If you find that resentments fester, forgiveness comes hard, and letting go of past grievances is even harder, then this blog’s for you.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog is not addressing forgiveness in cases of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional.) I’m talking about situations where someone has hurt or wronged you but it’s not malicious or traumatic, and the person has taken full responsibility and expressed remorse, yet you feel you’re unable to move forward. This can have a devastating effect on relationships in the long run. They might be strained, they might end, and you’ll be left feeling lonely (if self-righteous.)
In the dictionary, forgiveness is defined as granting pardon, ceasing to feel resentments, and cancelling out debt/liability. I see being able to forgive as a hallmark of psychological health.
If you find you’re holding grudges, a question to ask yourself is:
Is there some secondary gain in keeping the negative feelings alive?
For example, do I, on some level, feel I’m protecting myself from future hurt and disappointment? Do I enjoy feeling right? Does the sense of superiority buttress my low self-esteem so that I feel better about myself in the short run, even if I’m harming my self-esteem in the long run through loneliness?
You might be thinking that there’s nothing you can do, that you can’t control your feelings, but in fact, there are likely things you’re doing (perhaps subconsciously) to draw out those negative feelings. You might be nursing the sense of betrayal, focusing on the immediate behavior of the other person, rather than placing it in the larger context of the relationship. Or maybe you start to connect the dots between that incident and others, finding parallels where most people would not think they exist.
This could be self-protective behavior. It might be that you’ve experienced trauma in your past, and so some part of you is saying, “Never again.” Any time someone’s actions bump up against those tender spots, you might feel you need to remember it so that you don’t wind up back in a place you never want to revisit.
Something to remember is that our present relationships can heal past pain. Finding a partner who is loving and supportive can serve to cancel out some earlier experiences; it can reassure on a neurological level. But if you continue to equate the present with the past, then that will rob you of your ability to heal. In that case, you might want to seek out a therapist with a trauma specialty.
Think about whether you’re more comfortable being alone. Maybe it feels strange to be intimate with people, and so you make excuses when they get too close. You end up turning a minor issue into a game changer. (Again, I’m distinguishing between abusive situations, and otherwise healthy relationships in which hurts have occurred. Because all relationships have the potential for hurt, and working it out within the relationship can signal growth and maturity.)
Once you’ve determined the psychological purpose the grudge is serving, you’ll know better how to counteract it. Using different self-talk, taking a broader perspective, allowing other people to comment on the situation honestly and help ground you–those might all come into play. It can also be valuable to talk directly to the person involved and say that you’re having trouble getting over what’s happened but that you want to. Let them be your partner in that process.
The ability to forgive is a key measure of happiness. It keeps us from dwelling in recrimination and negativity. It means that we recognize that people are imperfect, and that relationships are worth the inherent risk of occasional pain in order to experience greater pleasure.
Holding a grudge image available from Shutterstock.