Before we go any further, know this. We feel exactly the same way you do about ‘forgive and forget‘: how come nobody else has to do all this forgiving and forgetting, only us? Is this even remotely fair? The whole thing makes us feel like naughty preschoolers – and not in a good way. And here we are again. It’s another holiday season. Despite the glitter and the lights and the cheery evergreens, all the old resentments are hauled back out, the heavy family baggage, the bitter misunderstandings, the broken promises. There isn’t enough punch in the world to make it all okay.
Or is there?
How about we call forgiveness something else, for starters? Let’s make it less wimpy, less about appeasement and more about positive growth and a real commitment to taking charge of our lives. Let’s call forgiveness ‘tolerance’ or ‘generosity’ or even ‘catharsis’. Isn’t that better, stronger, more empowering? Of course, it’ still the same thing. So let’s think about forgiveness, straight up, no frills.
When we allow ourselves to forgive, we are calling the shots: the hurt no longer directs or dominates us, the tail stops wagging the dog. It’s amazing, actually, how liberating, how relieving and reviving, it is to forgive.
Now, not for one moment does your forgiveness mean that the person who hurt you is not responsible for that behavior, that damage. Not at all. Nor does it justify, minimize or excuse that wrong. Forgiveness is about choosing to move forward with life, to make room for growth and say goodbye to negative energies. Old hurts might stay with you for the rest of your days, but with forgiveness, they lose their power to sap your strength and darken your horizons.
- Less stress and hostility generally – always better for your emotional and physical health.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Fewer symptoms of depression, chronic pain and anxiety.
- Healthier relationships.
- Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.
- Stronger spiritual and psychological well-being.
That’s an impressive list. But now we’re at the ‘easier said than done’ part. Obviously, if it were easy to forgive (and forget), we’d all be doing it. So let’s explore this whole thing a bit more.
Why, oh why, is it so easy to hold a grudge? Dr. Piderman has some good insights. Once we’ve been hurt by someone we love, we get angry, confused, or sad – or all three. We keep thinking about it, replaying it, returning again and again to the scene of the crime. Then along comes resentment, with elaborate plans for retribution and revenge. The negative outweighs the positive. The hurt and mistrust come to define us. The injustice of it all overwhelms us. We can’t let it go.
Because we can’t let it go, we drag that anger and mistrust with us into every new relationship, workplace and situation. There is no experience not tainted. The present is so haunted by the past that we risk depression, anxiety, a life with no pleasure or purpose. We aren’t connected anymore. Clearly something has to change. And it can only be us. Maybe, over time, it’s just as much ‘won’t let go’ as ‘can’t let go’. Hmmm.
So how does the forgiveness start? First, recognize and accept the value of forgiveness. Understand that it has a place in your life. Think over the situation, remember how you got there, how you reacted. Are you ready to feel better? Are you tired of being the victim? Great! Consciously, deliberately, mindfully choose to forgive whoever has offended you. Release yourself from their control and influence. Step away from the grudges.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. It’s a process. You may get weepy, tense, afraid to run into your old partner or co-workers. All normal. You may avoid gatherings and parties and favorite hangouts so you don’t embarrass yourself. Again, normal. You may need spiritual guidance or other professional mental health help. Get that help, all the help you need, if necessary. Your integrity, your well-being, your inner peace – they’re worth every effort. So what if the one who hurt you never owns up, never admits the wrong? This is about you, remember. And now that you are healing, maybe you can face up to wrongs or hurts for which you are responsible. Maybe you’ve been forgiven, too.
What now? Reconciliation? Maybe. Maybe not. Suppose the one who hurt you most has died, or moved far away or disappeared? Suppose they’re in prison for attacking you, on in total denial? Is forgiveness still an option or appropriate, even when reconciliation is not? Yes. Keep in mind that the forgiveness is more about changing your life, not his or hers, bringing you healing and peace. And if the other person won’t change, seemingly can’t change, none of this has anything to do with you and forgiveness.
Will all this make it easier to survive the family’s annual holiday supper/cocktail bash/gossip fest? Of course it will.