Undoubtedly, we’ve all had people who hurt us and sometimes, letting go of that hurt can be very difficult.
Often, when we’re treated badly, we not only feel violated, we also feel a deep sense of shame at having been powerless, or at the mercy of another. And every now and again, that hurt runs so deeply, that we nurse long-term grudges about the perceived wrong.
Our hurts may be numerous and varied – some of us have ex-spouses we feel bitter about long after the split; we have former colleagues we still have nightmares about; or opponents we can’t get away from, because they’re everywhere on the social media.
Some of us have also been nursing grudges for so long, that they start to feel normal. We almost can’t imagine our lives without them. We’ve become addicted to the negative emotion associated with them and, what’s more, the grudge doesn’t seem to be harming us.
But harbouring ill-feelings does harm us! One teacher decided to teach her students about the harmfulness of keeping grudges.
She told each of them to bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. For every person they refused to forgive in their life’s experience, they chose a potato, wrote the name and date on it, and put it in the plastic bag. Quite quickly, some of their bags became pretty heavy!
They were then told to carry this bag with them everywhere for just one week, putting it beside their bed at night, on the car seat while driving, and next to their desk at school. They took it everywhere with them, in the same way they would a grudge in their minds.
They also had pay attention that they didn’t forget the sack of potatoes
in embarrassing places, like a restaurant. Before long, the task became onerous.
The mere hassle of carrying around the potatoes representing their grudges made it clear what kind of weight they were also carrying around spiritually. Naturally, the condition of the potatoes also deteriorated to a nasty smelly slime, much the same way our grudges do in our physical bodies.
Holding on to grudges is harmful to our health ÔÇô it increases our blood pressure and speeds up our pulse. It’s also bad for our current state of happiness – think about how when we harbour ill feelings about someone, the mere act of crossing paths with them, or hearing their name mentioned in conversation, can throw us into a bad mood.
To reclaim the power over your life; and let go of any ‘smelly, slimy potatoes’ you may be carrying around, consider the following:
Forgiving past wrongs doesn’t mean you tolerate what happened to you. It just means that you’re not willing to let it define your future. Don’t allow past bad behaviour to cause you pain long after the event is over.
Forgiveness also doesn’t mean you forget. But while we all need to learn from past mistakes, we needn’t be held captive by them. Don’t allow your mind to be stuck in the past; keep your eyes on the much brighter future ahead.
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we encourage repetition – many of us fear that if we forgive, it means we condone the bad behaviour, or are opening ourselves up to similar behaviour in the future, yet we’re not. We are simply letting go of a way of thinking that no longer serves us.
So what does forgiveness mean? In Exploring Forgiveness, Robert Enright and Joanna North define forgiveness as “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment and indifferent behaviour to one who has unjustly injured us, while fostering…compassion, generosity and even love toward him or her.”
If love feels a little strong, try empathy. In order to forgive, we need to show empathy and a capacity to envision the future. We also get to let go of the pain and the bondage that comes with nursing a grudge. Through forgiveness, we can find peace; and healing.
But forgiveness does not happen overnight. Be patient if you find you still fantasize about punishing someone you’ve disliked for a long time. That’s a bad habit that you can replace with another good habit ÔÇô the habit of inner peace; just keep practising. How? By persistently imagining a more positive future that doesn’t include hurtful elements from the past.
Forgiveness can also be achieved through meditation. For fifteen minutes every day, practice emptying your mind of all thought. Practice stillness; cultivate inner peace.
Prayer also assists forgiveness. When we pray, more often than not, our prayers are rooted in the future.
They’re focused on our positive aspirations, not on our regrets.
Also, try keeping a record of everything that you love about your life. Paul reminds us not to keep “a record of wrongs,” while Philippians 4:8 also reminds us to “fill [our] minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and honourable.” A grateful heart simply doesn’t have space for bitterness about the past.
Finally, only forgive if you really mean it; and are ready to. Genuine forgiveness always feels right in your heart; and it is immensely good for you.
When all is said and done, remember to forgive yourself too. Regardless of the state of your life right now, you’re doing the best you can; and you are making progress.
Let go of the painful experiences of the past in favour of the treasures of the present moment. Remember, it takes a strong person to apologise; and an even stronger person to forgive. Forgive, because you love yourself.
Make it a great week!
* Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. Boost positivity and productivity in your workplace by booking an Inspirational Talk at: [email protected]; or visit: www.positivepeaceproject.co.bw for more information.