When you hold on to past hurt, you’re actually trying to relieve your pain by putting other people down and building yourself up.
You may imagine that nursing old wounds is the way to be in control and prevent the humiliating exposure of your imperfections. You may even entertain vengeful fantasies of finally achieving fair- ness by hurting the people who hurt you. But instead of trying to control or redeem a hurtful situation, you can focus on managing your reaction to it.
One of the best ways to heal from anger is to forgive the people who hurt you. The act of forgiveness gives you new options for living your life on a much more realistic basis. Besides, if you don’t forgive old wounds, they’ll stay deep down inside you forever. Is that what you want?
Forgiveness has nothing to do with condoning or excusing the wrongs that were done to you. It means letting go of those old wounds so you can move on with your life. And forgiveness has nothing to do with assessing the degree of other people’s guilt, or the relative evil of their intentions. That’s because forgiveness is not about other people at all.
You forgive others for your own benefit, not theirs. The people who hurt you don’t even have to know that you’ve forgiven their hurtful behavior. Your act of forgiveness is between you and yourself—it’s no one else’s business. In chapter 4, we’ll look at some ways to foster forgiveness by not taking others’ wounding behavior personally.
When you’re angry or facing antagonism from someone else, your most important resource is your self-respect. To respect yourself is to know that you are a worth- while human being in spite of your mistakes. You may be at fault in a situation, but you’re a human being. Human beings are not perfect, and perfection should never be expected of a human being.
You can respect yourself regardless of what’s going on in your life. That’s because self-respect doesn’t depend on getting what you want—a promotion at work, the ideal mate, a higher income—or on your ability to be perfect. Respecting your- self means accepting that you are unconditionally lovable, no matter what anyone else says.
All people make mistakes. Self-respecting people learn from theirs. You should learn from yours, too, because you can’t prevent them. You can take reasonable precau- tions, but past that point, your efforts at prevention become counterproductive—you exercise no control over things that have yet to happen, and trying to read others’ minds so you can know what they want from you is not going to keep you from disappointing them at times.
When you separate other people from their behavior, you’re practicing detachment. Learning to detach yourself emotionally from a situation often starts with learning to take a moment before reacting to someone else’s provocations. In that moment, you can ask yourself whether the provocative behavior is directed at you personally, or whether it might be coming from the other person’s fear, anger, or pain. If you can make this kind of distinction, you can create more emotional distance between yourself and others’ behavior. But it’s important to remember that practicing detachment is not the same as building a wall. Your goal is to heal yourself and your relationships with other human beings, not to coldly distance yourself from others, and especially not to set up barriers between yourself and the people who matter most to you.