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Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness

Has someone hurt you in the past? Maybe betrayed a trust? Offered unwelcomed criticism? Placed blame unfairly?

When someone hurt you, did you have you have a hard time letting it go? Did you harbor anger, resentment, or even thoughts of revenge?

Have you found it difficult to embrace forgiveness and move forward?

Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project, or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness, or even vengeance.

I’ve harbored bitter feelings towards a couple of ‘exes’ for a long time. During a recent illness that lingered for 6 weeks I was given way too much time to process these old hurts. I did a lot of reflection on forgiveness and compassion and why these too human characteristics are so important.

Wise elders from all traditions have told us that if we don’t practice forgiveness, we might be the ones who pay most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, we’re told that we can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.

Forgiveness can lead you down the path ofphysical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Defining forgiveness

Generally, forgiveness is coming to terms with the wisdom of letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. Although you might always remember the act that hurt or offended, eventually there is realization that forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. The process of forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you. Nor does it minimize or justify the wrong. It’s possible to forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness allows you to find a place of inner peace that helps you go on with life free from the feelings of resentment and bitterness.

The importance of forgiveness

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can help you create a life with more happiness, health and peace. The Mayo Clinic claims that forgiveness can lead to:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Higher self-esteem
Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

When you’re hurt by someone you love and trust, you might become angry, sad or confused. Dwelling on these hurtful events or situations allows grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility to fester and take root. Our imagination is so powerful that rehashing these negative feelings can inflame the hurt and pain so that it crowds out positive feelings. Then you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

Holding a grudge can harm you

If you hold onto these old grudges and resentments, the Mayo Clinic states that you might:

  • Pollute other relationships and new experiences with anger and bitterness
  • Allow the toxic memories of past wrongs to negatively impact the present
  • Become depressed or anxious
  • Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or to cause you to feel disconnected from spirit or your spiritual beliefs
  • Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others
How can you reach a state of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is decision to be honest with yourself and reflect on the situation with more compassion and a larger perspective of yourself and the other party or parties.

To begin, you might:

  • Reflect on the particulars of the situation, how you’ve reacted, and how the resentment and bitterness has affected your life, health and well-being.
  • Consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at a given time.
  • Actively choose to view the other person with compassion while trying to understand them and their situation, and allow forgiveness to emerge when you are ready.
  • Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power that the offending person and situation has had on your life.

As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.

Forgiveness isn’t easy

It’s not always easy to forgive. This is especially true if the other person doesn’t want to admit wrong and/or doesn’t speak of his or her own sorrow. If you find yourself stuck:

  • Consider the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  • Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
  • Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
  • Write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation – or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
  • Be aware that forgiveness is a process and even small hurts may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.
Forgiveness and reconciliation
It’s important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation. If you’ve had a close relationship with the offending party prior to the hurt, then forgiveness might lead to reconciliation. This isn’t always the case, however. Sometimes there can be forgiveness yet the relationship never quite goes back to the way it was.

If the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate then it might not be possible to achieve reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, it’s important to remember that forgiveness is possible – even if reconciliation isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t about getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words. Forgiveness is more about how it can change your life by helping you to find greater peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can also take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.

Forgiveness is a process that takes time

Remember, forgiveness is a process. Your ability to forgive may not happen overnight. Nor can you force someone to forgive you if, in your process, you realize that you might have to take some responsibility for what happened.

People need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, allow yourself to move to a state of forgiveness. Forgiveness is important for your own health and well-being. Then commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was YOU!

If you are harboring bitterness, anger, and/or resentment and are having a hard time letting it go, then give Joy Reichard a call to find out how she can help you move to a state of forgiveness so you can find more peace and happiness in your life. Email Joy today or contact Joy at 415-819-8769.

Adapted from words of wisdom obtained from a Mayo Clinic article on forgiveness.

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