THREE WORDS THAT HEAL; When you’re ready
THREE WORDS THAT HEAL
The parent who never praised but was quick to criticize. The unfair boss who handed out the pink slip. The spouse who was unfaithful. These are the people who inflicted hurts on us that may take years to overcome, if we ever do. We hold a grudge. We say the worst things to them – or brood over what we wish we had said. We want revenge.
Actually, the best way to feel better is the opposite of getting revenge. Saying the words “I forgive you” could be the most powerful thing you will ever do.
To forgive doesn’t mean to give in; it means to let go. Once you forgive, you are no longer emotionally handcuffed to the person who hurt you. Forgiveness extricates you from someone else’s nightmare and allows you to live in a state of grace.
If forgiveness feels so good, why do so many people lug around so much resentment ? One reason is that it may compensate for the powerlessness they experienced when they were hurt. People may feel more in charge when they are filled with anger; but forgiving instills a much greater sense of power. A rabbi who lost his family in the Holocaust said that he forgave because he chose not to bring Hitler with him to America. When you forgive, you reclaim your power to choose. It does not matter whether someone deserves forgiveness; you deserve to be free.
Another reason we may withhold forgiveness is it can feel like weakness or capitulation. Some think forgiving means saying they were wrong and someone else was right; but forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook. It is about pulling the knife out of your own gut. It can free the ex-wife who remains bitter towards her former spouse, the worker passed over for promotion, the relative not invited to a wedding.
In many cases the other person is not even aware of your misery, while you are turning yourself inside out with bitterness, the one who hurt you does not feel a thing.
Forgiving is good for the body as well as for the soul. Reliving past hurts over and over again is bad for your health. Simply remembering an incident that made a person angry has proved to be stressful for the heart. Negative feelings that cause stress have also been linked to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and increased susceptibility to other illnesses.
While terrible hurts may take only minutes to inflict, forgiving the perpetrator often requires some time. Initially you experience negative feelings such as anger, sadness and shame, then you try to make sense of what happened or take mitigating circumstances in to account.
Ultimately you learn to see the person who hurt you through new eyes. With greater perspective, the hurter becomes one who was flawed, weak, sick or ignorant.
Some people never reach the final stages of forgiveness. Those hurt in childhood by people who they loved and trusted may find the process particularly difficult. Yet, even partial forgiveness can be beneficial.
If you want to move toward a future of forgiving but don’t know how to start, follow these suggestions:
*** PRACTICE ON SMALL HURTS: Forgiving the slights inflicted by strangers – the clerk who shortchanges you or the driver who cuts you off – prepares you for the tougher task of forgiving major hurts.
*** FREE YOURSELF OF BAD FEELINGS: Vent your anger or disappointment with a trusted friend or counselor. This allows you the strengthening experience of being heard. You can let go of your feelings without the danger of saying or doing anything you will regret later. Anger releasing strategies, such as punching a pillow, can help. If you are not so much angry as sad, keep a journal. By all means avoid negative expressions of anger such as driving recklessly, slamming doors or breaking things.
*** WRITE A LETTER TO THE PERSON WHO HURT YOU: Spell out the truth of what happened as you experienced it, without blaming or judging. Use “I” statements: “I feel _____. I don’t understand ______.” Describe the impact the person’s behavior had on you, and express your desire to hear his or her feelings and get the issue resolved. Should you mail it ? If there is a chance for good, send it. If the person who caused your hurt is dead, however, or incapable to listening to what you have to say, some counselors suggest burning the letter, a symbolic way of letting anger go up in smoke.
*** DON’T FEEL CONFRONTATION IS NECESSARY: In cases of incest, assault and other criminal acts, victims may avoid forgiving the perpetrator because a confrontation is not safe. In fact, you need not face that person at all. Forgiveness can occur without anyone else’s involvement or awareness. The people you forgive may never realize they wronged you or never know you forgave them. They may be alcoholics who can not hear what you are trying to say. They may deny everything. What is important is that you let go of your anger.
*** MEDITATE OR PRAY: To err is human, to forgive divine. Turn to your spirituality or faith. The act of forgiving may be more than any of us can manage on our own.
*** DON’T THINK FORGIVING MEANS FORGETTING: It doesn’t. We can not forget hurts, nor should we. Those experiences teach us not to be victimized again and about not victimizing others.
*** LOOK FORWARD IN TIME: By peering into the future, you can benefit from the perspective time brings without having to wait years achieve it. Consider the two sisters who bickered over the care of their ailing mother. The sister living close by resented being burdened with her mom’s day-to-day care while the distant sister just sent checks. Finally the angry sister asked herself what she really wanted in the long run. The answer was “I want to have a good relationship with my sister. The only I could do that was to let go of my anger and forgive her.” Today they can discuss their mother without exchanging hurtful words. and the distant sister is more willing to telephone doctors and participate in decision-making.
Forgiveness leads to inner peace. Once you have forgiven you will laugh more, feel more deeply, become more connected to others. And the good feelings you generate will pave the way to even greater healing.