How Does the Brain Process Forgiveness?

At a recent four-day mediation certification course – four days of focusing on respect, patience, balance, active listening and impartiality – people from all walks of life got together to learn mediator skills, conflict resolution, and the ethical use of these skills. The pastors, attorneys, counselors, law enforcement officers, and the human resources professional each had their own reason for taking this course.

Being a therapist, I never thought about being a professional mediator. I went to this course to keep a friend, and fellow counselor, company. While I enjoyed spending time with my friend, I also met some really interesting people who taught me a lot. One of the best things I learned in those four days was about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an important part of mediation. Imagine being in a major dispute with your neighbor over some slight injustice. You might be very mad and want your day in court to settle the matter once and for all. Because legal battles can be long and drawn out, and expensive on top of being a big hassle all the way around, good mediators know when to calm their clients and get them to work towards a common goal. Forgiveness must be a part of any legal process. You can get restitution and a nice cash settlement, but until you forgive the injustice then you will not heal and restore your sense of peace and harmony.

During one class we were introduced to Lee Taft, a friend and colleague of our instructor. Taft was a man of many occupations, and he had a lot of interesting things to share. First, he told us that forgiveness can be looked at from three perspectives (religious, philosophical, and psychological). Each of us will view forgiveness through the eyes and mind of our own thinking. It is up to us to try to understand that these differences play a role in how forgiveness is offered, received, and perceived.

Those three perspectives got me to thinking about the way the brain experiences forgiveness. Which led me to a few questions : Is it right to forgive those who commit violent crimes? Or those who beat their family members? Or those who harm your own loved ones? Is forgiveness healthy, or is it unhealthy to forgive certain people? I wondered what brain science had to say, so I did further research.

I found out that forgiveness is great for your emotional well being.The part of your brain that controls empathy and emotions is the same part of the brain that controls forgiveness. Resolving conflicts and granting mercy are brain boosters that actually make you happier.

Most people think that getting a nice cash settlement, or holding a grudge and then getting revenge will somehow make them feel better. Forgiveness will go a lot further in making you feel better than will harboring resentful feelings. Forgiveness makes your brain feel (and respond) better.

What about forgiveness and reconciliation? Is it possible to do one without the other? While it is possible to forgive someone for hurting you, you do not have to reconcile with anyone who has harmed you in any way. You can forgive, and forget about any past relationship.

However, you cannot have any reconciliation without first having an equal effort of forgiveness on both sides. The offender should show that he has a true understanding of all the pain he caused you, and he should have a true change of the heart. Working together, you help him understand the hurt that he caused and what he needs to do to repair any damages. Together you can work on the broken relationship and restore trust between you. It is not easy, nor is it a quick fix, but it can be done if both sides are wanting the same thing.

Remember this the next time you think someone has done you wrong: don’t let the other side offer you an empty apology. When you approach them with an open mind, and a caring heart, they may just be willing to work with you – rather than against you – and together you can repair anything.

I am so glad that I went to this mediation course. I didn’t realize how much I did not know about forgiveness and the brain. Now I know, and hopefully I have been able to share this knowledge with you.

Debbi Hobbs
Source: Spirituality & Health

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