The feeling of being wronged by someone never feels good. Perhaps a co-worker made a snarky personal remark unrelated to work, or a friend or even family member has said something they did not mean in the heat of the moment. Yet, many of us hang onto those negative feelings that so destroy our day, wallowing in the self-pity and false sense of solace that we now have a debtor.
“Dwelling on the negatives and reliving a bad memory over and over again can fill your mind with pessimistic thoughts and suppressed anger, turning into prison chains that stop us from doing things that would have turned our fates more positive. When you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free.”
-Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
As beautifully quoted by Dr Tyler, we unwittingly punish ourselves to days of anger and hatred when we dwell on the wrongdoings of others unto us. It is only by forgiving others, can we find freedom for ourselves and become happy again.
Letting go of those who trespassed against us is probably one of the hardest things to do as a person as it involves two gateways, the first being decisional and the latter being emotional.
Decisional forgiveness is the conscious choice of replacing ill will with good will. This means you no longer wish ill fate on the other party, you stop cursing at the person inwardly, and no longer think of ways to make the other party suffer as you have. Getting over this gateway is also quicker and easier to accomplish.
Emotional forgiveness involves moving away from the negative feelings associated with the other party, making it a significantly tougher thing to do because more often than not, we are still dealing with the adverse consequences or emotional hurt from their actions so just seeing the person triggers a bad memory unconsciously.
These two doors require immense amounts of mindfulness and conscious feeling and are taxing on our minds in comparison to sticking to the negatives in the short run. Moreover, some of us may not be comfortable with admitting that something bothers us. However, it is important to not let this obstruct you from the long term benefits of forgiveness, “which includes higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction and lowered anxiety and depression”, says Dr Tyler.
REACH out with a forgiving hand
A way to help us get started on the practice of forgiving others is to use REACH, which is to Recall, Emphasise, Altruistic gifting, Commit and Hold.
Recall - The first step is to recall the wrong action in an objective way, which can be brought about through mindful thinking so that you separate your narrative from the situation. The main point here is to move away from self-pity and to come to terms with the trespasses of the other person while allowing yourself to feel and better flush the current cycle of anger.
Empathise - Move to the point of view of the person who hurt you. Try to understand the reason for hurting you while consciously reminding yourself to not downplay their reason for your view. Sometimes, the wrongdoing was not meant to be an attack on the personal level and could be a combination of factors, including what the other party was going through during that time as well.
Altruistic Gifting - This step is an inward retrospect of the times you might have committed similar wrongdoings unto someone else. How were you treated then? If you were forgiven, how did you feel when the other party did so? If you were not, then think about whether you might have felt better if they had forgiven you instead. Capitalise on this thought of breaking the cycle of hurt so that you are more motivated to forgive your debtor.
Commit - Stay committed to forgiving the person. You might start small, but slowly grow it and you will hence, pass through the decisional gateway of forgiveness. To aid us through this tough act, write letters or have internal dialogues with yourself, which can keep us focused on the positives of our actions and motivate us.
Hold - Finally, hold on to your forgiveness. This step is tough because memories of the event will often recur. "Forgiveness is not erasure," says Dr Tyler, but it is “about changing our reactions to those memories”.
When the bad feelings arise in this step, remind yourself that you have forgiven and ultimately you are the bigger person who wants to give goodwill to the debtor. If needed, revisit your commitment by reading your letters, or recalling a good memory or time you had with the person.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you”
-Lewis B. Smedes