Do you forgive easily or do you harbor and nurse your anger and pain? Many of us find it hard to let go of old grievances towards other people. We want to feel vindicated that we were right, they were wrong, we were the victim, and they were the abuser. And so we hold on to that version of events, repeating the story to ourselves (and to others) of how wronged we were by someone or some situation.
Those feelings of victimization, rooted in the past, never bring the relief we believe they will offer. Just the opposite: by refusing to forgive, we have given the person or situation that has supposedly wronged us an enormous amount of power over our lives. We dedicate so much time and energy to our resentment that we transform the other person into the powerful abuser that we accused them of being in the first place. Only we have done it to ourselves because we have chosen not to forgive.
Forgiveness is a choice. It asks you to relinquish any resentment or anger towards the other person. It feels like you have to choose to lose – to give up on some type of justice for yourself because you're no longer trying to get them to atone for what they did. It may be a hard choice, but it is a choice nonetheless.
When we refuse to forgive, a lot of emotional energy remains tied to the belief that the other person must be held accountable. You were wounded, and the perpetrator had to pay so that justice could be served. But justice is never going to be achieved by nursing a wound and stewing in resentment. The attachment to our pain simply leads to more pain, for an unforgiving person will see grievances and slights in everyone’s actions. They can only view the world through the lens of past traumas. Love cannot flow easily through an unforgiving person.
Forgiveness lets go of accountability to view the situation from a different point of view, beyond judgment. To forgive requires understanding that what you perceive to be a grievance was in reality a misperception on your part. Someone said something mean or nasty to you, which emanated from a wounded place of lack (their own baggage), and you took it personally because of your own wounds (your emotional baggage), and you, in turn, felt anger, generated unloving thoughts toward that person.
But when you understand that this individual was speaking or acting from a place of wounding, and that you yourself are also responding from a place of wounding, you find that you are not different from this person. Rather than view each other as “wrong” or “right” – the realm of judgment – you recognize that you are both human, with emotional wounds and patterns that cause you to act in ways that create misunderstanding and pain.
With the release of resentment, empathy and compassion replace the need to balance the scales. You recognize that the person who hurt you was, in reality, a victim of their own ego, their own emotional wounds. With this recognition, you realize that what that person needs more than anything is compassion. More likely than not, this person’s emotional behavior is a reflection of some early childhood trauma. You no longer view them as an abuser, but as a human being who, like so many others, learned to behave badly.
Fueled by compassion, you can also begin to take responsibility for your own emotional response to the situation. What need of yours was being met by holding on to the anger? What did you do that contributed to the situation? You can ask what actions you took or words you spoke that also factored into the genesis of the conflict. The purpose here is not to blame yourself instead but rather to see where responsibility for the situation cannot be layed solely at the feet of the other person.
Forgiveness, then, is a gift of love, for you and the other person, that releases both of you from the emotional quagmire of the past. We all know what a relief it is when you forgive and are forgiven. When we understand that true justice lies in the gift of forgiveness, the choice to forgive becomes easy.