The freedom that forgiveness brings
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
With Holy Week fast approaching, many take this time to be grateful for what we have and to strive toward becoming a better person. Part of this self-growth journey can include thinking about the relationships that we have with others. Often, it is so easy to think about the times and ways that others have wronged us. It doesn’t take much time to list the faults of others. We often think, “What is wrong with them?” “He must be crazy” or “She never appreciates all that I have done for her.”
Some situations can be especially difficult to go through and sometimes we can take a long time to heal. Examples of such circumstances are when:
- a close friend becomes distant;
- a co-worker takes credit for our work;
- a child says hurtful things to us;
- a spouse or partner has an affair;
- someone hurts one of our children;
- a parent fails to be on our side;
- a confidante tells one of our secrets;
- a loved one does not apologize when he or she should;
- someone steals from us;
- we fall victim to physical, mental, emotional, or other kind of abuse.
When another person hurts us, we can feel extreme sadness, shock, disappointment, and anger. When we feel betrayed, it can affect us not only emotionally, but also physically and spiritually. To illustrate, psychologist Elisha Goldstein (2010) asks us to try this experiment:
“Think of someone in your life right now (maybe not the most extreme person) who you are absolutely holding a grudge against right now. There is no way you are willing to forgive this person right now for their actions. Picture that person, and hold onto that unwillingness to forgive. Now, just observe what emotions are there. Anger, resentment, sadness? Also notice how you are holding your body right now, is it tense anywhere or feeling heavy? Now bring awareness to your thoughts; are they hateful and spiteful thoughts?”
Experience how it feels to hold onto this grudge so tightly. Is there an effect on your body, for instance a heaviness in your chest or head? Do you avoid certain places or situations because the person might be there? Do you look for reasons to tell yourself that you are better than that person? Even worse, do you constantly ruminate about how you can get revenge? Think about the physical and mental effort that you are investing and ask yourself: “Who is really suffering here?” Can you imagine the effect this will have if you carry it over weeks, months, even years?
It’s hard to know where to start the road to forgiveness, but it can help to:
Put yourself in the other’s shoes. Think about all the things that the other has to deal with. Are they stressed at work? Do they have health issues? Also, do you really believe that the person had bad intentions? Perhaps, they were forgetful or simply just displayed bad judgment.
When appropriate, tell the other person about your feelings. If not in person, then in written form. Sometimes, writing a letter can give us time to sort out our thoughts, and reading it without you present allows the other to have time to think about their response.
Set boundaries. Tell the other person what is acceptable behaviour, and what is not. For example, if your mother is interfering with how you discipline your children, let her know rather than holding your feelings inside. You may be worried about hurting her, but if said in a kind, but firm, manner, she will likely get over it quickly.
Get support. Confide in one or two people who you trust will not talk about this elsewhere. If you tell multiple people, you may be crossing the line into gossip, which is not far from the act of getting revenge. More often than not, being a gossip will make you look bad also. Find someone who is not judgmental, who may have been through a similar situation. Talk to a counsellor who can help you to see things in a different light, and help you work through the anger, depression or anxiety that you may feel.
Some people define forgiveness as releasing feelings of anger, blame, resentment or vengeance on another person or yourself. However, one of the most powerful quotes that truly captures the essence of forgiveness is one said by Lily Tomlin:
“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”
Looking at the act of forgiveness in this manner thus provides us with the hope of a better present and future. But it is not something that is just handed to us. We must work towards forgiveness and truly desire it in our hearts.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.