Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Importance of Forgiveness

I know I said that I wasn't planning on using this blog to write about mental health matters, but after recent events, I have something mental health and Christian-related on my mind that I want to write about.

Two days ago, I was contacted by BBC Radio 5 Live. They asked me if I would agree to them interviewing me on air about my experiences with bullying and how it has affected me in adult life. I agreed, despite a lot of nerves, and spoke as honestly as I could about my experiences. The full interview is here but the thing that I want to write about here is one thing I said on air about how I had forgiven my bullies. The host, Chris Warburton, seemed amazed that I could forgive my bullies, seeing how they had a massive impact on my life. But I know that holding onto a grudge doesn't do anyone any good, so I no longer allow myself to feel resentment towards them.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not writing this because I think I am the ultimate perfect person, and a role model that everyone should look up to. Far from it. I am not perfect, never have been and being a role model is something that I frankly, dread being. I am writing this because I want to describe the impact this has had on me since I made the decision to forgive my bullies.

The Bible says that we are to forgive others for their sins as God will not forgive us for our sins if we don't.
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14 - 15 (NIV)
I think if non-Christians were to read this, they could feel a bit of anger towards God for saying this. "Why should we have to forgive our enemies just to get forgiveness?" or something along those lines. I can understand this attitude, as I have often felt a lot of self-pity towards my circumstances. I used to think that it was OK for me to not forgive my 'enemies' because of all they did to me. Christians will know of all they have done towards God and others, and will know why they need to forgive others, but non-Christians may not know this. So what if I told you that I believe that God, in his infinite wisdom, told us to do this for our own benefit?

I used to be on Facebook, and one of my bullies actually added me as a friend. For some reason, I accepted her friend request, and then almost immediately wished I hadn't. Her Facebook page was filled with wonderful stories of great holidays, a great job and great friends, whilst I was unemployed, had little social interaction with others and as a result of my inability to cope with change well, rarely went on holiday. It was easy to start seething at her wonderful life, a life I could have had, if she hadn't bullied me. She 'only' bullied me for around six months, but it was enough to lower my mood to the point that when other girls started bullying me more seriously in my fourth year of high school, I couldn't deal with it. Even after my conversion, I still looked at her Facebook posts with jealousy and resentment.

The turning point came around the time I was baptised. I mentioned something about my second hospital stay on Facebook, and while I didn't say it was in a psychiatric ward, I did mention the length of the stay, which was almost 18 months. Shortly after posting this status, I had a private message from her. I can't remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of "Sorry to hear you've been in hospital, hope you're doing well." To be honest, I was so surprised by this message that I had to show it to my mum. She turned to me, nodded, and told me "What have I told you about the bullies?!"

For years after high school, I had told my mum of things the bullies had said and done to me, and she kept on telling me the same thing over and over again. She told me how bullies change, how they have grown up and matured since school, and how they would be highly unlikely to pick on me if they ever saw me again. My old bully sending me this lovely message on Facebook just showed how right my mum was, and how wrong my attitude towards my bullies was.

Whilst I did pray and ask God to help me to forgive my bullies, forgiving them still had to come from me. I wrote an unsent letter to them and told them that I forgave them, and in my heart, I meant what I had written. I no longer have that letter, but the feelings in my heart are still the same. I also had to apply the same forgiveness to the teacher who knew I was being bullied but did nothing. However, I didn't 'forgive and forget'.

I don't know the origin of the phrase 'forgive and forget', but I believe it's not biblical. I actually really hate that phrase, because while I believe in forgiveness, I don't believe in forgetting the sins a person has committed towards us. Granted, the Bible does this:
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Jeremiah 31:34, and quoted in Hebrews 8:12 (NIV)
But I have always read this verse as God treats us like we have not sinned. But how could an omniscient God forget anything, our sins included? Whilst the opposite of 'remember' is usually seen as 'forget', the word remember does not necessarily mean 'not forgetting'. The definitions of remember vary depending on the context, but the most appropriate meaning of the word for this topic is as follows:
To be able to bring back a piece of information into your mind, or to keep a piece of information in your memory. Taken from Cambridge Dictionaries Online
You could argue that this does mean the opposite of forgetting, but does it really? To be able to bring back a piece of information. After forgiveness, God is unable to bring back our sins out of love. God does not remember our sins. He treats us like we haven't sinned when we are forgiven, just like I believe we should treat those who have wronged us like they have done nothing wrong. But I do not believe that he forgets our sins, as I don't believe it is possible for him to do so.

Anyway though, it is certainly not possible for us to selectively forget what others have done to us when we forgive others and I don't believe we should try and forget at all. Looking back at events in the past can help us to learn from our own mistakes and find new ways of coping with things. I don't believe we should dwell on things either, but often looking back, I can see how much freer I am since forgiving my bullies. I no longer have the resentment towards them. I may be a little wary towards them if I met them in the future, but I would not hate or resent them. If they were to still hate me though, that is their decision. I will not force other people to believe what I believe. God gave me free will to do right and wrong, so I cannot take that away from others. But regardless of how they feel towards me, I will not un-forgive them. The Bible aside, forgiving them was a wise decision and has positively impacted on my mental health.

Occasionally when I was out in public, I would see people from school and I would have a certain reaction to the 'sighting', depending if they were a friend, enemy or neither. The 'enemies' were met with anger, resentment and often plots of ways to get even. These feelings inside would stay with me for hours, even days at a time, and it would negatively impact my mood. I would be grumpy, angry and often upset. Sometimes, these feelings would even cause me to have a small setback in my recovery.

When I made the decision to forgive, I no longer became upset when I saw the 'enemies' from school. I would remember things they did to me, but I didn't feel the anger and resentment, nor did I feel angry and upset in myself. I am not alone in feeling better about the past since forgiving those who have wronged us. BBC News ran a piece a couple of days ago about people who have forgiven the person or persons who murdered their loved ones. The full story is here, and I recommend reading this, but the last paragraph is particularly interesting:
"If you hang on to anger and the desire for revenge, eventually it becomes like a cancer and it will destroy you," he says. "I did the right thing." Bill Pelke speaking to the BBC.
Regardless of whether or not a person forgives because of duty to God, or if they do it for their own sake, forgiveness is important. It can take a long time to forgive a person who has committed a particularly heinous sin towards you, but holding on to anger and hatred will never help anyone. It is not easy to forgive, but releasing the anger and hatred through forgiveness is like a wave of goodness. It was only after I forgave my bullies that I saw how much my hatred impacted negatively on my mental health.

To forgive someone, you don't have to actually tell them. It might be useful, but I have not told my bullies that I have forgiven them. My key to forgiving them was an unsent letter, which other people find useful. To forgive, you do not have to verbally express forgiveness. Nor does it mean that if the person who wronged you is still alive, that you have to have contact with them. If the person who has wronged you is unrepentant, it could actually be wise to stay away. But if they are truly repentant, forgive them. In some cases, it can be unwise to let the person straight back into your life as if nothing happened though.

If, for example, an abusive partner apologised and wanted another chance, it can be wise to not rush back into the relationship. No matter what he or she says, see how they are around you over a period of time. Some abusive partners apologise, are taken back but then abuse their partner again. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but just be wary if this applies to you.

Forgiveness is important, regardless of your beliefs. It is often a key to happiness, and sometimes, it can even be the key to recovery from mental illness.


  1. Thank you for a useful and interesting post.

    I'm a Quaker, we have very strong beliefs about forgiveness and non-violence. My psychologist thinks this is actually a problem for me, because I can't accept my own anger, so I turn it inwards and get an angry voice instead. Psychologist is trying to get me to express anger more, but I really find this very difficult.

    I have tried to forgive people who have hurt me. I have prayed and meditated and tried all sorts of things, but the anger's still there, if I let myself feel it. Another big thing for Quakers is the honesty, and I can't say I have forgiven people, because I can't. This makes my nasty voice tell me I am really evil and maybe the Antichrist. It's all a bit of a mess really.

    1. Weird question, do you accept that you're angry? Because some people feel angry, know they're feeling angry but don't accept it, if that makes sense. Accepting and admitting to yourself that you are angry could maybe be the key to unlocking your ability to forgive.

      Also, even if you feel you've done nothing wrong, there are times when you have to forgive yourself. You need to forgive yourself for being angry. You are not evil, nor are you the antichrist, you are HUMAN! Everyone gets angry, and some have real difficulties letting it go. It doesn't make you a bad person, it just means that you struggle with anger.

      Incidentally, I also believed I was the antichrist for a while. I think I wrote about it in my previous blog post here, The Dangers of Religious Confusion. I think religious beliefs are common with any psychotic illness, religious beliefs that become distorted.

      Hope this all makes sense!

      Katy xx

  2. Thank you. I find accepting any emotion to be really difficult TBH. I'm so drugged up these days that I don't feel much, which makes me think that the MH team think all my feelings are evil...

    There were so many people once in my Hearing Voices group who each thought we were the Antichrist, that we decided we should send our voices off to fight out which one it was, because it couldn't be all of us!

  3. God does not forget yet disregards our sins if we forgive and there is no anti Christ for God is pure love and also pure evil God cannot be God without either Gods anger stems from his evil side and he curses us but his love is so powerful he will forgive everyone

  4. In more secular terms (although I do believe in God) I see it like this: I am meant to have a certain path in life, to learn certain lessons. Others have different paths, different lessons. So, if they hurt me, it is part of their journey - if I am hurt by them, it is part of mine. I don't mean that they should be absolved of responsibility though. We all have choices. But I do forgive the people who hurt me - just as I accept that I was hurt for a reason (I don't mean that it was my fault either!)

    I do think it helps mental health to accept that there is a bigger picture - that we are here for a reason. We can relax about life then, instead of thrashing around trying to make sense of everything.


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