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Walter E. Jacobson, M.D.

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How to Overcome Your Unwillingness to Forgive

Posted: 05/29/2012 12:07 pm

When we are having difficulty forgiving others, we focus on our blessings and on being grateful for what we have in our lives despite what has been done to us. This can take the sting out of any offense and make it easier for us to let go of our resentments in order to forgive.

When we are having difficulty forgiving others, we remind ourselves that "but for the grace of God go I," that under other, less-fortunate circumstances we might have found ourselves in desperate situations doing unworthy and unloving things to others, out of fear and a belief that they were necessary for our survival.

With humility, we remind ourselves that stressful circumstances can make fools and devils of us all, such that good people do bad things and, therefore, that it's best to put our harsh judge's robe in the closet and don a cloak of graciousness, compassion and mercy instead.

When we try to walk in another man's shoes, to get a sense of the difficulties he's endured, how he's been damaged in his life, and how he's been programmed from childhood experiences to take and not give, to attack and not love, and to withhold and not share, it provides us with the opportunity to see the offender in a more compassionate light, which then enables us to turn down the intensity of our anger over what has been done to us, to be more empathetic, and to apply the principles of forgiveness.

For example, if we know someone was abused as a child, that can make it easier for us to understand their bad behavior and forgive it. Along the same lines, if we're aware of the current circumstances in the offender's life, such as being unemployed, having no savings, about to be evicted, with a wife and two children to care for, that can make it easier for us to understand why they behaved badly and to forgive them.

It doesn't mean we're condoning or excusing their behavior, or suggesting they not take responsibility for their bad actions. It just means that we're choosing to see them from a more sympathetic viewpoint, and to let go of our critical judgments.

It can help us to forgive others if we perceive offenders as part of God, despite their ungodly behaviors. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "We love men not because we like them or because their ways appeal to us or even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him."

If we don't believe in God, we use other labels and tools to see the humanity in people despite the errors of their ways.

It's easier to forgive others if we can find some meaning, some wisdom, some benefit born of the assault and the suffering we experienced. If we can do this, if we can find a way to learn and grow from what has happened to us, if we can discover a blessing in disguise, our perspective changes, we feel less angry, less victimized and damaged, and it gives us permission, so to speak, to not resist extending our compassion and forgiveness.

Forgive to win!

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