Do you hold grudges for an eternity or can you manage life’s knocks without a second thought? To be able to forgive is a magnanimous act and its significance and struggle…
Do you hold grudges for an eternity or can you manage life’s knocks without a second thought? To be able to forgive is a magnanimous act and its significance and struggle is explored in almost every religious practice, from Christianity to Shamanism. “Forgiveness is the key to freedom,” explains top psychologist Nick Jankel (nickjankel.com). “Not to liberate the person we forgive, but to ensure we claim our own peace of mind.”
But, if you are holding onto feelings of anger, resentment and self-righteous indignation, which are all corrosive to your psyche and spiritual wellbeing, don’t panic. The key to letting go is acceptance and compassion and you don’t need to turn into a hardcore Buddhist monk to achieve it. Read on to find out why liberating yourself from your past can lead to a fulfilling, healthy and happy life…
Studies show letting go of a grudge is good for your physical health, it can lower blood pressure and reduce chronic pain. There is also a strong link between resentment and destructive behaviour – a study published in Eating Disorders Review found that suppressed anger is characteristic of bulimia and self-harm.
“Pretending that we are not angry when we actually are provides not so much an opportunity to forgive but also an opportunity to deny our anger,” says Dr Massimo Stocchi, clinical director at Harley Street Psychology (harleystreetpsychology.com). “This represents a form of self-invalidation and usually stems from a fear of being abandoned,” he adds. According to Nick Jankel, bearing anger can affect other areas of your life too. “Resentment acts as a wall. It alienates us, which has been shown to be a key cause of chronic depression, loneliness and even suicide,” he explains.
If you find it hard to forgive others, it is often a sign that you have yet to forgive yourself, adds Nick. “The toughest, most righteous people are usually far stricter with themselves than anyone else. We all need to be able to see ourselves as the fragile and flawed beings we all are,” he explains, adding that we all mess up. “If we acknowledge all our foibles, and forgive ourselves, then we free ourselves of needless, and damaging inner rage,” he says.
How to heal
Dr Stocchi believes that listening to your own inner critic is of great importance in the healing process. “Being able to forgive ourselves for the action that we have chosen to play out is a wonderful place to start learning how to forgive others,” he says. “Listen to the language you use with yourself; you will often experience a harsh and critical tone that maintains self-fulfilling prophesies and negative behaviour. If a nurturing and self-soothing stance is taken we begin to look for the opportunity in all our mistakes and experiences which turns our attitudes into more optimistic and compassionate ones. By learning how to be kinder to yourself, you will be able to recognise the healing benefits of forgiving,” he adds.
Leading therapist Dominic Knight (dominicknight.co.uk) explains regret in your own actions can also be a catalyst for developing as a more moral person. “By recognising your own shortcomings it too gives you an opportunity to rectify your behaviour and make the most of who you are,” he says.
Forgive and forget
Is it possible to absolve someone’s behaviour if they don’t recognise their wrongdoing? If the perpetrator never has their comeuppance, moving on can prove more problematic but it doesn’t mean you are condoning the act and it can even be a positive experience.
“Forgiving is not disregarding the action,” explains Dominic. “To condone an offence is to overlook the harmful action without expressing disapproval. True forgiveness is not about endorsing, or excusing an injustice. It is not about overlooking the unacceptable,” he explains. “Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from the destructive emotions and pain. It is not about the offender, it is about you. You can forgive the abuser without condoning their action.”
Trauma specialist Richard Osterfield (theosterfieldclinic.com) emphasises the importance of acknowledging your negative feelings. “The main misconception is that forgiving someone means that what they did is okay,” he says. “It actually means that you accept what happened and you are allowed to feel angry and hurt.” He explains that many people try to hold back these feelings because they think it makes them strong but in the end they are simply denying themselves closure. “To forgive and let go of the toxic resentments you need to accept the situation happened and allow your own emotions, then your unconscious will take the final step,” he adds.
Dominic Knight advises that sometimes you may need to move on without an apology. “No one ever changes unless they want to change, you cannot enforce your values on them,” he explains. “If you feel you have been wronged and the person doesn’t acknowledge the consequence of their behaviour, if you play the victim everyone loses,” he says.
Instead he advises empowering yourself and the situation by rising above it, and asking yourself, ‘where have I done the same or something similar? What are the benefits of going through this? What is the arising opportunity?’. He adds: “The only real meaning of forgiveness to me is, ‘thank you for giving me this experience’. If you can say that honestly, whatever it may be, you release the grip hurt has on you. Then you are no longer fearful or a victim of what people do around you, or what you do to others.”
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