“People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness.” -Albert Ellis
Somebody once said that to forgive is always the right thing to do, but takes the heart of a saint to do it.
I agree; the act of forgiveness, letting go of grudges and resentments, is often the healthiest way to go—but it ain’t easy.
Broken promises, infidelities, selfishness, injustices, and a vast array of other hurts, will probably happen in our lifetimes and may cause a lot of pain. That’s when resentments grow, bitterness emerges, and grudges are tightly held—sometimes for years.
Get past the wounds!
Frank Luskin, psychotherapist, Stanford researcher, and writer of Forgive for Good, states:
“If you don’t get past some of the wounds of the past, you tend to bring them into everything else you pursue.”
If we don’t forgive, then emotional wounds will fester and stick around indefinitely. When this happens, we may stubbornly (or unknowingly) hang onto all the hurts and resentments. And the worse part? We’ll just bring all this “woundedness” into our relationships and wind up seriously hurting ourselves in the process.
By not practicing forgiveness, we’re not only risking our emotional health, but our physical health, as well. If all these long-term hurts remain unresolved, problems like cancer, strokes, and heart failure tend to rear their ugly heads.
The art of forgiveness
Enter the art of forgiveness; the decision to let go of resentments and revengeful thoughts, which hopefully allows one to reach a place of understanding, empathy, and compassion. It’s the ultimate way of letting go of the bad stuff—a true gift to the self.
When we finally release all that bubbling, inner anger, our interpersonal relationships have a chance to improve, we’re more optimistic, and we can experience that great feeling of finally “clearing the air.”
Interestingly enough, forgiveness, or “making amends,” as it’s referred to in the 12 Step program of recovery, is not practiced so much for the perpetrator, but for the one who’s been hurt, as a way to make peace and restore personal serenity.
We want to “clear our side of the street,” to make it right with ourselves, and lessen the other’s emotional strangle hold on us, thereby empowering ourselves.
So, if all this has such an upside, why don’t we forgive more often?
Some reasons why we choose not to forgive:
1) For one, to truly forgive isn’t such a simple and easy thing to do.
Forgiveness takes effort and, in some cases, a lot of time. It’s a process that can’t be undertaken lightly or flippantly. It’s a conscious process.
2) We want to stay a victim and continue to blame others.
It’s hard to believe, but a lot of us become very comfortable in the “look what they did to me!” role. It’s almost like a habit where we tend to blame it all on external circumstances instead of looking within.
So, we’ll need to let go of the victim role by developing a higher regard for ourselves, because our chance of escaping victimhood is proportional to the love we give to ourselves.
3) Our egos can get in the way: “I’ll never forgive them! Never!”
All too often, we’re so supremely offended and defended that we think we’re too good or above it all to actually forgive another—so we don’t.
4) When forgiveness seems impossible.
Sometimes, the act of forgiveness is just too much for an individual, especially when there’s too big of an injustice to deal with. Consider the parents of a murdered son or a raped daughter.
Still, the price of non-forgiveness is the incessant holding onto pain—something possibly even worse than the original injustice itself!
5) We just don’t know how to forgive.
If nobody ever made amends to you, forgiveness may feel downright confusing, and so foreign to you, that you may end up abandoning the whole process.
And sometimes, we just don’t have the skills to forgive!
How to forgive?
Well, suffice it to say that there’s been a ton of suggestions made about how to forgive, but psychotherapist and leading researcher on the subject of forgiveness, Frank Luskin, suggests four basic elements to keep in mind when we do forgive:
Express the emotion. Let yourself feel hurt and angry. Verbalize the way you feel. Ideally, express it to the person who made you feel that way. Otherwise, talk to a stand-in friend or even an empty chair. Write a letter; you don’t need to send it. Shout your emotions at the top of your lungs while you’re in the car, alone, or with the windows down.
Understand why. We want explanations—even if we don’t agree with them. Was it a misunderstanding? Were you mad at me? Some sort of cognitive framework is necessary, even if you don’t like the reason.
Rebuild safety. Before you forgive, you need to feel reasonably sure that the act won’t reoccur. That might mean an apology, reassurance from the person in question, distance, or stronger boundaries.
Let go. This may be the hardest part: making a conscious decision not to hold a grudge. If you’re in a relationship, this means not bringing up past transgressions. By letting go, you give up your role as the victim and become equals again. It’s a promise to yourself to stop ruminating and to move on fully.
Luskin adds: “When you feel upset, try a stress-management technique, like deep breaths or a yoga session.”
Let it go!
“We can observe that when we let go of bitterness, grudges, and resentments, life energy becomes much more available to us. The amount of life energy that becomes available depends on how much energy we have been putting into holding resentments and bitterness.” - Dr. Jim Dincalci
So, forgiveness is a process of letting go, refusing to be the victim, and, at the end of the day, an ultimate act of self-love. Through the act of forgiveness, life energy and self-empowerment becomes a real possibility—and inner serenity becomes reality.
And as you’re forgiving the other and letting go of all those nasty hurts and resentments, do yourself a favor, and don’t forget to forgive yourself, too—you’re worth it!
*Here’s some good resources on the subject of “forgiveness”:
Get Dr. Dincalci’s book, How to Forgive When You Can’t
*Please leave your opinions and remarks related to “forgiveness” in the comment section below. Thanks!