Forgive Others

There are few words as “loaded” as forgiveness. We hear it, we nod in recognition, and think: Why is it so hard? Or I know I should forgive, but…

The Mayo Clinic provides this insight: “Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root.”

You have probably been there. I have. We pay a big price when we hold on to these powerful emotions:

  • Bringing anger and bitterness into our relationships and experiences
  • Becoming absorbed in how we were wronged, preventing us from enjoying the present
  • Becoming depressed or anxious
  • Feeling that our life lacks meaning or purpose, or battling with our beliefs and values
  • Becoming distant from others

No one wants to live from that place. Forgiveness is the key to moving forward because it is the release of resentment and anger.

We want that, but we may hold back forgiveness because we mistakenly believe that to forgive means:

  • to forget, as if it didn’t happen
  • that whatever caused the pain was no big deal
  • simply picking up where you left off in the relationship

Forgiveness is none of that, because: it did happen, it was a big deal to you, and you can’t just go back to “before.” This is precisely why some say that forgiveness is mainly for you. Yes, it usually makes the other person feel better, less burdened, less guilty. But you don’t control how much of that actually happens. So, here’s the thing – forgiveness allows you to get on with your life. It creates a kind of peace that research tells us can contribute to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved mental health
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved self-esteem

Authentic Forgiveness is Key

We know from past experience that saying “I forgive you” or “It’s fine” will not bring about a release of resentment or anger. Authentic forgiveness is grounded in a genuine willingness to let it go. I’ve looked at several models for practicing forgiveness and found the one offered by Dr. Everett Worthington particularly realistic and approachable. It includes these key steps:

Recall the hurt
Face the fact that you’ve been hurt. Don’t be nasty and hurtful, and don’t treat yourself like a victim, or the other person unkindly. Truly decide that you will forgive without retribution.  Remember that she is a valuable person and so are you.

Empathize with them
Pretend that the other person is sitting in an empty chair across from you. Talk to them from your heart. Then, when you’ve gotten it all out, sit in their chair. Talk back to the imaginary you in a way that helps you see why the other person might have wronged you. Perhaps you feel empathy for them, or maybe gain an understanding of their actions. You may be reminded that  people sometimes lash out from their own hurts or disappointments, or that you were the trigger for their “hot button” issue.

Altruistic gift
Extend your forgiveness as an unselfish, altruistic gift. You remember how you felt when someone forgave you, right? You were released from a particular type of misery and felt freed. In other words, forgive unselfishly.

Commit
Seal your forgiveness by writing a note to yourself – on a post-it or in your phone. It could be a few words such as “I have forgiven Lexi.” This simple act helps bring closure.

Hold onto forgiveness
Remind yourself that you have released your hurt, anger, and resentment. We humans have a way of forgetting this. So, as often as you need to, go back and look at that note you wrote to yourself.

If forgiveness is a challenge right now, explore this and other models more deeply or, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, counselor, or therapist. Why? Because forgiveness is essential to a well-lived life.

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