It's a simple act of will that anyone can do, and it will set you free ...
I’ve never really been one for holding grudges. Despite a notable lack of Irish ancestry, my temperament tends to run in the direction of the old stereotype — I get angry fast and get over it fast, forgetting almost as soon as I’ve forgiven.
Usually my forgiveness isn’t even something that hinges on an apology or admission of wrongdoing, either. I have an incorrigible faith in the basic goodness of others, and believing that their intentions weren’t malicious is enough to inspire me to let it go, forgive, and forget.
Every once in a while, though, someone does something that sticks. The few times it’s happened I’ve known beyond a shadow of a doubt that they didn’t intend to hurt me, but for whatever reason their offence hits hard, leaving a hurt I can’t seem to shake.
Once, I held onto that hurt for almost a decade. I didn’t even try to shake it — instead, I practically nurtured it. I would pull out every few months and re-examine it, turning it over and discovering new facets of the offense and new horizons of injury.
Annie Lamott once said, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die,” an apt quote that Thrive Global chose to open a recent article on why extending forgiveness is something we should do for ourselves, not others.
Think of forgiveness as something you do for you. It is not about the person who wronged you, nor is it condoning what they did. It’s about unlocking the chains that keep you shackled to both the past and the pain. You may be adamant that the wound you have experienced should not be released without punishment of the transgressor, but, we promise, the only way to find freedom is through forgiveness. You may believe you must cling to your anger and resentment to punish the person who hurt you. But, as Anne Lamott reminds us, the only person you are hurting is you!
The turning point for me was the day I decided to finally talk with the person who had hurt me all those years ago. As I was imagining the conversation and the possible responses, I realized something that changed my entire perspective.
There was nothing I could imagine hearing that would make me feel any better about what happened. Nothing would undo the hurt or erase the years I had dwelt on it. The only thing I would gain by having the conversation would be to make her aware of the fact that she had hurt me, that I had held onto it for 10 years, and that there was nothing she could do now to make amends.
Basically, I realized that the only thing I would accomplish by telling her about it would be to make her feel terrible. It would be a conversation intended to punish, not to reconcile. And because I had no doubts that her intentions hadn’t been malicious in the first place, I know that she would be punished. She would feel guilty — possibly even ashamed — and it wouldn’t damage our relationship in a way the initial offense hadn’t.
So I decided to forgive her. I made a conscious choice to forgive her in my heart, and to put the hurt away. I stopped talking about it with my close friends and stopped holding it in mind and heart. I let it go, and in that choice I found freedom.
Our relationships improved dramatically after that — so dramatically that she remains one of my closest friends to this day. Hers is a friendship I treasure, and I am so grateful that I didn’t miss the gift of it by refusing to forgive her.
So if you’re holding onto a grudge, don’t do what I did and nurture for years. Find a way to forgive the other person — not for their sake, but for your own.