How to use empathy for forgiveness

Naomi Dardik
Last Updated:
July 9, 2023

Using empathy to forgive

Have you ever considered what happens inside our brain when we think about forgiving someone? Neuroscience gives us a fascinating insight: when we successfully imagine forgiving someone, even in a hypothetical situation, our brain lights up in the areas associated with empathy. It's an eye-opener, isn't it? The path to forgiveness isn't simply about absolution, it's deeply interwoven with our capacity to empathize. In fact, for those of us having a hard time unlocking forgiveness, empathy can be the key.

Before we dive deeper, let's spend a moment on the obvious question: why forgive at all?

Holding on to hurt takes away a lot of essential energy and changes how we conduct ourselves in the world and in any relationship. Forgiveness leads you toward greater self-understanding, resilience, and empowerment. If we want to shake off those harmful stories we tell ourselves when we're hurting— "I can't recover" or "I'm not enough" — forgiveness acts as a gentle healing agent for our emotional scars. And while forgiveness does have a positive impact on the world around us, it's the person forgiving who truly reaps the most immediate benefits.

Scientifically speaking, forgiveness is not just about feeling good—it's good for our health, too. Studies show that those who forgive experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, have lower levels of anger, and even fewer manifestations of PTSD.

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If we want to shake off those lies we tell ourselves when we're hurting —  forgiveness acts as a gentle healing agent

Now, let’s try something:

Imagine you've been hurt by someone. It's a situation that most of us have experienced, unfortunately. Now, think about this person's life details that might shed light on their behavior.

Consider, for a moment, picturing them as an innocent child, in desperate need of love and support. Ask yourself, did they receive this essential nurturing?

By taking the time to piece together a narrative for this person, from their childhood to their present, or even by imagining it based on what you know, you may start to perceive their physical and psychological vulnerabilities. It could be the start of understanding the shared human condition, of acknowledging that underneath the harm they've caused, they are a vulnerable person, carrying their own wounds.

This recognition isn't about justifying hurtful behavior or absolving them from responsibility. Instead, it helps us move on by remembering that those who wound us are often wounded themselves.

Empathy reminds us that we all bear scars. When we open ourselves up to recognizing these shared wounds, it softens our hearts, allows us to break the cycle of pain, and, ultimately, build stronger, healthier relationships.

Embracing empathy in the forgiveness process is a challenging journey, one that asks us to confront pain and vulnerability both in ourselves and in others. Sometimes, especially if you’ve been holding on to a lot of hurt, or if the hurt is severe, it’s good to get professional guidance as you make it out of there.

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