To err is human; to forgive is divine.
- Alexander Pope
Pick up any new age self-help book today is the message is that forgiveness is the key to our health and happiness. The idea is that when we hold onto our anger, we are stewing in this unpleasant emotion and at the end of the day we only really hurt ourselves. Letting go of our anger isn’t always that easy. And sometimes it may not be safe or practical to forgive. The following steps will set you on your path towards forgiveness:
1. Tune into your feelings. Think of your feelings like hungry babies that are crying to be heard. Sometimes all we have to do to feel better is acknowledge that they are there and attend to them. First ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? Then ask, what is the message that my feelings are trying to convey and what do I need to feel better?
2. Identify past triggers. For example, your resentment over not being included in your girlfriend’s wedding may trigger feelings of being excluded by your older siblings as a child. Healing these deeper hurts not only helps us to move forward, but can also prevent us from experiencing similar hurts in the future.
3. Watch out for self-judgment. Remember there is nothing inherently wrong with being angry. In fact, there are times when this feeling is extremely helpful (see Mad Is Not Bad). Rather than beating yourself up, acknowledge your feelings and any discomfort associated with them. One of the biggest obstacles to forgiving others is not forgiving yourself.
4. Consider the other person’s perspective. Often times we become so blinded by our own hurts and experiences that we fail to realize that the other person may be hurting too. Of course, understanding why someone behaved badly is not the same thing as absolving them of responsibility, but it can help us to take their actions less personally so that we can move on.
5. Ask yourself if you are ready to let go? If you are that’s great, set the intention and wave good-bye. If not ask yourself what is getting in the way. Perhaps you haven’t explored your full range of feelings (if this is the case, then go back to step one) or maybe that grudge is serving a purpose like reminding you not to get burned again.
6. Identify the best course of action. Letting go of a grudge may not be appropriate when the person in question still has the power to hurt you again. You can think of your anger as an alarm that tells you when an important boundary has been breached. You don’t want to turn off the siren until you know how to deal with the fire.
Remember forgiveness is ultimately for your own peace of mind. Don’t force process. If you find that you have a tendency to hold grudges and/or are bothered by your angry thoughts, speaking with a licensed counselor can help you to address these issues more fully.