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Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD

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The Psychology of Forgiveness, Compassion and Acceptance

Posted: 10/20/10 07:24 PM ET

Words like forgiveness, tolerance, compassion, and acceptance are not new to us, but there may be some uncertainty as to how to apply these concepts to our daily life in today's world, a world that appears to be getting more congested, complicated, full of twists and turns, and progressing at what seems like the speed of light.

What does it mean to forgive someone, and how can we forgive if the person has no sense of accountability or responsibility for his actions? Why is it that compassion seems like a widespread word, but there is still hatred and conflict among people? How can we accept negativity? And what does it mean to live in a tolerant society? These are questions that more and more people are dealing with, and this article will try to address some of them.

In this era, when we live in a society and ultimately a world that is looking more and more like a melting pot or a salad bowl with such uniqueness and variety even within each subgroup, it may not seem like problems such as stereotyping, racism, and discrimination are completely vanishing. But one thing is clear: more than ever we need to deal with these and learn about them, because cooperation is a must in this era. That is why we are communicating more about these issues and are bringing these to the surface, which is healthy and a positive step toward the healing process.

Being misinformed; having a need to feel like we are "more special" in some illusive ways than others, not because we gained any type of knowledge or skill by working hard but because we want to gain that status easily without work; getting trapped in our comfort zone; and feeling like we have to be a part of a crowd against some "other" to gain a sense of security that we lack within -- all are factors that get us trapped and block us from finding the path toward the truth.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a behavior but more of an internal state of being and feeling. It is when we let go of resentments, ill will, complaint, and bitterness or any other negative feeling we have toward someone or something. This baggage of negativity harms us more than any other because we have to be the one who carries it. In some ways, we are the ones who are hurting ourselves more than anyone else can. In addition, these negative feelings are counterproductive and do not lead to any logical and root-oriented solutions to problems or any healthy changes. Therefore, in order to get to a natural state, we need to let go of any anxious attachments and negative internal feelings we have toward another. This will release us from the heavy load, and then we can think clearly and logically as to how we need to respond to the situation rather than react. Therefore, forgiveness benefits us more than any other emotion. Once we can forgive, we fly above our emotional river and respond to the emotion by feeling it and learning its signals, then we can calm it down and use our logic to respond.

This is a characteristic of emotionally healthy and intelligent individuals. In order to forgive, we need to learn to deal with our primitive feelings, like intense fear, which leads to out-of-balance anxiety and a sense of resentment, which in turn leads to aggression rather than a healthy reaction.

Compassion

We need to learn to feel compassion unconditionally by planting the seed and letting it grow. It won't be complete and whole until we learn to experience compassion for all, regardless of whether they have the same skin color, beliefs, nationally, race, education, socioeconomic status, or anything else. We need to learn that we are more united than we think and that compassion brings about more cooperation and balance rather than unhealthy forms of competition. A healthy society is not a divided society but a united one where people have compassion toward each other.

With more knowledge comes more understanding, and with that comes our accessibility to our built-in sense of unconditional compassion. Again, feeling compassionate for something does not mean we give free access, and it does not mean we don't hold people accountable for something negative that they may have done; it means we understand the root of problems and how they were created rather than looking at the surface behavior. This way we can find productive and long-term solutions. Compassion lessens a feeling of rejection, which by itself is the root of many negative behaviors.

Acceptance

Finally, the word acceptance does not mean that we accept a damaging behavior. What it means is that we try to acknowledge the dark as well as the light so that by that acknowledgment, we can make necessary changes. Only when we treat something with respect and accept it rather than rejecting it can we bring about necessary change. Rejecting something brings about more guardedness and resistance, therefore creating more of what we don't like. Also, avoidance and rejection cover up the real problem.

We need to watch out for our blind spots and bring them to light. An example of a blind spot is when a problem has been represented incorrectly through sources whose intention is to attract audiences rather than give valid information. Another one is the concept of a mental set, taking us back to a strategies that worked in the past but now can be a hindrance. Another one is the concept of confirmation biases, which dispose us to look only for evidence that support our initial beliefs. And yet another one is a belief perseverance, which leads us to stick to our belief even when they have been discredited.

To be able to nurture these positive qualities of forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance, you can practice some of these tips below and remember that this is a continuous process, so be forgiving, compassionate, and accepting of yourself and your mistakes. As long as we are making an honest effort, we are on our way.

  1. When you judge something, find a reliable source to learn more about it. Find its roots, history and the other side of the story.
  2. Challenge your mind when it gets trapped in a confirmation bias, mental set, or belief perseverance. These are all limiting to your existence.
  3. Practice expanding your sense of compassion to those whom you don't know. Move out of your comfort zone and expand your horizon. Practice unconditional regards. It will be a fulfilling experience.
  4. Learn to accept yourself and only then you can project that onto others. Learn that you are a whole with strength, weaknesses and in between. If you want to experience yourself fully and practice your full potential, you have to learn to acknowledge and respect all of your elements. What you accept you can change and take control of, but what you deny and avoid or reject will only get denser and darker and control you. This is true from the smallest elements of life to the more complex ones.


Finally, I will add one of my poems to mix a little art and creativity with the science of mind:

He was born into a life of adversity
He never got to experience his diversity

Me and you in a life of profusion
We had so much it created confusion

While me and you were encouraged
His life was full of discourage

He was punished for being a child
His sense of anger piled and piled

No one knew and seemed to care
He seemed like a piece of dust in the air

While we were smelling our mom's bake
He was smelling his dads alcohol retake

Time came for us to grow up
All he needed was to clean up

Clean up that anger, clean up that hurt
Get rid of his heart's many years of facing the dirt

We saw him but all we did was judge
All we did was give him the drudge

He had his anger built and built
He was overwhelmed with shame and guilt

Me and you had our happy life
He dealt with his anger with a knife