Think about the last time you were physically hurt. You likely did something to address the pain, right? Popped an aspirin, threw on a rad Power Rangers Band-Aid (because everyone knows cool BandAids are more effective than regular, boring Band-Aids). Even if you try to avoid medicine, you probably took some measure to ease the discomfort (cold washcloth/rest/essential oils/etc). How long did you wait to do something about it?
In her book You Are A Badass, author Jen Sincero brilliantly articulates the power of forgiveness. She highlights the distinction between how we typically treat physical pain as opposed to emotional pain. As she notes, we're typically very proactive and quick on the draw to banish our physical pain...even if this involves the initial discomfort of pouring stinging disinfectant on an open wound or powering through getting stitches. We're motivated to do it right away, because we're intent on our ultimate goal of R E L I E F.
However, when it comes to emotional pain, we're apparently down to see just how much torture we can endure, wallowing in our "guilt, shame, resentment, and self-loathing, sometimes for entire lifetimes." Ring any bells?
We prolong our misery by clinging to our ill feelings. We do this by badmouthing our boss/fantasizing about telling our overbearing mother-in-law where to stick it/pondering the many reasons our enemies are wrong and the many reasons we're right. As Sincero points out, we relive our worst moments over and over and over instead of letting them go. Doing so, we pick at the emotional scabs, thereby refusing healing and preventing the pain from subsiding.
I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard this. We all know we should release our resentments and let that shiz go. It's one thing to know it - it's another to do it. And I can completely relate. I'm definitely not immune to the self-inflicted pain by clinging to past wrongs others have done me, particularly the big whammies. Through effort and mindfulness it's become much easier, but I still have my moments. Rarely do the negative feelings immediately dissolve upon deciding to forgive. They can linger, sometimes re-surfacing after you thought you'd fully released them. Depending on the severity of the wrongdoing, forgiveness is usually a process. A decision you have to make repeatedly. Be patient with yourself and know it's okay if you occasionally get sucked back into the angry/hurt vortex - all that matters is that you find your way back out.
We all have our own stories of people royally screwing us over. It's life. We've (unintentionally or otherwise) done wrong by others. Here's what I remind myself to make the process easier:
- Being a human is hard sometimes, and a little grace toward someone goes a long way. Hurt people hurt people.
- I'm so grateful for the forgiveness others have extended to me. Who am I to withhold it from others?
- it's friggin' EXHAUSTING to hang onto hurt/anger/resentment.
- Empathy, understanding, and compassion dissolve anger/guilt/resentment. I always try to understand why the person did what they did - every time, I'm able to trace it to fear/insecurity/hurt the other person is feeling. This immediately reminds me of our collective humanity, and effectively softens my heart toward them. This doesn't mean you condone their actions, but it allows you to empathize, accept the situation, and move onnnn.
- People fight battles we know nothing about.
- Jumping to conclusions and automatically assuming ill intent often proves wrong. Allowing the person the benefit of the doubt is usually the best tactic. If possible, communicate with the other person to express your concern and provide them with a chance to explain themselves.
- It's often not about you. Step back and be honest with yourself: Are you allowing your insecurities to color your judgment?
IMPORTANT NOTE: This also applies to self-forgiveness!! Be kind to yourself! Forgive yourself for your own indiscretions and slip ups, and be patient with yourself as you work to forgive others.