Forgiveness is nothing more than a decision. It’s a decision to let go of a resentment, to lessen the grip of a hurt that was perpetrated on you, and to allow yourself to focus on more positive things.
Benefits of forgiving vs. Effects of holding a grudge
When you hold a grudge against someone who has wronged you, in effect you are allowing anger to have a presence in your life. Even if you only think about it on occasion, the anger keeps seeping back into your life.
When you allow anger to be with you, you end up bringing it to other aspects of your life. You bring it with you to other relationships, to new experiences, and to your inner self.
Holding a grudge, therefore, blocks enjoyment of the present. No matter what you are doing or where you are, if something reminds you of that person or the event that hurt you, you return to your anger. That means that it affects whatever you’re doing, even if you were having a great time doing it!
Maybe you love going to baseball games, but one time you were there with a friend who got drunk and insulted you. If you don’t forgive him and move on, guess what happens every time you go to a game? You think of him, and anger creeps into your enjoyment of one of your favorite pastimes!
Or maybe you enjoy playing the piano, but your grade school teacher said you weren’t very good. If you haven’t forgiven her for being so negative and unsupportive, now whenever you play, the memory of her statement angers you again.
You might even be reminded of the hurt when you’re doing something completely unrelated to the original transgression. For instance, you could be reading a book that you are really enjoying, and then there’s a story line of someone betraying a friend. If you were once betrayed by a friend and didn’t forgive her, the story in the book will immediately bring you back to that event, and suddenly you aren’t enjoying your leisure reading anymore. What a way to ruin a good book!
When you forgive someone, however, it allows you to enjoy your life and everyone and everything in it without repeated reminders of past hurts and without returning to the anger you felt toward that person.
When you forgive, it is also good for your health. Letting go of the anger reduces your anxiety and stress level. It also improves your psychological well-being when you stop carrying that negative energy.
What forgiveness doesn’t mean
When you forgive someone, it doesn’t erase what happened. It also doesn’t change that person’s responsibility for hurting you. And don’t worry about “forgive and forget” – maybe you shouldn’t forget.
You might be able to use the event as an opportunity to learn something. You might learn a little about your sensitivities, or you might find you need to create stronger boundaries with caustic people, or maybe you’ll even realize how you might have similarly hurt someone.
Regardless, forgiving doesn’t mean you are being a doormat and letting people step all over you. You are simply taking charge of your own life, casting out negative feelings and focusing on positive ones.
How to forgive
If you are having a hard time letting go of a hurt, there are some steps you can go through that might help you.
Think about the facts of the situation – You can try reliving it if it isn’t too painful. Think about what happened, and what hurt you. Remember how you reacted and how you felt. Think also about how the event has affected your life in the time since it happened.
Think about what made him act that way or say what he said – What are his weaknesses? Most people aren’t inherently bad. Everyone carries their own pain, and that influences their decisions. Take heart in the fact that if he wasn’t carrying his pain, he likely wouldn’t have inflicted any on you. Sympathize with him if you can.
Replay the event with a good outcome – This is a technique I learned a few years back, and it can actually help you gain some closure. If that bad event had not played out in a negative way, how would it have looked? Envision the same event, but with a positive outcome. It just might give you some gratification in knowing how things should have happened.
Remove your victim status – Even if you were the victim, try to stop identifying as one. This lets go of the offender’s control and power over you.
This doesn’t shift any responsibility away from the person who hurt you, it just means you will no longer be a victim to the hurt that he caused you. Take away his power to hurt you by choosing to take control over the situation in your decision to forgive.
Actively choose to forgive – And commit to it! At some point, it just comes down to this. You know what holding a grudge does to you, you know how your life will be improved if you choose to forgive, and you know it’s time to move forward. Choose to forgive the person who caused you pain, and know (as trite as it sounds) you will be a better person for it – it’s true!
When you choose to forgive someone, it won’t have any effect on that person. Know that he won’t change, and that you can’t make him change. Forgiveness changes you. It brings you to peace, it allows you to heal, and it helps you put past pain behind you.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Do you have someone you need to forgive? What is holding you back? How might your life be different if you forgave that person? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, and you can also find us at www.facebook.com/OneMoveForward!