I can never forgive you for the rest of my life! I have heard these words spoken many times throughout my days on earth. Thankfully they were not directed at me (well, maybe a few times), but it has compelled me to write about this topic because I feel that there are so many of us that struggle with the act of true forgiveness towards those who have wronged us. Being that it is 19 days into the new year, it is a bit belated to make new years resolutions, but I encourage you to think of someone right now who has affected your life in a negative way due to your unforgiveness of that person and commit to the process of forgiving them so that you can enhance your own life and let go of your poisoning resentment. How long have you held a grudge against him/her? What feelings come up when you think of them? Lastly, how do you think your unforgiveness has affected their lives? Are you suffering more from this grudge than they are? I hope that the following words I have to say in this article help you grow as a person and give you some tips on how to forgive so that you can go on in your life being a happier and healthier person. Please read on if you have ever struggled with letting go of another person’s actions.
The domino effect
I have observed that being unforgiving of just one person can ripple into so many areas of your life and cause you harm. For example, if you have ever been with a partner who was unfaithful to you, you may be in other relationships and treat that new person as the one who cheated on you. There is a major lack of trust, resentment, and anger that can build up and make your potentially good relationship crumble for no justifiable reason. I believe that the biggest mistake one can make in a relationship is to take all of the negative actions of their exes and put it all onto their current partner when the evidence that they are performing these same actions are unfounded. Unforgiveness of one person can blind us into being untrusting of others who are deserving of trust.
I hate them! They deserve to be punished forever!
To the one who committed the offense, we can feel aggravation that morphs into anger, bitterness, rage and even hatred. You may feel like seeking revenge so that you feel that they somehow feel the pain that you feel. The truth is, no revenge can make that person feel exactly the way that you did. In fact, studies have proven that those who commit revenge usually end up feeling worse about themselves and the situation afterward. Max Lucado asked these pertinent and thought provoking questions: “What good has hatred ever brought? What hope has anger ever created? What problems have ever been resolved by revenge?” The fact is that revenge does not erase the hurtful event that occurred. Period.
What do I have to lose by forgiving them?
If you choose to forgive, you may lose a few things on the way such as feelings of bitterness, anger, ruminating negative thoughts, insomnia, stress, headaches, back aches, high blood pressure, enemies, etc. Are these things that you really would like to hold on to? You will have more to gain in your personal life by choosing to forgive them than holding the grudge that separates you from full happiness. Realize that by embracing your unforgiveness, you are not only immersing yourself in negativity, but you may be losing out on having enriching and valuable connections with other people. In fact, you have much to gain by forgiving. Studies have found that those who even contemplated forgiveness had an increase in nervous system and cardiovascular health (Van Oyen, C. Witvilet, T.E. Ludwig & K. L. Vander Lann, 2001). It was also noted that those who forgave had less mental and physical health related problems (S. Sarinopoulos, 2000).
Well then, how can I forgive them?
It truly is not that easy to forgive especially when the offense is great or repeated. You may have found yourself saying “I forgive you,” but feel no relief from the bondage of the pain you felt from the offender. Forgiveness is no easy task, but it is achievable and studies have shown that it can be learned (Harper, 2002).
“Hating someone is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.” -Nelson Mandella
The first step to forgiving is realizing that holding your resentment towards another person is truly hurting yourself more than it hurts them. As described above, many negative repercussions can occur in your life when you chose to hold onto a grudge. “The hatred you’re carrying is a live coal in your heart – far more damaging to yourself than to them.” (Lawana Blackwell, The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark, 1999).
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
One must find a balance between trusting those who are trustworthy, and wisdom to avoid those who have malicious intent. If someone has committed a great offense against you and is not repentant, you may still forgive them in order to set yourself free from holding onto the pain. This does not mean that you have to accept their behavior and continue to allow them to harm you. It can be healing to forgive those who do not deserve it. From a Christian perspective, Jesus has forgiven the sins of us all to those who believe even though we do not deserve it. It is a gift and a blessing to be forgiven and can be returned by gratefulness rather than guilt. The best revenge to your enemies is to show resiliency and not let that person destroy your happiness.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Try to empathize with your offender. Have you blown things out of proportion? The answer could be yes or no. It may have been an awful thing that they did to you, but did they really mean it? It has been advised that instead of re-telling the upsetting story over and over again, it is helpful to re-tell the story from your enemy’s perspective. This changes the story and you may realize new things that make your heart softened to the person that upset you. How would you feel if you had made a mistake towards someone and they did not forgive you no matter how many times you asked for their forgiveness? I believe that no one deserves to be permanently condemned for their past if they show repentance.
“Whenever you fall, pick something up.” -Oswald Avery
It is helpful to look at what good has come from the negative situation. Sometimes this is difficult to see or you are unaware yet of what this bad event may bring you that is good in the future. Remember that you can use this to your advantage and it may lead you into a direction that you never would have been if you had not gone through this. You could think of this as a way to help you grow into a stronger person rather than surrendering to the ill effects it has had on your life.
“If you have lived, take thankfully the past.” -John Dryden
It has also been advised to look for people who were helpful in your life during the time that you were hurt. What a blessing these friends or even strangers have been in your life. Without this upsetting event, you may not be as close to these helpers who have aided you in getting through your difficult time.
“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” -Confucius
Retraining your thoughts is helpful in times of anger towards your offender. If you can redirect your thoughts by seeing the good of which it has caused, this will positively effect your feelings and in turn improve your mood and behavior.
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” -Abraham Lincoln
Lastly, another helpful tool to forgive is to observe other people who have been able to forgive in extraordinary circumstances . You may ask your friends and family about their stories of forgiveness and how they were able to cope with letting go of things that have pained them. One example of great forgiveness is by the Amish parents of children who were massacred by a man who shot their daughters in a school house in 2006. The shooter committed suicide after his offense so they were never able to seek justice, yet right afterward they went to the wife of the shooter to let her know that they forgave him for killing their children and wanted to make sure that she was okay because she lost her husband. Some may ask why or how on earth someone could forgive such a act of malice. The way they were able to cope with forgiveness was due to their viewpoint of giving their pain to God. I leave you with this quote from a movie called Amish Grace about this incident. “Hate is a very big, very hungry thing with lots of sharp teeth and it will eat up your whole heart and leave no room left for love. We are lucky that God understands this. He is the one that will hand out the punishment so that we don’t have to carry this terrible hate around inside of us if we don’t want to, if we are willing to forgive.”