We’ve all been there – ruminating about events that have already happened or planning retaliation over something that upset us. The problem is that we either drain our mental energy and stay stuck. Or we retaliate in ways that are out of proportion to the offense. Despite the initial high of revenge, we can end up feeling sad, left out and regretful.
If you find yourself caught in the past and unable to move ahead, here’s why forgiving may be the better strategy. Forgiveness is not about justifying the wrong done to you and letting the wrongdoer off the hook. Or worse yet, about blaming yourself for what happened and feeling shame or regret as a result.
And it holds myriad benefits, both for our health and our relationships. It’s better for our immune system, our stress levels and our heart. It nurtures empathy and builds back relationships that are meaningful to us. And it helps us look at the bigger picture and forgive ourselves for our own wrongdoings.
So think about what it is that occupies your mind – something big, or a succession of smaller events that refuse to leave you. It could be a child who lied to you, or a co-worker who turned others against you. Or it could be injustice in much bigger ways such as a partner who cheated on you – or a parent whose abusive parenting style continues to torment you to this day.
Of course you feel mad or hurt. Which is exactly why forgiveness can help you. It frees you from the burden of anger and the pain of the past, and allows you to heal and move on with your life. This does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who harmed you. Sometimes certain relationships need to be shrunk to the size that feels most safe and comfortable to you, especially when the chances of them hurting you again are high. An insincere apology is a good indicator!
But the truth is that hanging on to what happened can never help you move forward. Forgiveness can.
Pause and connect
Slow down your mental chatter and connect to your breath. This simple form of mindfulness is more powerful than you can imagine. The problem is that most people find it so simple that they don’t do it! However – and I’m sure those of you who’ve tried it will know – it is not easy by any means! Anchoring yourself in your breath, and gently bringing back your mind to the rise and fall of your chest will eventually help the noise in your head quiet down so that you can hear your truth.
In this state of greater mental peace, hold space for your heart. Acknowledge being wronged and give yourself the compassion and understanding you need. Research shows that self-compassion helps you reconnect to your own voice of wisdom and find the courage to do the right thing. At the same time, see if you can have empathy for the person who wronged you. What was the fear or beliefs that led them to act the way they did? How important is this offense in the larger perspective?
Think of all the people who’ll be affected by your retaliation. How will it impact their life? How will their response impact you? Will your actions make a bad situation even worse? It’s shocking how significantly our ability to look at the big picture is curtailed when we’re in the throes of negativity. Think also of the mental implications of holding on to the anger or the hurt. How does it stop you from moving on? How does it limit your life, and blind you to the opportunities that life has to offer?
Forgiving requires a commitment to forgive and move on with life. It requires the work of steadily working with the thoughts that arise, whether they’re of retaliation, of victimhood or of shame, while embracing them with self-compassion. And it requires the openness to feelings of relief, or satisfaction, or of meaning that arise over time. Therein lies freedom, and the lightness of a life of virtue and compassion.
If you’ve ever considered forgiveness as a sign of weakness, let me tell you that it’s the bravest thing you can do. Because it forces you to step away from the automatic response of the subconscious mind, and consciously take charge of your destiny.
I urge you to make a list of the grudges you’re still holding onto and to make the decision to forgive. And if you write it down in the comments below, you have the added advantage of commitment and support!