It’s often said the power of forgiveness will set you free. I always thought this was a bit cliché. Forgiveness is hard to rationalize and put into action. It’s easier to hold onto anger as it is a strong, blinding emotion.
Sometimes we want to punish someone for how they have made us feel or for what they have done. Doing so can do further damage, however. While it’s important to be able to recognize and avoid toxic people, if we distance ourselves from everyone to avoid pain, we can miss out on a lot of great friendships. I believe the first step is forgiving ourselves for the anger we may have toward certain situations or people. Accepting that it is okay to feel angry can lead to healing.
I often examine my own life experiences, sifting through feelings of anger or betrayal and reconciling them. My divorce, for example, was hard and often still is. I do fall back into anger sometimes. I married someone who made up his own history, claiming he served in Iraq in the Marine Corps. We had a child together. After five years, he met and had a child with someone else before our divorce was finalized. There were always red flags, but I ignored them, chalking it up to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Eventually, I discovered the man I married wasn't a veteran of anything but jail time, serial dating, and deceit. I receive no child support, and he’s had no communication with his son for six years. Understandably, I have a hard time forgiving him. On the other hand, if I hadn't met him, I wouldn't have my amazing son. I would not have reconnected with my family or found a job I love. So regardless of the anger and disappointment I have felt, I am thankful he was in my life. Of course, I still have moments where that anger builds up again. But recognizing how I'm feeling and understanding that it hurts no one but myself helps me let go a little more each time. I can acknowledge that none of what happened reflects my worth.
There are two sides to forgiveness: decisional and emotional. On the decisional side, you choose to wish no longer for bad things to happen to someone and replace ill will with goodwill. On the emotional side of forgiveness, you have to move away from the negative feelings and stop dwelling on how you were wronged. According to Dr. VanderWheele, co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, emotional forgiveness is harder. It takes longer to achieve than decisional forgiveness. Life can trigger memories unexpectedly, and we will relive negative emotions, which take longer to heal.
Learn to forgive by starting small. Like with any skill, forgiveness can take practice.
Try looking at the little things that happen each day. A family member or friend saying or doing something may upset you, but you often realize their intention was not to hurt. Does it matter in the grand scheme of things? Let go of negative feelings and move towards forgiveness. Note that this does not imply you should accept abuse or controlling behavior or that you need to continue to allow abusers or manipulators in your life. As for the little annoyances and unintentional hurts, you can allow them to pass over you like water on a stone.
Studies have found that forgiveness can do wonders for your health. People experience less anxiety, depression, and stress. It also lowers blood pressure, reduces pain, improves cholesterol levels and sleep, and lowers the risk of heart attacks. Chronic anger or anxiety puts your body into fight or flight mode, which raises blood pressure and heart rate.
Realizing you can't control anyone but yourself is good to remember. Someone may say something to you that you dislike, but you can control your reaction. It also helps to learn to let go of expectations to help avoid disappointment. None of this is easy to do. It takes work.
Forgiveness does not mean we need to forget, nor should we tolerate evil or negative actions. Rather, forgivness means making the conscious decision not to let negative emotions consume us. Believe in your worth and realize it's not about someone else. It's about taking control of your health, life, and emotions. It’s about setting yourself free!