True forgiveness is tough. When someone hurts us, whether intentionally or not, the sting goes deep and it can be hard to let go of the pain.
There are many reasons why holding onto the pain is seductive. We can gain sympathy from others and this attention can feel good. Sometimes the pain becomes a “badge of courage” we use to demonstrate how brave we are. Maybe we rationalize that the pain is a reminder to avoid making the same mistake again. Or, we believe that anger directed toward the person who harmed us will make them understand how they’ve hurt us.
Whatever the reason to hold on, it’s not worth it. A little venting can be cathartic, but beyond that, you’re only further hurting yourself. Because we have a finite amount of energy, giving ANY of it to someone who has harmed us is a waste. Forgiveness is not about being okay with hurtful actions, but rather making a decision to move forward and stop giving more energy to them.
This is immensely challenging and a quote that brings it home is: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” (Nelson Mandela). It’s a powerful reminder.
When we hold on, we paint ourselves as a victim, which is a place where we hold little power. We close ourselves off from new possibilities because we’ve built a wall to ensure we don’t get hurt again. We use our energy to dredge up bad moments from the past, which take away our ability to feel joy in the present.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, despite knowing the unfavorable consequences of holding on to the pain. If you’re having trouble letting go, here are some thoughts that may help:
– Ask yourself why letting go is so difficult and what you’re gaining by holding onto the pain. Are you truly gaining this and is it worth your energy?
– Ask yourself what you’re losing by holding a grudge. For example, if you believe you’re gaining sympathy from others by playing a victim, you’re likely losing your power.
– If you must hold on, hold on to the lesson, not the anger. The lesson helps you grow and move forward. The grudge holds you back.
– Send positive affirmations to the person who harmed you, wishing them what they are lacking. If someone broke a promise, you may wish for them to have greater insight into how their actions impact others. If someone lashed out at you, wish for them to find peace so they stop taking out their frustrations on others.
The last one is a personal favorite and has helped me move forward many times. The human brain is an unbelievably malleable organ and combating negative thoughts with positive ones is a powerful strategy for shifting our perspective. Conversely, replaying negative memories and feelings strengthens those neural connections and makes it harder to focus on the positive. Every day, we get to choose. What will you choose today?