The Apostle Paul wrote “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.” Once again, Biblical wisdom is supported by modern health and mental health professionals. Our anger usually hurts us more than the person we are angry with and it is healthy for us to forgive.
Avoiding the Need for Forgiveness
We may be able to avoid the need for forgiveness if we take a close look at ourselves first.
Am I Too Sensitive?
If you find yourself being hurt on a regular basis by a number of different people, consider the possibility that you may be too sensitive. Asking yourself this question may alleviate some of your discomfort. You may also ask yourself if it really matters what the other person thinks about the subject.
It Is Just Part of Their Personality
Occasionally you’ll come across someone who rubs you the wrong way. But maybe the way they act is part of their personality and isn’t meant to show disrespect or offend you. I know someone who never says ‘good bye’ at the end of a phone conversation…just hangs up. The first time I experienced it, I thought he was mad about something but later realized that, no, that’s just him. Now it doesn’t bother me.
Am I Too Proud?
Excessive pride in yourself or your ‘stuff’ can also lead to anger in response to what you may consider a ‘rude’ comment. Try not to take yourself too seriously. Let it go and move on. Don’t let someone else ruin your day. (But you might want to work on being a little more humble. Take a look at the phrases for meditation regarding humility)
Life Can Be Hard
In another scenario, the offender may be having a bad day or have problems that weigh them down or make them irritable. It may have nothing to do with you. You just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I worked with a woman who was always rude and unhelpful. After I’d ignored the offense several times, I finally confronted her regarding her attitude toward me. (Note that I was taking it personally.) She said that she was aware that she was ornery and explained that she was always in pain. From that day onward she was more pleasant and I was more understanding.
If someone is consistently offensive or repeatedly hurts you, try to keep them at arms length. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to be hurt any more than necessary. The two of you may not be compatible. But, at least, you can still be civil. Don’t let them set the tone.
Address It Now
And lastly, don’t let one offence be the beginning of long term tension or resentment. When a conflict has been going on for a long time, it can be difficult to sort out because you may not remember how it first started. Paul says ‘don’t let the sun set on your anger” in Ephesians 4. We may not be able to resolve our conflicts in one day, but the sooner the better.
Sometimes the words and actions of others cannot be overlooked or so easily handled. Forgiveness involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.
What forgiveness Isn’t
To learn how to forgive, you must first learn what forgiveness is not. Dr. Andrea Brandt tells us that most of us hold at least some misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are some things that forgiving someone doesn’t mean:
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person’s actions.
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to tell the person that he or she is forgiven.
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any more feelings about the situation.
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now.
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean you should forget the incident ever happened.
• Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
• …. and forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person.
Andrea Brandt Ph.D. M.F.T. has 35 years of clinical experience with an emphasis in anger management and conflict resolution. She has authored several book on these topics.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
According to the Mayo Clinic, letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self-esteem
Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?
Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. The staff at Mayo Clinic staff tell us that if you dwell on hurtful events or situations or hold grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.
Andrea Brandt adds “There are several reasons [forgiving is hard]
- You’re filled with thoughts of retribution or revenge
- you enjoy feeling superior
- you don’t know how to resolve the situation
- you’re addicted to the adrenaline that anger provides
- you self-identify as a “victim”
- you’re afraid that by forgiving you have to re-connect—or lose your connection—with the other person
These reasons not to forgive can be resolved by becoming more familiar with yourself, with your thoughts and feelings, and with your boundaries and needs.”
Some people are naturally more forgiving than others. But even if you are one to hold a grudge, nearly everyone can learn to be more forgiving.
How do I reach a state of forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a commitment to a personalized process of change. To move from suffering to forgiveness, you might:
• Recognize the value of forgiveness and how it can improve your life
• Identify what needs healing and who needs to be forgiven and for what
• Consider joining a support group or seeing a counselor
• Acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior, then work to release them
• Choose to forgive the person who’s offended you
• Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life
“By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it.” Dr. Brandt says “This can be a gradual process—and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the person who wronged you; it’s something you do for you.”
What happens if I can’t forgive someone?
Forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong. If you find yourself stuck:
• Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view.
• Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
• Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
• Write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
• Be aware that forgiveness is a process, and even small hurts may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.
Do You Want to Forgive?
Forgiveness requires feeling willing to forgive. Sometimes you won’t, because the hurt went too deep, or because the person was too abusive, or expressed no regret. Do not attempt to forgive someone before you have identified, fully felt, expressed, and released your anger and pain.
If you decide you are willing to forgive, Dr. Brandt suggests you find a good place and time to be alone with your thoughts. Then, try following these four steps to forgive even when it feels impossible:
1. Think about the incident that angered you. Accept that it happened. Accept how you felt about it and how it made you react. In order to forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected.
2. Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. What did it make you learn about yourself, or about your needs and boundaries? Not only did you survive the incident, perhaps you grew from it.
3. Now think about the other person. He or she is flawed because all human beings are flawed. He or she acted from limited beliefs and a skewed frame of reference because sometimes we all act from our limited beliefs and skewed frames of reference. When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think this need was and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way?
4. Finally, decide whether or not you want to tell the other person that you have forgiven him or her. If you decide not to express forgiveness directly, then do it on your own. Say the words, “I forgive you,” aloud and then add as much explanation as you feel is merited.
Does forgiveness guarantee reconciliation?
If the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. This isn’t always the case, however. Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. In other cases, reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, forgiveness is possible — even if reconciliation isn’t.
What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?
Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words, isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?
The staff at Mayo Clinic indicate that the first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how they have affected others. Avoid judging yourself too harshly.
If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and ask for forgiveness — without making excuses.
Remember, however, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever happens, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.
Forgiveness puts the final seal on the event or events that hurt you. You will still remember, but you will no longer be bound by it. Having worked through the feelings, you are better able to take care of yourself in the future. Forgiving the other person is a good way to honor yourself. You are declaring “I deserve to be happy”.
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Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:32-36