We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve been hurt by someone else, either intentionally or accidentally. I’m sure we can all pinpoint a time when trust has been broken, confidences have been betrayed and we’ve felt taken advantage of. In the course of relationships, this is inevitable. However, while the initial pain and anger we feel at these times is normal, holding on to anger, reliving the pain over and over again, only serves to affect how we relate to others in the future. When we are caught up in the cycle of anger, it becomes difficult to open ourselves up to new experiences and it clouds our ability to move on and be happy.
Forgive and Forget
As children, we are often taught to forgive and forget. It seems simple enough but in reality, letting go of anger and resentment is not an easy process. When trying to start the process, it’s critical to remember that forgiving and forgetting are two separate steps.
Generally, forgiveness is a conscious decision to let go of the anger and resentment and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility in hurting you, nor are you going to forget that it happened. You are simply making a decision not to let that act continue to affect your life. You can forgive someone without excusing the act. For many, forgiveness and letting go of the anger and resentment can bring a kind of peace that helps you move forward with other, more positive, aspects of your life.
Why Should I Forgive?
Letting go of the anger makes room for an inner peace and kindness to move into your life. It can lead to a reduced stress level, less anxiety, strain and hostility and it can increase your sense of well-being, leading to healthier and more satisfying relationships.
By holding on to the anger, the resentment that it produces often moves into each and every relationship and new experience you have. Many people find that they become so wrapped up in the bitterness that their life begins to lack meaning and purpose, causing a lack of connectedness to others. Being angry clouds your ability to understand what your real needs are and your ability to effectively meet those needs, whether it’s through relationships with others or simply knowing what you need to make yourself happy.
The Process of Letting Go
- Recognize the true effects of your anger: Nelson Mandela said that “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” It is often believed that if you stay angry with the other person, they will, somehow, feel that anger and it will “serve them right.” However, chances are that the person you are angry with has gone on with their lives and hasn’t given you a second thought. It’s important to recognize that when you hold on to the anger, you are often the only one who suffers.
- The best revenge: In life, the greatest revenge you can have over those who have hurt you is to live positive and productive lives. Anger hinders this process and makes it impossible for you to move on. By letting go of the anger, you are ensuring that you are more likely to be happy and content in the future, despite what happened in the past.
- Forgiveness is not acceptance: When you forgive someone, you are not accepting his or her negative behavior. Even if you need to continue to interact with that person, there is no reason why you need to trust them. By recognizing the limitations of others, you can determine the role, if any, that person will play in your lives.
- Recognizing that forgiveness is a benefit we accord to ourselves, and not to others: By offering forgiveness even when the offender isn’t repentant you are choosing to value yourself and your mental health over anger.
- Maintain perspective: While the actions of others can be hurtful to you and your immediate surroundings, often, the rest of the world isn’t even unaware of what happened. By taking your anger out on those not directly involved, like your spouse, children or friends, you are only causing further resentment and bitterness in these relationships, which is unlikely to cause any difficulties for the actual target of your anger.
- Recognize what you can and can’t change: While we all have control over our behavior, our actions and our thoughts, we have absolutely no control over anyone else. We cannot force someone to accept responsibility for his or her actions, nor can we use our anger to instigate a change. By recognizing this fact, we can actually focus on the things in our life that we DO have control over and make positive changes and choices that make it easier to see the beauty, kindness and love around you.