When someone has hurt you, it can be tempting to hold feelings of anger and resentment – perhaps even revenge. But perhaps you could forgive them instead.
We have all been in situations where someone’s words or actions have hurt us. That could be something large or relatively small; it could have been physical or emotional. Whatever the details, everyone knows what it feels like to be hurt. And we all know that this can leave us feeling angry and resentful long after the incident is over.
Whilst it can feel like we are entirely justified in our anger and misery, it doesn’t really do us any good. In fact, there’s that well used, usually mis-attributed quote, Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Regardless of who did and didn’t say it (according to the internet it’s anyone from Carrie Fisher to Buddha), it is a wise saying. After all, the person who wronged you so terribly is merrily going about their life, while you sit there and stew in your negativity. Is it time to consider forgiving them?
As mentioned above: when you hold a grudge, it affects you much more than anyone else. When you hold a grudge it makes you bitter, and can make you feel more negative towards other people and situations. If you can find a way to forgive and move on, you can let go of that negativity and embrace a more peaceful, hopeful future. In a way, if you do not forgive and move forward, you are giving that person power over the rest of your life. There are actually benefits to forgiveness, above and beyond what you might imagine:
Benefits of forgiveness
- Healthier relationships – not only with the person you forgive
- Improved mental health
- Less stress and anxiety
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved self esteem
But what if you don’t want to forgive? What if you’re enjoying clinging to your story of wrongdoing, and don’t want to give it up? Well, there are some negative effects of holding onto that grudge, that you might want to be aware of:
Effects of holding a grudge
- The risk of bringing your anger and resentment into other relationships
- Feeling unable to enjoy the present because you are too busy replaying what has happened in the past
- Feeling depressed and/or anxious
- Feeling at odds with your spiritual or religious beliefs
- The risk of not feeling truly connected to the people around you
What is forgiveness?
To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful towards a person. When you forgive someone, you make a conscious decision to let go of any feelings of resentment towards them. You might think that is easier said than done – but it’s worth a try, right?
You might never forget whatever was said or done, but by releasing your feelings around it – and the story you’re telling yourself around it – you can release yourself from that grip of bitterness.
Forgiveness is about you, not them
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean letting them off the hook for what they have said or done; it doesn’t mean you will “go back to how things were” or return for another round of abuse. It doesn’t mean you ever have to speak to them again. To me it really just means making peace with what has happened. Accepting what is, without wishing for it to have been different in any way. It brings a peace that is a tremendous gift to yourself, but – much like holding a grudge in the first place – makes no difference to the other person, unless you decide to tell them about it.
Moving into a state of compassion
You could even go one step further and attempt to feel empathy or compassion for the person who harmed you. Trying to understand what may have led them to do what they did will not change anything – and does not take away from your experience – but it does allow you to come to a new understanding of the situation. As Peter Crone often says: if you had been born into that person’s life, and experienced the things they have experienced, you would absolutely have done the same things they have done.
Often when we begin the work of forgiving someone who has wronged us, we can find that we also need to forgive ourselves. In my own experience, I had to face the idea that while someone else had abused me, I had allowed myself to get into that situation. I had abandoned myself, not stood up for myself. Forgiving yourself can be a much larger task than forgiving anyone else – but it can also bring the most knowledge, understanding and peace.
How do you forgive?
The first step in forgiving someone is deciding to do it. After this it becomes a conscious decision, whenever that thought pops into your mind, to say to yourself: I am no longer clinging to this pain.
Forgiving someone does not mean that you don’t allow yourself to feel your feelings; instead, it means you don’t cling onto them and allow them to play over and over in your mind. In fact, acknowledging how you feel is very important. It is also important to notice and acknowledge any ways that your feelings around this matter may be affecting your day to day life. You may want to seek forgiveness therapy to help you to move through this.
Forgiving someone is not a matter of “one and done” – if something has affected you deeply it may take a long while for you to let go of that pain and to move forward. It may require a daily practice of reminding yourself that you are moving away from suffering and towards forgiveness.
Finding a positive in a negative?
It may also help to try and see a positive in what has happened. Many people believe that some of the biggest mistakes or disasters in their lives have actually turned out to be their greatest blessing, bringing them new clarity and experiences. Some people are able to look back on an event and to see that yes, if this had not happened I would not have met this person, gone to this event, found this new joy in my life.
It can take a long time and a lot of perspective before you can reach this point, and it’s not for everyone. If something truly awful has happend to you and you can’t see anything positive in it, that is your call to make – and it’s not for anyone else to tell you that you should find something positive in it. It is your experience, and you are the only person who know how it feels.