Founder of The Forgiveness Project talks the benefits of the other F-word
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Tara Muldoon wears her heart on her sleeve — literally. A tattoo on her forearm reads, “Forgive me forgive you”. For someone who teaches emotional healing for a living, it’s a fitting reminder.
Muldoon is the founder of F-You: The Forgiveness Project — a Toronto-based social initiative of panel discussions featuring speakers who have gone from victim to survivor, and found forgiveness in the process. Since 2010, Muldoon has helped thousands of people embrace the healing process. “At the Project, we ask, ‘What would it look like if you were to forgive yourself or another today?’ I have not met a person yet who regrets forgiving.”
Having launched F-You after she was raped, Muldoon says there’s no “one size fits all” method to forgiveness, but there are common steps to follow. “The anatomy of forgiveness involves going through that time of anger and mourning, then trying to understand the situation, and having compassion for the person and yourself,” she says. “When I’m ready, I ask myself, ‘what was their intention? What were they going through?’ That makes them a person instead of a label like my best friend or my dad. The other person has a story, too.”
In her experiences, Muldoon finds people have a difficult time forgiving because it is perceived as accepting the other person’s actions. “Forgiveness isn’t to say that person was right but that you’re stronger,” she explains. “I really want to challenge the belief that to forgive is to accept the action.”
A growing body of research is finding health benefits to forgiveness. A study by the Mayo Clinic shows holding a grudge may have an affect on our cardiovascular and nervous systems. In one study, people who focused on a grudge had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, increased muscle tension and feelings of being less in control. When asked to imagine forgiving the person who hurt them, participants said they felt more positive and relaxed and the physical symptoms dissipated.
And what if you’re the perpetrator wanting to apologize? “Don’t say sorry unless you’re truly in a place to do it,” Muldoon says. “I don’t think there’s a lot more that’s damaging than apologizing to someone only for it to go backwards. We want to value and honour our relationships, so don’t do that same thing you apologized for a second time.”
With F-You being awarded $370,000 over five years in Ontario Trillium Foundation funding, Muldoon is working on a second collection of stories on forgiveness (the first was released last summer), and plans to use the money to publish more books and create bimonthly yoga-for-forgiveness and mixed martial art classes.
“Knowing I help to heal people gives purpose to the rape and pain I felt,” says Muldoon. “You’re the one drinking the poison when you’re angry. When you realize that hurt people hurt people, everything changes.”
Forgiveness times four
Muldoon breaks down four types of forgiveness that are dealt with at F-You.
- Forgiving yourself. “This is making sure you do what you need to remove guilt that affects your decisions and actions.”
- Forgiving another person. “Remove the labels from relationships, understand people are human and bad stuff happens, but you have a life to live.”
- Spiritual-based forgiveness. “Those who are spiritual will ask whatever we believe in for forgiveness and unless we see a huge sign, we don’t accept that. If your apology is genuine, it is enough.”
- Being forgiven by another person. “Make sure what you think of yourself doesn’t depend on that person. If they need their time, that’s fine, but you have to work with that and move on.”