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8 Reasons to Forgive Your Worst Enemies

Forgiveness creates change that betters the world.

Reaching Hands

Archbishop Desmond Tutu had every right to not forgive his worst enemies during apartheid—the racial segregation and oppression of nonwhite South Africans beginning in 1949—and yet when he chose to do so, he changed the world for the better.

Tutu helped to break the cycle of oppression, uprising, and retaliation in his native South Africa not by encouraging his oppressed followers to violence, but by asking them to forgive. Because of his advocacy of non-violence, of abandoning the right to revenge, South Africa is a much more peaceful place today. Apartheid was torn down by through death, but through negotiation.

Thus is the power of forgiveness, and what it did for the people of South Africa, it can do for you, too.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you naively allow others to repeatedly wrong you—it simply means that you let go of the idea of revenge against the person who wronged you without excusing the wrong. When you forgive, you limit yourself to seeking justice rather than seeking to hurt. That’s an important difference.

Deliberately cultivating the ability to forgive has many benefits, both for yourself, and to those around you, so let’s take a look at 8 reasons to forgive even your worst of enemies.

1. You’ll Become an Example of Kindness

Couple Hugging

Each time someone wrongs you, you have a choice: revenge or kindness. Choosing kindness is what changes the world for the better, and one of the best ways to cultivate that kindness is by making a habit of forgiveness.

Kindness is, essentially, behavior that is marked by concern for the well-being of others, making forgiving someone an intrinsically kind act. Rather than pushing to hurt the person who hurt you, you show mercy and stop at justice. You correct the problem without gratuitous pain.

Kindness isn’t offered for reward—it’s for the other person. So why be kind?

Each and every person is a lighthouse—the way in which you live your life is a light that others might follow. Some lighthouses lead to safe shores, while others will strand you on the rocks.

You want to be an example that leads people to a better life by demonstrating kindness.

Cultivate forgiveness and you’ll cultivate kindness in all aspects of your life. This makes our world a better place to live for everyone involved.

2. You’ll be at Peace With Your Values


Most of us have some form of moral value system. This is the framework in which we make our decisions and that informs how we see the world. And when we make decisions that go against our value systems, we place ourselves in a state of unease.

If you’re a Christian, Christ taught that you are to forgive others. If you’re a Buddhist, one of the major aims of your life is to avoid suffering, and to avoid causing others to suffer. For Muslims, the Quran calls everyone to “pardon people and overlook their faults,” because Allah loves those who do good to others. For atheists, the simple value of human life suffices.

Whatever system you subscribe to, it’s discomforting to break it. Most of us don’t consciously think about our moral compass, and so we may not know where this unease comes from.

But for many of us, the answer lies in the grudges we hold.

Learn to forgive even your worst enemy, and you’ll place yourself in line with your values. Whether you attribute this peace to psychology or spirituality or both, the results are very real, and very worth pursuing.

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3. You’ll Experience Less Stress

Relax Breaktime

Think about what holding a grudge physically does to you. You fantasize about hurting your enemy, and you become angry. Your heart rate increases. Your brain activates your body’s fight-or-flight response, and inflammation begins.

Inflammation is your body’s natural way of defending itself against harm, but when your body remains in this state over a long period of time, it can wreak havoc. Hormones released during stress impair digestion, memory, the ability to sleep, and many other essential functions, and over time, this can produce permanent damage.

This is what you’re doing to yourself when you fail to forgive, when you nurse the possibility of revenge day after day.

You don’t have to let anyone keep hurting you—by all means, seek justice and protect yourself. But once you have, let it all go. When thoughts of revenge arise, immediately replace them with a more pleasant thought. Make this a habit, and soon, you’ll find yourself less and less angry.

Forgive others, and you invite good health for yourself.

4. You’ll Have Better Relationships

Couple holding hands

You may not realize it, but you’re probably already forgiving a multitude of small infractions every day, from the negligent driver who rode your bumper to your spouse who put the toilet paper on the roll backwards.

For some people, these small acts of forgiveness don’t come as easily, and their relationships suffer. For those who don’t forgive easily, these small wrongs are cause for anger. A life without the ability to forgive is marked by loneliness—after all, who wants to be around the person who flies into a rage at the slightest provocation?

But practice forgiveness, and you’ll be better equipped to handle the very human foibles which exist all around you. These small mistakes will cease to be a constant source of anger when you can simply let them go, and that you don’t have to dole out punishments for insignificant events.

Do this, and you’ll be a far better friend, spouse, and acquaintance to those around you.

5. You Can Forgive Yourself

Woman looking in mirror

Forgiveness is great for the person being forgiven, especially when that person happens to be yourself.

All of us have what we perceive to be personal failings. Perhaps we made a bad decision. Or maybe we hurt someone we loved. Our daily tasks sometimes overwhelm us, and we fall behind. We get fired. We miscommunicate.

Whatever the reason, we often hold ourselves to a much higher standard than we do others—we fail to forgive ourselves for mistakes we’d easily forgive others for.

This leaves us miserable, plunged into a sea of self-loathing, and the mistakes worsen because of this. The self-loathing intensifies, and the cycle continues.

But if you can practice forgiveness well enough to forgive your worst enemy, you can eventually learn to forgive yourself, as well.

Forgiving yourself means accepting your own humanity. You are both valuable and flawed—these are parts of being human. Everyone makes mistakes. Hold yourself responsible for each mistake by learning from it, not by beating yourself up—the latter does no good.

Learning to forgive may start with those outside yourself, but it should eventually extend inward. Forgive yourself, and you’ll find a peace you never knew existed.

6. You’ll Lower Your Risk of Substance Abuse

medical pills

Do you remember the stress we talked about earlier? Well, that can do more than activate inflammation. It can result in destructive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.

Your substance may be alcohol, drugs, or any other addictive behavior, but whatever your vice is, it can be life-ruining. When we turn to something harmful in order to feel better, we just make ourselves feel worse, locking us into a downward spiral.

As we’ve seen, the stress of holding a grudge is much worse for you than it is for the person you hold a grudge against. To hold a grudge is to hold pain, while forgiveness allows us to release that pain. This means that when you forgive, you lower your risk of becoming dependent on addictive substances.

If you can learn to forgive even your worst enemy, you’ll address a very common source of pain, and without that constant pain, you’ll be less likely to turn to destructive coping mechanisms.

7. You’ll be More Productive

Planning Finances

Think about how much mental real estate you give to those who have wronged you. If you’re like most people, it’s probably a lot. You’ll spend ten minutes here and there, thinking about how your significant other emotionally wounded you during an argument, or maybe even half an hour considering revenge against that co-worker who keeps stealing your pens.

All of this adds up.

Rather than thinking about pain and revenge, you could be working, pursuing your hobbies, or nurturing relationships.

Think about this: you get an average of 80 years to live your life. Do you really want to dedicated days or months of that time to the people you don’t like, and who don’t like you?

No. You don’t. Gain that time back by forgiving your enemies and moving on. Release any thoughts of revenge that tie you to those who hurt you. Seek out justice and move on.

Forgiveness can help you become more productive by giving you back the time you’d have otherwise spent holding a grudge—if nothing else, let this be your reason to forgive.

8. You’ll Stop the Cycle of Vengeance

Fighting Couple

Finally, we come to the most important reason of all to forgive even your worst enemy: it stops the cycle of vengeance.

We began by talking about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and for good reason—he played a large part in stopping apartheid-related violence in South Africa by encouraging forgiveness. When oppressed and abused populations wanted to resort to terrorism against the government, no one could blame them.

But Archbishop Tutu knew that there was a better way. If one population rose up, slaughtered, and subjugated the other, the cycle would only continue. Instead of this, Tutu took the harder road, negotiating for peace, even while ensuring that the systems which enabled segregation were obliterated.

Tutu knew that it was these systems and ideas which needed to be destroyed—not people. This is how you permanently change the world. This is why his name will be in the next generation’s history books.

Start forgiving, and you’ll do your part to stop the back-and-forth of physical and emotional violence that mars everyday life. Even your worst enemy would probably admit that this is a worthy cause.

people women hugging

The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness starts with you. When even your worst enemy wrongs you, correct the problem, let it go, and move on. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

Although there’s no denying that learning to let go is a supremely difficult act of will, few things in life are more worth the work. You’ll find not only your own life transformed, but even better, you’ll find yourself transforming the world.


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