How to Forgive (and Why You Should)
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Gandhi
My heart has been heavy recently. There is so much violence and hostility in the world. I sometimes feel hopeless when I read about wars and injustice. I tell myself that I am just one person and that I’m too small to have an impact on the pain I see around me.
However, I also believe we are all connected in ways that are seen and unseen. So these days my response to a broken world is to look inward and remove barriers to love by finding the places in my own heart where I am harboring resentment and anger.
I wrote about this on my Facebook page and later that day a patient came into my office and said, “it’s all very well talking about letting go of resentment, but how do you actually forgive someone”. She is navigating a painful divorce and has legitimate reasons to be angry.
We talked about the payoff she gets from holding onto resentment and she explained that being angry was a way of taking a stand against a really hurtful experience. A way of saying, “this is not OK!”.
I completely understood.
On the other hand, when we look at the cost of carrying this much pain with us every day, it is clear that the payoff is not worth it. In Chinese medicine repressed anger leads to qi stagnation. People get tighter and tighter, like pressure cookers, and the “steam” builds up inside and makes them sick. In this way anger can lead to inflammation, a hormone imbalance, headaches, fatigue or muscle pains.
I too struggle to forgive. I think it is part of being human. Recently, I found out that I’d been deceived by someone that I had trusted. I was angry with myself for being gullible and angry with them for taking advantage of me.
However, I also realized that my resentment was hurting me and that forgiveness is a gift I can give myself. Letting go of resentment does not mean that we condone wrongdoing, nor does it minimize or justify the things that have hurt us. It simply means that we have made the choice not to dwell on pain, nor seek revenge.
Here is the process I use whenever I need to forgive. It helps me to move through my negative emotions quickly and to let go of hostility.
- Close your eyes and take several centering breaths down into your abdomen.
- Picture the person who has hurt you in your mind and notice how you feel. Are your muscles tense? Is your heart racing? Is there tightness in your chest? Does your mind start to race?
- Think about your payoff for holding on to this grudge. Are you doing it to be right? Do you want them to suffer? Do you want them to know they were wrong?
- Then think about the cost of holding onto this pain. Pay particular attention to cost to your health and to your peace of mind. Think about the way this anger prevents you from being who you want to be.
- Make a decision to let it go. Do this for you and as a way of not putting more anger out into the world.
- Now imagine someone you love or a place that brings you peace. Inhale this feeling of love and peace and when you exhale consciously let go of your pain.
- Repeat this – inhale love or peace, exhale resentment.
- If the person you are angry with keeps popping into your mind, inhale love and then send them compassion as you exhale. Imagine them being peaceful.
- Finally focus on your heart and as you inhale send your heart some love and compassion and as you exhale let go of any tightness you find there.
Repeat this exercise every day until you no longer feel angry when you think of the person who has hurt you. I really believe that the more peace we find within ourselves, the more peace we’re able to put out into the world.
Peace begins with us.