There is an old quote that says:
“Holding onto anger, bitterness, revenge and unforgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
While there is no general consensus on the origin of this quote, it is brilliant in its description of the human experience of unforgiveness. The words ring true to anyone who has ever struggled with anger, resentment, or unforgiveness, and the insight it provides can lead us to important truths about ourselves.
As anyone who has experienced deep-seated unforgiveness can attest, it brings about an immense burden in our lives. Unforgiveness is something we haul around with us like a scar we are unwilling to let heal. The more we fester in resentment and unforgiveness, the more we pick at the wound and prevent its healing. Eventually we become completely controlled by these emotions and our freedom is compromised. We poison ourselves. We are no longer able to build relationships without fear of betrayal. We have difficulty trusting, and we become wary of the intentions of others.
Sometimes the person we need to forgive is ourselves. We all make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can have lasting or even permanent consequences. This too can become damaging to our psyche and our ability to form healthy relationships with others.
No matter who the person is we need to forgive, I’m going to offer four tips for proceeding with the process. But before we get started, I should offer a brief description of what forgiveness is and what it is not.
Forgiveness can be defined as a conscious process of letting go of hurts, resentments, and thoughts of revenge toward an offender. It seeks to remove all negative emotions regarding the incident in consideration.
Now, what forgiveness is not.
First, forgiveness is not forgetting. To forgive someone does not mean that we need to forget what happened. Second, forgiveness is not condoning behavior. To forgive someone does not imply that we are okay with what he or she did to us, or what we did to someone else. Lastly, forgiveness is not reconciliation. To forgive someone does not necessitate that we allow the person back into our lives. In some cases, obviously, the person might still be a part of our lives. Such is the case with spouses, parents, co-workers, etc. In other cases, reconciling might be a really poor idea. Such is the case with incidents of abuse, domestic violence, and especially if doing so would pose a danger to one party or the other.
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get to our tips. Given that forgiveness is a process, these four tips can help us along the way to forgiveness and healing. These tips can also double as reminders when the process becomes difficult or when we feel like giving up.
1. We Need Forgiveness Because Nobody is Perfect
Our lives are made up of a series of relationships. We are children, spouses, parents, co-workers, neighbors, and more. These relationships often become part of our identity as persons and are critical to our overall well-being.
The problem, however, is that nobody is perfect, and therefore none of our relationships are perfect. We couldn’t very well expect that a bunch of imperfect people would have perfect relationships. So because we are all imperfect, our relationships are flawed, and we hurt each other. When we hurt each other, we need forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, our relationships with others suffer, and we suffer. Learning to embrace forgiveness can help restore the relationships that are so important to our identity and well-being.
2. Nobody Ever Healed From a Hurt By Ignoring It
The first step in the forgiveness process is to acknowledge the hurt that we’ve experienced, whether it be at the hands of someone else or ourselves. The purpose here is not to be self-serving, and it’s not to make ourselves victims of someone else’s wrongdoing. The point is rather to acknowledge what hurt has been caused in order to begin to allow its healing.
Imagine having a broken arm and never visiting a doctor. The arm would never heal, and it would eventually become disfigured and permanently damaged. In the same way, ignoring emotional scars and remaining in unforgiveness can become permanently damaging to our psyche and our relationships with others.
3. Integration Is The Goal
To integrate means to bring together. We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t care for, parts that are ugly, and parts that have been beat up and abused. The goal is not to ignore those parts, repress them, or otherwise pretend they are not there. This is not good for us, and it is simply not possible to do this anyway. These parts of ourselves we don’t care for are part of who we are, whether we like it or not.
The goal is to accept what happened, acknowledge the wrong that was done, and allow it to become part of our life story. We can learn from it, we can grow from it, and we can move past it. We weren’t meant to slog through life carrying around all our burdens. When we allow past hurts to become part of our story, we see them in the context of our lives. Through doing this, it becomes easier to accept what happened and leave our negative emotions in the past.
4. We Have The Choice Whether We Hold Onto Unforgiveness or Let It Go
This is the part where I empower you to make choices that will help yourself. The choice of whether to hold onto resentment or let it go is yours and only yours. Nobody else is going to do it for you, and nobody else can. This is great news. We are in control of our own well-being.
That said, the actual work of letting go of unforgiveness and resentment is the most difficult part of the process. It involves a conscious, every-day effort on our part to accept what happened, and a continual effort to move past it. It means that every day we remind ourselves that we can either accept what happened and move on, or we can continue to live in the past unable to do so. This is easier said than done, but the choice is ours. Oftentimes the process can take much longer than we wish it would. I’ve written about a few tricks for letting go of resentments, and many find these helpful.
Engaging the process of forgiveness is noble work, and its rewards are many.
So at the beginning of this new year, while others vow to frequent the gym or eliminate unnecessary calories from their diets, let’s do something that is equally good for us. The process of forgiveness has many benefits and not only will it help improve our health, it can help us regain control in areas of our life where we feel we have lost it.
Forgiveness is a difficult process. It is not something that happens overnight, and it seldom comes easily. Sometimes it is necessary to enlist the help of a professional to work through trauma and other issues that are difficult to make sense of by ourselves. But it is a process that can help us get back parts of ourselves that have been lost or avoided. It can help to regain freedom and control over our emotions. It can help us to open up and experience happier and healthier relationships.
And that is something I’m sure we would all welcome in the new year.
Cullen Herout is a pro-life, pro-family writer. He has a passion for writing about life issues, Marriage, fatherhood, and creating a culture of life. Follow him on his brand new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cullenheroutwriter.
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