Being able to forgive is a challenge for many. As a life coach and personally, I know what a big roadblock holding on to hurt, anger and resentment can be in terms of moving forward to live one’s best life. So how can we stop re-living and re-viewing a past transgression of another’s or of our own making? While it’s not as easy as flipping a switch, it can be done. And it has very little to do with the one who hurt or betrayed us and everything to do with our making the decision to release painful feelings and move forward.
If you are holding on to hurt, anger or resentment, no matter the reason, you have figuratively put yourself in a torture chamber of your own making. It’s an easy trap to fall into, as most of us have a deep sense of right and wrong, and judge events and people’s actions accordingly. But here’s the thing: you are generally the only one who suffers in this scenario. The person you’re laying the judgment on is just not experiencing your hurt or anger the same way you are, if at all. As Irish author Malachy McCourt put it, “holding on to resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
As a cancer survivor, I looked up the emotional connection associated with the disease and read about cancer’s relationship to holding on to anger, hurt and resentment. That immediately resonated with me. I had grown up in a household where depression had a strong hold on my mother but was never really acknowledged, so as kids, we would do all we could to make sure we didn’t set anything off and certainly didn’t voice our feelings. I then went into a marriage like this, only worse. It’s almost as if I said, oh yeah, I know how to do this, and married it. So, from childhood through my first marriage, I continued to stuff down my feelings and very rarely voiced displeasure or upset. If I did, I was likely to get my head chewed off. In addition, I had a long-time eating disorder around bingeing on sugary food to push down my feelings. Sugar is foe of healthy cells. My breast cancer diagnosis encompassed all that. I had a lot of forgiving to do, including of myself. I deserved to live a life free from holding on to painful feelings, no matter how they got there.
The three biggest reasons we forgive are so 1) We can live in peace, 2) We can live free from the replay of “the event” and 3) We can move forward in our lives, keeping our focus on the present, as well as on future dreams and goals. We don’t even need to let the offender know in order to make the forgiveness “official.” We are simply setting a prisoner free who turned out to be ourselves.
One way to reach forgiveness is employing understanding. When the information is available to us, we can give someone a “pass” on their unskilled behavior, knowing it was not indicative of their overall personality but a highly charged time for them. It’s doesn’t mean we condone what they did, but we let it go with understanding of what was going on behind the scene. This one works the easiest, but did you know that you can jump right to understanding when the backstory is not available to you? In this case, we imagine we already understand and go right to forgiveness. I use this one for people who cut me off in traffic or are inconsiderate in other places. I refuse to let these infractions dictate my day. I get to decide and so do you!
Another means to forgiveness is through the will. This is especially useful when we are faced with forgiving the “unforgivable.” Again, we are not condoning the behavior, nor allowing the offender to hurt us again. We’ve already been allowing the offender to hurt us again by continuing the replay in our head and heart. Enough. Executing forgiveness as a decision and nothing more allows us our freedom without betraying our integrity or having to pull anything from our heart. Dutch writer Corrie Ten Boom put it this way, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” I used this method to forgive my ex-husband. I knew in practical terms that we still had a young child to raise together, and I was determined to do it without vitriol and hurt driving my words and decisions. I kept the bar high and focused on the mutual respect and mutual love that we had for our son. The rest of me had to mend with a therapist, not with my ex-husband.
No matter how recent or how long it’s been, it is possible and so very worth it to choose to forgive. It has made all the difference in my life and in the lives of my clients. It is so gratifying to see them move beyond their pain and righteous anger to build a life that reflects their desires. This can absolutely be you too. Choose freedom! Break free with forgiveness.