I see it every day. We all hold grudges against other people who we feel have hurt or offended us in some way or another. We even hold these grudges for people who aren't alive anymore. We do this with the false idea that somehow we are making them suffer by being hurt and angry with them. Now, there is nothing wrong with being angry with someone, but it is how we express this anger that makes all the difference in us and our relationships . What is a grudge, anyway? It is harboring ill feelings toward another in the need to settle a score.
Let's try a little experiment. Think of someone in your life right now (maybe not the most extreme person) whom you are absolutely holding a grudge against right now. There is no way you are willing to forgive this person right now for his or her actions. Picture that person and hold onto that unwillingness to forgive. Now, just observe what emotions are there: anger, resentment, sadness? Also notice how you are holding your body right now: is it tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts: are they hateful and spiteful thoughts?
Most people whom I do this with find this to be an uncomfortable experiment that elicits feelings of tension, anger, and thoughts of ill will toward the other person. This is not conjuring these feelings out of nowhere; this is just bringing to light what is already within us, stirring around. There is a common misconception that forgiveness means condoning the act of the other person. Forgiveness simply means releasing this cycle of torture that continues to reside inside.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning! Forgiveness is for the person who was perpetrated, not the perpetrator. It is saying, "I have already been offended against. I am going to let go of this so I don't continue to be burdened by it." You have already been tortured once; why continue letting this torture you by holding onto it with the erroneous belief that doing so is somehow hurting the other person? The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce stress, anger, and depression and support many aspects of well-being and happiness.
Like many things, this is easier said than done, depending on the person and level of offense. In his book Forgive for Good, Fred Luskin, Ph.D. lays out nine steps to forgiving for you:
- Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
As always please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
This post is adapted from a publication on "Mindfulness and Psychotherapy" at Psychcentral.com. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. You may also find him at www.elishagoldstein.com.
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