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Forgiveness Is the Remedy—and a Relief for Depression Chapter 7 at a Glance Having learned that toxic emotions—anger, guilt, and fear—are serious obstacles on the road to lasting freedom from depression, it’s easy to wonder, What next? What can be done to deal with such formidable opponents? Thankfully, there is a proven antidote to toxic emotions—and a powerful tonic for regaining control over your health and well-being. However, like everything else on the road to healing depression for good, it’s not a magic elixir you can ingest for instantaneous and miraculous relief. This cure will require tough choices, discipline, and commitment on your part. It will take courage to face the emotional dragons you’ve hidden away in your closet over the years and to dare to think differently about them. But it can be done! Proof lies in the millions of people who have gone before you and found freedom in the age-old practice of forgiveness. I acknowledge that forgiveness is a loaded word for many people. It carries conflicting religious overtones or hints of pop culture sentimentalism many of us have learned to mistrust.

For many of us, anger, guilt, fear, and judgment are more than mere emotions; they’ve become an armored identity. We wonder who and what we’ll be if we let go. And yet the reward for learning to let go is immense, particularly if you’ve been living under the shadow of depression. Essential Ideas . . . and Your Insights The one who benefits most from forgiveness is you. The purpose of forgiveness is not to deliver anything to the one who caused us harm but to help ourselves by letting go of toxic attachment to the past and our pain. So long as we hang on to feelings of outrage, injustice, and desire for payback, we keep the offense alive and the wounds fresh. And in the process, we remain vulnerable to all the negative physical and psychological effects of runaway anger and fear. Your response: Have you experienced this truth in your own life?

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Specifically, have you resisted the challenge to forgive someone? If so, what repercussions and detriments did you encounter by choosing not to let go of an offense? Forgiveness is not about letting someone ‘off the hook.’ When considering forgiveness, the most powerful objection we encounter in ourselves is the mistaken idea that to forgive means looking the other way while somebody ‘gets away’ with something. We see forgiveness as an undeserved get-out-of-jail-free card. That seems wrong somehow because we can’t stand the idea of saying, ‘That’s okay’ about behavior that is not. Your response: Is this an issue for you—feeling like forgiveness is akin to shrugging off someone’s bad behavior? What, for you, is involved in the process of acknowledging a person’s hurtful acts yet fully forgiving that person?

Forgiveness (or lack of it) gains momentum, bringing you more and more good health (or poor health). If you choose not to forgive, you poison yourself, add more toxic shame to your life, and increase the desire to escape into unhealthy behaviors. But the good news is that forgiveness is like a snowball rolling downhill: once moving, it keeps growing and picking up speed. With the struggling clients I work with, I’ve seen time and time again that forgiveness helps lighten their emotional load, brighten their outlook on life, shorten their recovery time, and restore their natural resilience against the recurrence of depression in the future. Your response: What other benefits come with the act of forgiveness? Specifically, how have you benefited—emotionally, spiritually, physically—when you found the courage to forgive someone? Taking Stock Forgiveness is a practical and necessary step in healing from depression. Holding on to past hurts only deepens your feelings of anger, guilt, and fear. Use these questions to understand your resistance to forgiveness and how to overcome it. I want to be able to forgive ___________________________ for _______________________________. But I haven’t yet let go of how that hurt me in these ways: I’m afraid if I do forgive, it will mean. I hope that forgiving this person will benefit me in the following ways: Things I have learned about forgiveness that surprise me: What forgiveness is to me: What forgiveness isn’t: Things I need to ask someone else’s forgiveness for: Things I know I hold against God or life: Strategies I know will help me let go of past hurts if I choose to employ them: Change Your Story, Change Your Life What is the story you tell yourself about forgiveness? What were the messages or role models you received in childhood about the issue of forgiveness? How have your spiritual beliefs and the teachings you received shaped your current willingness or unwillingness to forgive others (or yourself)? Write out your story—just let it flow without self-editing or filtering. Now write out a different narrative you want to embrace. Where do you want to end up? Describe your ideal life, free of resentment.

Dig Deeper What is your gut reaction when you hear the word forgiveness? To put it more personally, how do you feel when you hear the words (from yourself or someone else), ‘You really should forgive that person’? What reasons do you give yourself for not forgiving someone who caused you harm? How can you work through these reasons? Think of some instances when you needed to ask for someone’s forgiveness for a mistake you made or hurt you caused. What were those experiences like for you? How did it feel when you received forgiveness—or when it was withheld? Describe how your spiritual beliefs guide your thinking and actions about forgiveness. Do you find it difficult to live out the standards of forgiveness presented in Scripture? If so, in what way would you like to grow in this area? Do you feel the need to forgive God for anything? Some people take offense at the very idea that God, the Creator of all, would need to be forgiven. Yet it’s a fact that many individuals feel angry at God or disappointed with him for allowing traumas or hardships to come into their lives (sometimes including depression). How do you react to this issue? First Steps, Next Steps Now it’s time to get practical. We’ve explored many issues that prompted you to ponder and process. Let’s put those thoughts into action. I’ll provide several steps forward, and then it’s your turn to determine three additional steps you will take this week. Take time to review your personal history—from years ago to recent times. Can you think of someone (or several people) you need to forgive? Write about any resistance you feel about offering forgiveness.

Next, create a plan to follow through on your intention to forgive. Review the misconceptions about forgiveness discussed in chapter 7 of Healing Depression for Life. Which of these misconceptions have you believed in the past? Identify other misconceptions you would add. Rewrite in your own words this passage from the apostle Paul: ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you

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