Learning to Forgive Can Improve Your Mental Health

Resha Erheim is a Canadian Certified Counsellor and a member of the Canadian Counsellor and Psychotherapy Association. She is also licensed as a Counsellor from CDA in Dubai. Having worked in Canada, Kuwait and Dubai, she brings with her extensive multicultural experience in clinical and educational settings.

The middle of Ramadan is almost upon us and observing Muslims are by now immersed in their daily Ramadan routine. A significant part of this routine for many comes at Maghrib (sunset) call to prayer when the iftar (break-fast) cannon goes off. People gather around the iftar table with their loved ones.  Ramadan has become synonymous with regular family gatherings and visits. However, for many, visiting family is a cause for distress and tension and sometimes even conflict. Whether it was caused by an argument or a fight between siblings, a severed relationship between parent and son/daughter or an insensitive act by one member, conflict can bring much hurt and pain, especially when subjected by someone we love and trust. However, overcoming conflict can bring growth to a relationship. One of the important values Islam teaches and Ramadan encourages is forgiveness of trespasses and letting go of grudges against others. Muslims believe everyone deserves forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an important concept in mental health as well. Many clients that seek therapy often relate with some form of family conflict, whether they grew up in dysfunctional but loving families or experienced neglectful, disconnected and sometimes abusive families. These family environments undeniably affect the growth and mental health of the person exposed to them.  An integral benefit and role of therapy/counseling comes from talking about these conflicts and exploring how they have affected the individual’s struggles and life in general. Therapy also helps the person work towards acceptance of the hurt that happened in the past, accepting his family members as they are by developing empathy while gaining understanding and insight into his/her life, then healing and beginning the process of forgiveness.

A distinction must be made here; we can accept and learn to forgive our past suffering caused by our family yet not agree with it or excuse it; the hurt and pain caused to you were wrong in every way! Often, the result of forgiveness is healing for individuals, so they are no longer held prisoners by their own pain and anger. Forgiveness and letting go of anger are actually good for physical and mental health as studies have shown, due to the relationship between body and mind.  It is a widely accepted notion that a direct relationship exists between body ailments, illnesses and negative emotions like stress, anxiety or anger. For example, chronic stress levels worsen existing conditions and increase the risk for hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, migraines, digestion issues and more.

Given this serious risk, it is worth it to consider forgiving and letting go of anger and resentment towards your family or anyone that has hurt you yet remembering the saying “forgive but don’t forget”. This may or may not mean that you reconcile with those family members who have hurt you. It depends of course on the severity of the hurt caused and the type of conflict/trauma suffered. While forgiveness doesn’t have to lead to reconciliation, if you are able to reconcile, especially with someone whose relationship you value you come out as a wiser more mature and compassionate person not held down by grudges. You will experience the benefits of forgiveness such as healthier relationships, improved confidence, better sleep, and overall physical and mental health.

So how do we begin to forgive? So much research and writing in psychology have been done on this subject. Mental health expert, Resha Erheim, gives tips on how to learn to forgive  –

  • Recognize the value of forgiveness and how it can enhance your life

  • Make a choice to forgive the person who has offended or harmed you

  • Write a letter to the person, you don’t have to share it

  • Join a support group, or seek the support of a counsellor

  • Let go of your role as a victim and regain control over your life and choices

  • Forgive yourself if you had a part to do with the conflict

  • Practice empathy, put yourself in the other person’s shoes, see things from their point of view

  • Talk about it to someone you respect and admire, someone you find compassionate

  • Journal, have a spiritual practice or meditate to help accept and release negative emotions

So, for the remainder of Ramadan try to practice more forgiveness and letting go, especially for small offenses with your family members. Think of forgiveness as a gift you give to yourself and reap the benefits of forgiveness!

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