Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more
painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.
~ Marianne Williamson
Forgiveness doesn’t mean suppressing our feelings or pretending the anger doesn’t exist. Instead, forgiveness requires a conscious decision to release our resentment and thoughts of retaliation. It requires us to stretch, to feel the full range of the emotions that are involved, such as grief and anger as well as kindness and compassion — even toward someone who has hurt us deeply.
Buddha taught, “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Indeed, seeking revenge, rather than practicing forgiveness, traps us in the anger. In fact, some become so consumed by bitterness that it harms them physically and mentally. In fact, studies have found that forgiving is good for the body and the soul.
So why then is it so difficult to forgive? There are several reasons. We may want to show the other person what it feels like to be hurt; we may even think that we can insure that it won’t happen again if we mount some kind of campaign against that person; maybe we desire justice for the wrongs against us; maybe we even want closure, but we think it requires that the other person feel remorse or apologize. The problem is that none of these things work. In fact, they make matters worse for us.
It’s normal to feel the need for revenge, to get back at those who’ve hurt us, or, at the very least, to hold onto a resentment. But when we follow that path, we are hurting only ourselves. In addition, we are giving our personal power—the power to have serenity and peace in our lives—over to the very person we’re angry with. They aren’t hurt by our resentment; we, on the other hand, tend to feel anxious and miserable. This kind of stuff really can bring out the worst in us. Or…it could bring out the best in us. We get to decide.
Forgiving the offending party doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting; nor does it mean giving our approval for what’s happened. It means that we decide to do what we need to do to move on and experience peace for ourselves. It’s exhausting to carry grief and anger around with us. It’s frustrating and makes us feel helpless. It takes less energy to forgive the one who hurt us than to hold onto resentment. The fact is, when we’re consumed by bitterness and vengeance, those feelings can deeply affect every fiber of our being. They affect our ability to interact with those we love. They affect our work, our sleep, sometimes even our appetites. We might feel that life lacks meaning or purpose, or that we’re at odds with our spiritual beliefs.
The longer we hold onto the issue, the more we’re compounding the problem. However, forgiveness really takes work. But if we decide to go forward toward forgiveness, we can experience healthier relationships because we aren’t carrying around so much anxiety and stress. It even lowers blood pressure and diminishes symptoms of depression. In general, we experience a feeling of relief by letting go of those negative feelings.
It is important, however, to feel our feelings—our sadness, hurt and anger—before moving into forgiveness. I used to feel so uncomfortable when someone hurt me that, because I knew that forgiveness would be the answer, I would jump into it—only to find that I couldn’t really get there. I needed to sit for a bit with my feelings, to reflect on the facts of the situation. I needed to see clearly how my reactions weren’t working for me. Then I could do the work to move into forgiveness.
Judith Orloff, MD says this about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is the act of compassionately releasing the desire to punish someone or yourself for an offense. It’s a state of grace, nothing you can force or pretend. There are no short cuts.” Most of us can remember a time when someone has hurt us, and we ended up feeling bad about or angry with ourselves. We might even blame ourselves. Remember that whatever went on that injured us may really have nothing to do with us. It might be about the other person. Maybe he or she was having a bad day, or there might even be a misunderstanding. Whatever the case, self-forgiveness is also crucial, and we want to be sure not to overlook it.
At this point, prayer and meditation can help us with the process of forgiveness. Because we understand fully the problem by now, we need to call on all our resources to let go. Moving out of the darkness of resentment into the light of forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. We do it to increase the quality of our lives and the lives of those we touch. Living in resentment is a huge burden. It’s a dark patch on the soul. Letting go of it is transformational. It actually helps us to breathe freely and feel more joy and connection to everyone and everything around us.