By Rebecca A. Watson
Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.
I hate to admit it, but I am not good at letting things go. A few days ago I started getting worked up about a disagreement a good friend and I had. It replayed in my head; the hurt in my heart flared up again. The worst part? It happened more than a year ago, and it’s been resolved. If she knew I still harbored these feelings, she’d probably be upset. After all, weren’t we past that?
It used to be that I would forgive and forget immediately, but I realized that I wasn’t truly forgiving people; I was simply using the technique of denial.
So instead, I swung to the other end of the pendulum, where I couldn’t seem to let go, even if I’d said I’d forgiven.
The benefits of letting go of a grudge aren’t all just in your head. Forgiveness leads to healthier relationships, less anxiety, lower blood pressure, fewer depression symptoms, and less risk of substance abuse.
With all of this in mind, I set out to make an effort to forgive in a healthy way and quit walking around with the weight of all those grudges.
1. Understand It’s a Process
There isn’t some magical way to come to forgiveness overnight. Letting go of the grudges you have will come gradually, so be patient with yourself. And ask that others also be patient with you.
Often times you’re the only person that knows you’re still carrying these feelings around, but if someone is actively seeking your forgiveness, don’t feel pressured to say you’ve gotten there when you’re still stewing.
This is often how grudges form. We don’t allow ourselves enough time and we expect too much of ourselves and others.
When my husband and I argued awhile back, it took him some time to deal with it and forgive me. Thankfully I’d recognized what was going on and didn’t push him, like I had in the past; we all need space and time to process and move on.
2. Acknowledge Your Hurt
For me, this is the most difficult part. Dwelling in my feelings of sadness, betrayal and anger is not something I enjoy. Frankly, I’m a bit scared of doing it. Emotions often cloud my logic, making it impossible to have a rational conversation. But knowing how you feel can help you in your quest toward letting go.
My sister and I were estranged for some time, and for a while I would just make jokes about it, not really delving into the fact that I was hurt and needed comfort. Once I sat down, had a good cry and wrote about it, things started moving on their own. She texted me, and I responded. If I hadn’t dealt with the hurt and sadness I felt, I wouldn’t have known how to act when she contacted me. It would have been a missed opportunity, but because I knew how I felt, I could respond with a sense of confidence, which ultimately helped me to move forward.
Honoring how we feel is an important first step in learning to forgive and let go. By allowing ourselves to feel our emotions, each one is allowed to pass through us instead of getting stuck somewhere because we’re afraid or unable to bear expressing it.
3. Try Not to Take It Personally
This might sound callous or downright mean, but letting go of a grudge comes a lot easier when you realize that what happened—what was said or done—has much more to do with the person saying or doing those things than you.
I remind myself of that when I get upset about that disagreement I had with my friend. You know the one that’s more than a year old? It helps calm me down immensely when I tell myself, This has nothing to do with me; she’s got her own issues to work out too. That’s what is going on.
Remembering that we’ve all got our own problems, and that most of the time people aren’t maliciously out to hurt us, can help take the sharp edges off our anger and make it easier to let go.
4. Say the Words Out Loud
You might feel a little silly doing this, but it can be really therapeutic to hear yourself say “I forgive my friend for… ” and say what you’re forgiving and explain why. Say it to yourself out loud, so your brain can hear you.
I did this with my friend because all of our correspondence was through email. I really felt like it all played out in my head. Once I heard the words spoken, my brain seemed a lot more at peace about it. I didn’t feel that same fire flare up in me every time I thought about the situation.
Forgiveness requires action on our part, so saying the words is important to completing the process. You’ll find that letting go comes easier when you’re acting the part.
5. Shift Thoughts to the Positive
A lot of the reason we hold grudges is because we focus on the negative events that occurred. Even after we’ve said we’ve gotten over it, we still fixate on that one phrase she said or that time he left without saying goodbye. What helps in this situation is to find the silver lining.
For me, I used to think about how my sister judged my spiritual choices, but now I know I can’t really do anything about that. Since I’ve chosen to move past it, when those thoughts come up, I just remind myself about how now I can see my nieces and nephews grow up.
Sometimes the only thing that’s positive about moving past a situation is that you’re in a better place, physically, spiritually or mentally. So be it. Focus on that.
Think about how much more energy you have now that you don’t deal with that nightmare boss every day or how you’ve found more time to meditate or exercise now that you quit spending time with that manipulative friend. When you train yourself to see the positive side of a certain event or situation, you focus less on the past. Slowly the hurt and pain fade because you don’t stir up those negative emotions every time the memory appears.
6. Remember When Someone Forgave You
We know we’re not perfect beings. We can be hurt, but we can hurt others as well. Acknowledging this will take the possible self-righteous edge off our anger and bring us back down to reality.
When I realized how many times my friend had forgiven me for making stupid mistakes or saying careless things, I was almost ashamed it took me so long to forgive her for one disagreement. In fact, when I struggle to let go, I often look to her as an example of compassion and forgiveness.
Remembering the kindness we’ve been extended can help soften our hearts toward others and help us release our grudges. Forgiving and letting go isn’t something you do for another person—it’s something you do for yourself. It offers you freedom, so embrace it in a healthy way.
I’ve only started walking down this path, but the peace I’ve found on the way keeps me headed down it, with high hopes of leaving my biggest grudges behind.
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.