A grudge is a gift that keeps on giving–misery, that is.
It causes anxiety, depression, anger, paranoia, isolation, insomnia, and physical pain. But by forgiving your transgressor, you take back control of your life, and that brings just as outsized a list of benefits. There are physical payoffs, like lower blood pressure; maybe more important, you feel less anger, anxiety, and depression, and more self-esteem.
1. Understand what forgiveness is–and what it isn’t.
A lot of people don’t want to forgive because they think it’s wimpy, or that it means they’re saying the offender did nothing wrong. It’s neither: You can send an offender to jail and forgive him. People also think forgiveness requires reconciling with the person who mistreated them.
It can–but it doesn’t have to. Forgiveness isn’t really about the offender at all. Instead, it’s about letting go of the anger that eats at you–accepting that you were wronged but deciding to move on from your hurt. It’s an act of profound self-respect and self-care that takes courage and commitment on your part.
2. Grieve for what you’ve lost.
Premature forgiveness has been compared with squirting whipped cream over garbage. The result may look good, but the underlying problem remains and will fester. To truly forgive, you must feel your sorrow, and that can take time. Even after you’ve decided to let go of your anger, you may feel it flare from time to time
3. Don’t wait for an apology.
Sometimes the person who hurt you isn’t even aware that he’s done so. In other cases, he’s incapable of understanding or caring. The simple words I’m sorry can be healing, but so is deciding that you no longer need to hear them.
4. Try to understand what drove the offender.
Generally speaking, bad behaviour is the result of emotional immaturity, a state more to be pitied than judged. For example, studies show that many of the criminals in our federal prisons were abused as children. If your ex-friend betrayed a confidence, what insecurity must have driven her? If your father never showed you love and affection, how damaged must he be? Empathy can force out corrosive anger and transform your life–and sometimes the lives of others.
5. Celebrate who you have become.
Life is a school for learning, and some of the lessons are painful ones. We can’t avoid being hurt. But we can decide not to let our hurt overshadow the rest of our lives. Choosing to let go and move on doesn’t leave you the same as you were before. It brings you greater understanding and maturity and more compassion–toward others, and toward yourself, as well.
Smart ways to really move on:
- Take a calming breath. When an upsetting memory arises, use deep breathing or another stress-management technique to allow yourself to feel your emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
- Change the way you describe yourself. You were badly hurt–but you’re also someone who was brave enough to choose to forgive.
- Tell it one more time. Acknowledge your hurt to someone you trust, and then stop telling your grievance story once and for all. These stories keep hurt alive and can prevent you from being fully open to the people you need and love.
Love Yourself. Be nice to Yourself!