The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Yes! To be healthy you’ve got to do it – you need to let go of resentment, anger and bitterness. You need to find a way to stop feeling angry and resentful because the feelings carry a poison with them; it’s like holding a live coal in your hand and hoping to not be burned.
I totally agree with you that some people don’t deserve forgiveness. You’re right. We both know people who’ve lied, cheated, defrauded and defriended (I guess that that’s not a word but maybe you know what I mean. One day you were friends and the next day they dropped off the edge of the earth.)
However, if you’re going to love and enjoy people, and if you want to have a good life coupled up, there’s no other way than to let go of resentment and anger. Why? Nothing good comes of focusing on past wrongs. The resulting bitterness will poison both your body and your attitude. The energy from the bitterness will most likely trigger stress hormones that you don’t need and most likely the pain and resentment from the wound will ooze out on to those nearest and dearest to you. Many of us think that we can carry bitterness, resentment, or hatred and do it safely. I don’t think that it’s possible.
It’s my opinion that we are very poor judges of how we affect other people. We can think that we’re keeping our negative feelings in check while our family and peers at work can have a very different opinion. Men can grossly misjudge how their negativity affects their girl friends and wives. A fellow can think that he’s okay only to find out that she’s loaded up her car and is backing out of the drive. On the other hand, women can feel that they’re so cute and sexy that the guy will put up with anything. Of course, that’s not true either. Men have their limits too.
Anyway, if you feel bitter about something that’s happened in the past, ask for feedback from your partner. Would your partner say, e.g., that you’re calm when Grandpa Joe, the family alcoholic, unexpectedly shows up or would he/she think that you overreact. And, what happens when, driven by guilt, you agree to go visit cousin Lucy who never has anything positive to say?
Would your partner say that certain words, places, people, and events trigger an unusual amount of anger in you? What’s the truth? If there’s a consensus that you’re overreacting, face the truth. Life is short and precious; be wise. Find a way to let go of bitterness so that you can better love and enjoy your family and friends.
Here are some things to consider if you sense that you’ve let bitterness develop –
1. Would it help to look at the person who harmed you in the context of their family history? Does the person have good social skills? Are they malicious?
2. Would it be helpful to look at yourself in the context of your family history? What did you learn about how to deal with disappointment and criticism?
3. What has helped you to refocus from hurts ( that you can’t change) to what is positive in your life (that you can build on)?
4. Has belief in God, a higher power, given you strength to over come obstacles in the past? Would asking for help now be a reasonable thing for you to consider?
5. Would praying for the person who hurt you help you to let go?
In psychotherapy, we work at learning the truth about ourselves and life. We acknowledge the truth and the pain that is there, learn from it, find comfort from others, and then refocus to what is beautiful, true, and good about life today. When memories of the hurtful event occur, we refocus away from the hurt as there is nothing more to be done. Reliving a hurtful event simply creates more pain; we were hurt and now we’re reliving the event and inflicting more pain on ourselves. This, of course, is illogical. I had a supervisor who said that the best revenge is a good life. I believe that he’s correct.
Garrison Keller has a wonderful article in the February 2011 National Geographic. He talks about what it was like for him to live most of his life in the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. At the end of the article he tells us that people know him there and how good it feels to be known, to be forgiven, and to be understood. I feel that way about my wife, children, and grandchildren. They know me; they choose to forgive me; and they work to understand me. It’s a priceless gift.
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