Healing From Grudges: How to Forgive Someone Who Hurt You
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemy.” – Nelson Mandela
As much as we’d like to be, none of us are perfect. We all wrong and are wronged by others, whether intentionally or accidentally. At times we even mistreat and disappoint ourselves.
When this happens, you might feel resentful and angry, hold grudges, or even fantasize about taking revenge for crimes committed against you. You may struggle to find compassion for yourself or overcome strong emotions like guilt and shame.
These negative feelings are perfectly natural, but they can keep you from happiness and affect your physical health. Learning how to let go of slights and forgive can help you live a healthier, happier, and more peaceful life.
Why forgiveness is important
Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else: you are the one who gets burned.”
Failing to let go of resentment can lead to chronic anger which places you in a constantly aroused state. Living in this fight or flight mode can cause increased heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response.
These changes can, in turn, lead to limiting and sometimes life threatening conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
It’s all too easy to hold a grudge, but learning how to actively practice forgiveness, whether for regular daily events or large life altering situations, can lead to a range of health benefits including:
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Lower blood pressure
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Greater self-esteem
- Reduced symptoms of depression.
By forgiving others or yourself, you’ll replace anger, guilt, and anxiety with peace and love.
But what does forgiveness really mean?
Although forgiveness can mean different things to different people, it’s generally understood as the process of letting go of anger, resentment, and thoughts of avenging a wrong that’s been inflicted on us.
When anger hardens, bitterness and resentment can grow–leading to a closed-off, rigid and limited life. Forgiveness can be a liberating and enriching experience and an opportunity for growth that helps us understand, empathize with, and show compassion for others, even if they haven’t extended us the same courtesy.
Forgiveness can also be extended to ourselves. Though the act of forgiveness will never right a wrong or erase history, it can help us feel more in control of our lives and more powerful when dealing with painful experiences in the future.
Common misconceptions about forgiveness
Many of us have deep rooted preconceptions or misconceptions about forgiveness that can act as barriers to letting go and moving on. It may be helpful to reframe our ideas about forgiveness so we can begin to see the benefits.
- Forgiveness is not excusing, denying, or forgetting about actions that have caused you suffering.
- Forgiveness is a personal process. You don’t have to tell someone who wronged you that you’ve forgiven them, unless it feels helpful to do so.
- Forgiveness may not lead to instant ‘closure.’ It can be an ongoing process that we practice daily.
- Forgiving someone for a misdemeanor like infidelity does not mean the situation is resolved and no further work needs to be done.
- Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to keep them in your life.
- Forgiveness shouldn’t be undertaken for the benefit of the person who wronged you (unless that person is yourself!).
When forgiveness is difficult
We all encounter circumstances where forgiveness is beneficial–both for ourselves and for others. It may be easy to let go of the short-lived anger you feel when someone cuts you off while driving or fails to hold a door open for you.
However, it’s much more difficult to move on from a deep wrong or betrayal that was performed by someone you love, respect, or trust. Situations where forgiving someone else would be difficult might include:
- Discovering that your partner or spouse is having an affair.
- Learning that a coworker, friend, or family member spoke badly about you behind your back.
- Being fired from a job for a situation that you feel you weren’t responsible for.
- Suffering mental or physical abuse at the hands of someone who should have cared for you.
Similarly, forgiving yourself can be difficult if:
- You acted dishonestly and felt ashamed of your actions (for instance, if you took credit for work that wasn’t your own).
- You acted irresponsibly or impulsively and harmed others by doing so.
- You were unable to bring a perceived ‘weakness’ under control, like an addiction, eating disorder, or depression, and criticized yourself for not being ‘stronger.’
- You experienced negative thoughts about or judged someone else too harshly.
How to forgive yourself or someone else
For many of us, especially those of us who struggle with self-acceptance and low self-esteem, forgiveness doesn’t happen naturally. Instead, we must commit to a process of turning anger and suffering into freedom and acceptance.
Here are 7 simple strategies you can use when trying to forgive yourself or someone else.
Identify what damage has taken place: who needs to be forgiven and for what?
Acknowledge your feelings and the impact they have on your daily life, including any behaviors you’ve developed to cope with them. Instead of resisting feelings, simply label them like, “This is fear.”
Reframe the way you perceive yourself, moving from a picture of you as a wronged victim to someone who’s in control and able to make positive changes.
Accept the person who wronged you as a flawed human being and appreciate that we are all capable of inflicting hurt on others.
When you were hurt, it’s likely the other person was trying to have a need met – what was this need and why might the person have acted how they did? Imagine the person as an innocent child, scared and unsure how to act.
When you have repeating, ruminating negative thoughts about something that was done to you, notice these thoughts, stop yourself in the moment, and direct yourself back to the present. Notice the sounds around you, the smells in the air, the colors you see.
Accept the healing value of forgiveness and consider how it could enhance your life.
As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. Through forgiving yourself and/or others, you’ll find compassion and understanding and open the door for peace in your life.
I understand that oftentimes, this is easier said than done. If you need help forgiving someone else, treating yourself with compassion, and living in the present, please schedule an appointment with me now.