Do you have someone in your life who you have not been able to forgive? I think most of us could answer yes to that question. Maybe you would like to let go of anger or resentment toward someone, but you’re finding it’s not quite that simple.
There is a quote that says carrying around hate or resentment toward someone is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die. That’s about it. It can be like a dark cloud in your life, and it doesn’t feel good. So how do you forgive, especially when it feels like you can’t?
Let’s talk about the situations where what is needed is to reach out, have a conversation with someone, and tell them how you feel. If the relationship is important to you, and you think there is a chance it can be salvaged, taking that first step to reach out in a non-confrontational way, can help you both re-connect and heal.
What if the relationship is not salvageable, as far as you can see? Perhaps this is a longtime unhealthy relationship, or the other person’s behavior is so damaging that you cannot imagine reconnecting. It may be a relationship that has ended for good reasons. Can you still forgive the person?
The answer to this is more complicated than you would think.
Here are a few ideas for ways to work through any lingering feelings of resentment or anger toward a person, and be able to move on without that dark cloud. If talking to the person is not possible, one thing you can try is to either journal your feelings, or to actually write the person a letter. You would express your deepest thoughts and feelings in the letter, and then either burn it or dispose of it somehow. The point here is to get your feelings out. Forgiveness is for you – even more than it is for the other person. In therapy sometimes we do something called the Empty Chair exercise, where my client has the chance to say everything they have been holding inside, without the other person actually being there, in the safety of the counseling office. This can be particularly helpful if the person who they have not been able to forgive is far away or deceased.
What about situations where the other person’s behavior has been so damaging that you can’t imagine finding forgiveness for them? I once asked a priest this question, in discussing victims of abuse and trauma. What if the lack of forgiveness is causing my client stress, but the behavior of the other person was so awful that forgiveness seems impossible to even consider? He said “Yes, you’re right. Sometimes forgiveness can feel like you are opening yourself up to more hurt or abuse. In those cases, maybe you can hope the other person finds forgiveness, or that they forgive themselves.” That made sense to me. Not every person is safe to have in your life. But it also doesn’t feel good to carry around anger toward them. Maybe with time this can change, but there are sometimes good reasons not to have people in your life.
Finally, what if the person who you have not forgiven is yourself? Maybe there are incidents in your past you regret, mistakes you’ve made, or people you have hurt. The same advice applies – if you can make it right, take steps to do so. If you can’t, find a safe outlet for your feelings, whether talking about it with someone you trust or writing it out. Acknowledge that you are doing your best to be a good person now – and live up to that. With time, processing through your feelings, you can learn to forgive and accept yourself. Maybe that’s the best kind of forgiveness of all.
Thank you for reading! I welcome you to follow me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SanDiegoTherapySolutions, on Twitter at SD_Therapy, or subscribe to my mental health videos on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/TalkTherapyChannel. My website is http://www.fletchertherapy.com