There is someone in my life who I would like to forgive.
Actually no, that’s not quite accurate. The truth is I don’t want to forgive this person. In fact, every time I consider forgiving this person, I think, “No. No way. I will not forgive you. I do not like you. You hurt me. A lot. You betrayed me. You disappointed me. You made a fool of me. You deserve my wrath. You deserve to never be let off the hook.”
But I know that I need to forgive, not for this person’s sake, but in order to free myself of all the negative emotions still churning around in me.
A friend of mine, who is particularly intuitive, said “Your lack of forgiveness is what’s preventing you from finding the love you are seeking.” So these past few days, I have been struggling with this issue, wondering how to forgive this person and how to even get to a place where I actually want to.
Many people (myself included) have mistakenly assumed that to forgive someone means to condone their behavior. We believe that if we forgive, we are letting the person off the hook and conveying the message that what they did is okay (but what we want is to punish them). We believe that forgiving means we need to let the person back into our life. We think that withholding forgiveness gives us power.
But actually, forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s about you. When we forgive, we release the anger in our own hearts. We release the contraction, the resentment, the toxic anger we’ve been holding onto, and we free ourselves to move on with our lives.
“The medical community is starting to recognize the major role that anger and resentment play in creating disease and addictions,” I read in a favorite book of mine, Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff. “ Dr. Luskin’s research suggests that failure to forgive – holding hatred in your heart – is actually one of the risk factors in heart disease.
“Interestingly, he’s found that people who just go through the internal process of forgiving their offender have immediate improvement in their cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous systems. So you don’t even have to tell the other person that you’ve forgiven him or her to reap the benefits for yourself.”
I was discussing my struggle to forgive with a friend and I said, “I don’t want to forgive. I’m too angry.” And he said, “That anger is there for a reason. Have you allowed yourself to really feel it? To fully express your rage?”
And it occurred to me that no, I hadn’t. In fact, I never had. As I reflected on my emotional history, I could only recall three times in my life when I allowed myself to fully feel my anger. And I didn’t like it. The rage was so intense it seemed to take me over.
I recalled feeling out of control and frightened by the intensity of my own emotions, almost as if my body were not my own. I was supposed to be a sweet and nice girl. My rage had no acceptable place in my version of myself.
So I’ve done my best to avoid this experience by denying my anger, suppressing it, avoiding it, intellectualizing it, blogging about it, and talking about it rather than allowing myself to actually feel it.
My friend reminded me that our anger serves a purpose. That sometimes we need the anger as an engine to distance us from the person and give us the space to process the experience. Once those feelings are fully processed, then we are more willing and able to forgive.
So perhaps I am just not ready yet. Perhaps the first step is to accept my anger, embrace it, and give it the space to fully express itself. In one of my textbooks for class, written by a therapist, I read this quote: “One of my clients commented that it was as if her fear of the consequences of her anger was the stopper in a bottle that, once uncorked, turned out to contain all her tender and loving feelings.”
Could it be that if I give myself permission to fully feel my rage, if I muster the courage to face my own anger, that on the other side of that could be not just forgiveness but tenderness too, and love?
Are you withholding your forgiveness from someone in your life?