Though not easy, letting go of past resentments, a process also known as forgiveness, really works! Letting go does not mean forgetting a wrongful action or excusing how hurtful it was, however; it means letting go the human survival-instinct to hurt the back, to retaliate or to wish as much or more suffering on the other.
Ultimately, we forgive because of its impact accordingly on the state of our mind and body (autonomic nervous system). While revenge may be our mind-body’s instinct in survival mode (where fear is the governing emotion, and body shuts off any consultations with the heart or higher intellect), revenge is never aligned with our body’s highest directives (built-in wisdom) to do more than merely survive, rather to thrive, to fulfill core yearnings, or emotion-drives, to matter, to meaningfully connect. Where compassion is the governing emotion, the mind and body operate as one, even when fear shows up). In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love.” ~ DR. KING, JR.
Forgiveness releases the power of love in the form of acceptance, which allows the physiological state of our mind and body to return to its natural state of restoring balance (where compassion is the governing emotion, the mind and body operate as one, even when fear shows up).
We are hardwired with unstoppable core emotion-drives to matter and meaningfully contribute in relation to our self and life around us. While these can become so hidden or masked by our fear-instincts as to appear non-existent to us and others, they remain key driving forces, reminders of our true nature (though they only manifest outcomes to the extent we nurture and cultivate them.
Being quick to forgive, by the way, is not genuine forgiveness because it does not place the burden of reconciliation on the person who acted hurtfully, to allow them to do what is in their highest interest as well, and that is, to take full responsibility to make amends, to reconcile the relationship.
Deep down, a refusal to forgive has a positive underlying intention. It is a yearning for empathy from the person who hurt us, a desire for them — to take the highest and most effective road in healing the relationship — and restoring our own ability to heal and love, which results from: A true change of heart in the other, more specifically, that, as a result of coming to deeply see, feel and recognize the pain they caused, they ask for forgiveness, and they express an openness to take what ever action necessary to make amends.
Why is forgiveness a road less traveled?
When we hold on to hurts and disappointments, regardless how “justified” we may be, deep down, we allow deep emotion-laden pockets of accrued bitterness, rage or hatred to build inside of us. Hating or resenting, as explained by American existential psychologist Rollo May, is a superficial way of soothing our pain and preserving our sense of personal power and dignity that gives away our power instead, declaring, “You have conquered me, but I reserve the right to hate you.”
Letting of bitterness is a gift you give to free yourself. In the words of May,
”Freedom is man’s capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves.” ~ ROLLO MAY
Forgiveness however is not something you do for someone else. You forgive to heal your self, to restore the emotional power you need to remain empathically connected to your inner sense of compassion for your self first and foremost, for without your own love-connection to self inside, you cannot connect to the other as a human being. You do so to honor your inner design, as a human being, because love is the essence of who we are as human beings.
You love just because it is who you ultimately are, and therefore in the highest interest of your health and well being. In the words of Alexander Pope, ”To err is human; to forgive, Divine.”
In other words, you forgive to experience the fullness of your capacity to give and receive love. The practice of forgiveness—as an art, science and power—will help you do so. Mother Theresa spoke of this wisdom when she said,
“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” ~ MOTHER THERESA
The good news is that letting go of bitterness becomes easier with practice. It helps to understand that it is not something we do for others, rather something we do for ourselves. It is a sound practice. When someone wrongs us, we offer forgiveness to avoid the harmful and potentially deadly poison of not forgiving.
Forgiveness is a divine gift you give to free yourself. Very simply, it is not a favor you are doing for another person.
Bring a situation to your mind, and ask yourself: “Am I willing to use (waste?) my energy in a way that harms my health, peace of mind and possibly poisons other relationships over this?
If you have answered a resounding “No,” awesome!
What is forgiveness?
There are clear distinctions between “genuine” versus “cheap” forgiveness in that the former consists of more than a ritualistic exchange of words, such as “Would you forgive me” and “Yes, I forgive you.” Genuine forgiveness is a painful undertaking that consists of action and not a mere exchange of words, such as “Would you forgive me,” and “Yes, I forgive you.” As with genuine love, it is expressed in consistent action, with a conscious intention to do what is necessary to end needless suffering of self and other, and to honor instead the priceless value of creating relationships that nourish, grow and strengthen individuals to love more courageously from a place of greater compassion and authenticity.
Ultimately the power of forgiveness rests in that it is an act of fully accepting that something — we never expected, wanted or even feared and tried desperately to avoid — happened. This means the event is now in the past, thus cannot be changed. Choosing to deal with a past disappointment with ‘conscious’ acceptance is a healing gift we give to ourself. It consists of at least ten steps of acceptance that the “one wronged” can take to heal themselves – independent of any action or change from the “wrongdoer.” Especially where the injury is ongoing or the wrongdoer will or can not take ownership, the power of acceptance frees one to connect to their own inner sources of love, healing, personal growth and renewal.
When Forgiveness is letting go of the “right” to be bitter, a belief that you are justified or entitled or bound to hold on to resentment, hatred, rage.
To forgive allows you to consciously use your powers of imagination, choice and creativity — for optimal results. It allows you to imagine the best possible future for yourself, one which requires you to perform a challenging task: To refuse to allow your pain, fear or hurt to be the final word in your life. This task allows you to disallow hurt from taking center stage in your life, from overshadowing the many blessings and from becoming larger than life itself.
An invitation to forgive is a challenge that calls you to give up life and relationship harming thoughts and judgments about the other, and instead, consciously formulate ones that allow you to stay connected to your infinite capacity for compassion, wisdom and understanding. When you chose to forgive you stop using your imagination to judge, stew or inflame negative thinking-feeling states to rule your mind and body, which can harm your emotional, mental and spiritual growth and well being, and even physical health.
“True forgiveness is not an action after the fact; it is an attitude with which you enter each moment.” ~ DAVID RIDGE
Remaining connected to your compassion is a vital means to protect your happiness. Though it requires much courage to do so, the process is self-reinforcing. The more you practice forgiveness, the more benefits you realize, the more confident you become of your ability to grow your confidence and transform your experiences of pain into assets, rather than shrink and live a life of lies and illusions, in which fear seems larger than life.
Thus, forgiveness has little if anything to do with the person who hurt or betrayed us. It is purely an internal matter. To forgive, we go inside to consciously to make any necessary changes in what we think and believe about a person or situation, and embrace new ways of thinking that allow us to claim back our power to freely express the essence of who we are: love. Forgiveness is letting go of certain beliefs that keep us stuck, such as thinking of being bitter as a “right” to be bitter, believing you are justified or entitled to condemn the other, or believing it is up to you to force the other to change by holding on to resentment, rage, hatred etc. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way,
“He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love. ” ~ DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Genuine forgiveness is an in-depth process that invites the person who acted wrongly to be fully involved, and thus places the onus of responsibility on them to repair the relationship. Essentially, acceptance allows the hurt party to see that it is not loving to forgive an action that caused serious harm in cases where the person who acted wrongly has not made a deep commitment or refuses to do whatever is necessary to reconcile the relationship.
By the way, telling the person we forgive is an added bonus! It is not a required ingredient in our healing, however. In some cases it could be a powerful action to take, and in others not. The point is that letting the other know we have forgiven is not the main part of forgiveness, not the main course. Just an added plus, potentially. It is not a necessary step to start the healing processes inside.
What is not forgiveness?
It is a choice that you have the ability to make in present moments of decision. It just will not work if you think of it as something you have to do. If you do, you will forgive out of the weakest form of human energy, the energy of fear. The full benefits of forgiveness are yours when you do so out of love—it may be love for your life, love for what you want to achieve it life, love for how you yearn to live, love for all persons in your life and world, love for you, or all of the above, and more. Love is limitless.
You could let your wisdom guide your choices. Think about the choice you have between the consequences not forgiving, or the results of doing so. Think about the risks of not letting go of bitterness, and the benefits of doing so. Think about the choice between the misery of living with thoughts of resentment, and living free to love. Think about the potential dangers of losing control of your behaviors, and life, to vindictive thinking, or claiming the power of compassion as a guiding force to love and live your best life and relationships. The choice is yours.
The point is that you do not have to let go of resentment. You really do not have to do anything, in fact. Then what?
There is nothing so bad that cannot be forgiven. Nothing! Some argue that in cases of murder, or abuse of children, or the Holocaust, then individuals—or groups of people—have earned the “right” not to forgive. While these injustices are despicable, not forgiving merely promotes a state of victimhood. In the words of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl,
“Everything can be taken from a man but … the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”~ VICTOR FRANKL
Frankl’s theory of logotherapy posits that the highest goal of human beings is the aspiration to love and be loved, a central drive connected to the human drive to find meaning, thus, wholeness and healing of mind and body and spirit. It was in his experiences living in concentration camp that he developed his theory of counseling.
Frankel recognized that the choice to think of self as the victim of another is a response that bears costs. It is way of living life with a huge sign over our heads, saying, “I am exercising the only freedom I have in the relationship with the person who wronged me, and, rather than forgive, I choose to hold on to the bitterness, even though I know that, for the duration, I am agreeing to give the person my power to love.”
We remember what others have done to hurt us. If we stay together, it is not because there is a lapse in our memory. It is not because we forget, it is because we want to restore our capacity to love, which arguably is the essence of who we are.
Forgive and forget is a myth. It is not about forgetting. It is about fully accepting what happened happened, and the past cannot be changed. If it is still occurring, it is about accepting we cannot change other people, and our attempts to change their actions, thoughts, feelings are the cause of much suffering for us. We always have a choice, and accepting that we cannot change the past or another person allows us to own the power we have within us to change, for example, to change how we respond, think or feel so that we can best protect our happiness, which is no small matter! Like eating nutritious food, rather than junk, protecting our happiness is a vital responsibility in the care of our self, mind, body and emotion (spirit).
“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” ~ THOMAS S. SZASZ
Sometimes people find it difficult to forgive because we associate it with weakness or giving in. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ MAHATMA GANDHI
Forgiveness is a statement you make to yourself, and others, that says you choose to stay connected to your wisdom, that you understand both the wondrous strengths and vulnerabilities we share as human beings, that you recognize this journey of life we are on is one that is teaching each one of us to stretch the limits of our compassion in order to realize our own emotional fulfillment, and, that our cultural conditioning has impaired the thinking of most of us in a way that fear and force, rather than love and choice, weighs heavy in the ways we have learned to get our needs met or let others know of our disappointments. In the words of Hannah Moore,
“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart … forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” ~ HANNAH MOORE
It is more often something you do again and again. It is an attitude with which you enter each present moment, which shapes your responses. We have no control over fleeting thoughts that enter our mind. We do control whether we stew on those thoughts, or shift away from them.
Forgiveness does not mean we condone the actions of the other. One common misconception is that, forgiving a certain action, such as violence or betrayal, means you condone it. Nothing could be further from the truth. By acting to forgive, we acknowledge what happened what wrong. Forgiveness also does not mean you must reconcile with the one who wronged you. It means you want to free your thoughts, thus life, from being controlled by the another person.
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~ CATHERINE PONDER
It does not depend on whether the other person changes his or her ways, feels remorse, or even wants you to forgive. Be imposing those conditions, in every case, you hand your power over to the one who acted wrongfully toward you. You forgive for you, not for the sake of someone else. We may prefer others ask for forgiveness, that they acknowledge the harm of what they did or did not do. We do not have to have this, however, to be happy and free to love. It may be the ideal, but not a required pre-condition.
Taking the high road never is. It is good to accept this up front. Forgiving a person who hurt you is a challenging task. It may even be daunting for some, or seemingly impossible for others. The option of not forgiving, however, means we will miss out on the multifaceted benefits that come from taking the high road. If we do not, natural consequences will follow. The pain we hold on to is a reminder, not only of our wound and the person who wounded us, but also of the necessity of healing, the choice we have at any given moment, to begin the healing inner processes of forgiveness.
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Last reviewed: 8 Feb 2014