Saturday, December 3, 2022

“I Forgive You”

These can be some of the hardest words to say. After all, how do you forgive someone who cheated on you, or beat you? What about if they deserted you when you were a child?

Often, when we’re treated badly, we not only feel violated, we also feel a deep sense of shame at having been at the mercy of another. In many instances, that shame can be even more powerful than the trespass; and if the person responsible for causing it doesn’t attempt to make amends, we may feel the need to retaliate. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; and so the vicious cycle continues.

Some of us are good at nursing grudges.

If there were Olympic medals awarded for failing to forgive past misdeeds, we’d be strong contenders for the gold! Whether it’s a family member we haven’t spoken to for years; an ex-spouse we still feel bitter about long after the split; colleagues who undermined us; or political opponents who tried to destroy us, we’ve successfully turned our grudges into life-long friends.

In fact, the longer we have been nursing a grudge, the more it can start to feel normal. We almost can’t imagine our lives without it. We’ve become addicted to the negative emotions associated with it and, what’s more, they don’t seem to be doing us any harm.

But harbouring ill-feelings does harm you. Nursing hurt and savouring a grudge has been shown to increase blood pressure and speed up the pulse. In simple terms, it’s bad for your health.

If you don’t care about the long-term effects on your health, what about your happiness? Think about how when you harbour ill feelings towards someone, the mere act of crossing paths with them can throw you into a bad mood.

Even hearing their name brought up in a conversation can send you into a downward spiral of obsessive loathing. Why allow bad experiences from the past to rob you or your joy in the present?
If that doesn’t make sense to you, and you’re willing to at least entertain the idea of letting go of your grudge, consider the following:

Forgiveness 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 the behaviour of a cheating or abusive ex-spouse continue causing you pain long after the event is over.

Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that you forget. You should learn from past mistakes, but don’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.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you encourage repetition. Many of us fear that if we forgive, it means that we somehow condone the bad behaviour, or we’re opening ourselves up to similar behaviour in the future, but we’re not. We’re 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 judgement 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.

Or, as George Vaillant put it in his book, Spiritual Evolution, “the experience of forgiveness…is not just the emotion of being relieved of a burden, but also a joyful eureka sense of having solved a problem. Suddenly…vengeance is replaced by the calming vision of green pastures and still waters of peace.”

Healing occurs through forgiveness.

But forgiveness does not happen overnight. Be patient if you find yourself occasionally fantasizing about committing gory, violent acts against 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 forgiveness.

Consistently imagine a more positive future that doesn’t include negative elements from the past.
Forgiveness should also come from the heart. Don’t forgive because you have to, or out of a sense of duty. This type of forgiveness has actually been shown to increase blood pressure. When you forgive, let it be out of a sense of love and empathy. Only say it if you mean it: “I forgive you.” This type of forgiveness will feel good to you. It also feels right in your heart.
So what steps can we take towards forgiveness?

Well, forgiveness can be achieved by deep meditation. During meditation, the boundaries between the self and the universe are erased in favour of our sense of union with the other, which encourages forgiveness. For fifteen minutes every day, practice emptying your mind of all thought. Practice stillness; cultivate inner peace.

Prayer also assists forgiveness. When we pray, it’s rarely over the awful things that happened in the past. 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,” but 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, remember to forgive yourself too. Regardless of what you may have done in the past, you’re not a bad person. 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. Keep moving forward. Do it, because you love yourself.

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