentle father and loving husband. He got a good break in his employment. Slowly, he transformed himself to take charge of his emotions and his life.


Forgiveness involves a paradox. It may look contradictory to our self-interest to let go of wrongs. Yet, most of those who hurt us are people we are close to - parents, siblings, spouse, friends. Trying to get even only leads to a vicious circle of retaliation. In the long run, forgiveness is the best choice for the forgiver - and the forgiven.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge to forgiveness is betrayal. There are many varieties, but the most difficult to forgive is marital infidelity. Krishani, a successful lawyer, was stunned to discover that her husband, Indika, had a brief affair with a woman he met at a convention. Indika apologised and said he was sorry, but Krishani felt she could never trust him again. As a last resort, she confided to her best friend seeking advice.

The friend urged Krishani to consider forgiving her husband, pointing out that, absorbed in her career, Krishani was not a very affectionate wife either and frequently dismissed Indika’s opinions in the company of others. Was it possible, the friend asked, that Indika’s affair was an attempt to find recognition as a person in his own right?

A shaken Krishani spent a weekend thinking about her marriage. She tried to forgive Indika but couldn’t say the words. The anger was too fresh, the hurt too raw. Finally, she was able to talk about their relationship. Indika responded with honesty and deep regret. The result was forgiveness and a new happiness for both.

Therapeutic process

Renowned psychiatrists confirm that forgiveness is a crucial milestone in the therapeutic process. For example, Avodah K. Offit, globally respected and accomplished psychiatrist, recommends this technique to some: Pretend to forgive your mate. For a week use nothing but warm words, even praise. The effect, Offit says, “may be so salutary that the atmosphere changes. A dialogue may begin, leading to real forgiveness and to the process of digging out the roots of the resentment”.

Psychological and spiritual examination is essential for forgiveness. Offit says: “Too many counsellors urge forgiveness as a hasty cure-all, instead of exploring what has happened and why. Worse, they urge, “forgive and forget,” which is impossible. Forgiveness works best when the person who is hurt has had time to face his or her anger, to recognise his or her own contributions to the debacle and realise the consequences of a refusal to forgive.

Therapists point out that the inability to forgive can gnaw on us - depriving us of sleep, upsetting digestion, even causing high blood pressure. But, when we forgive, we often experience a gigantic turnaround, a cleansing that could be called rebirth.

The most important ingredient in forgiveness is love. At its best, forgiveness is done for the very sake of those who have trespassed against us. Then we see forgiveness at its most powerful - renewing friendships, marriages and careers.

No wonder, as Offit says, ‘ ‘In many ways, forgiveness can make meaningful again, the wisdom embedded in every religious faith.