Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means letting go of the anger and allowing ourselves to find peace even with those who disappoint us. In other words, if you can’t do it for them, do it for yourself. Read on to see what I mean.
Forgiving Doesn’t Mean Forgetting, It Just Means Letting Go
All around the nation, we have parents that aren’t speaking to their kids, sisters disowning each other, and brothers engaging in screaming matches at family dinners. We’re all disappointed in someone and disappointing to another.
I’m not going to get into politics. Regardless of which side of the divide you find yourself on, chances are you’re mad at someone right now. In the midst of all this turmoil taking place in the country, there’s a lot of talk about how we need to heal, forgive, and move on together.
Easier said than done, right? Yes, it’s hard-especially when you’ve been let down in a monumental way. However, if we frame it as something we do for ourselves, it becomes a little easier.
I’m not saying you have to forget. The whole “forgive and forget” thing is a ridiculous cliché. It implies that in order to find peace with someone else’s actions, we have to pretend it never happened. Give them a clean slate, so to speak.
That’s where we hit our greatest snag with reaching forgiveness. What if you took forgetting out of the equation and change it to “let go,” though? Let me explain.
Letting go is not the same thing as forgetting
When we let go of anger, disappointment, or even rage that we feel towards someone else for what they did to us, we’re not giving them a gift; we’re giving one to ourselves. We’re saying, “I will no longer devote my energy to your actions.”
See, when we hold onto those feelings and give them space in our lives, we’re using up our own energy. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that the person we’re directing that rage toward isn’t even thinking about us. While we’re sitting around seething and soaking in negativity, they’re out living their lives. So really, we’re only damaging ourselves.
When we decide to forgive, we make a conscious choice to let go of that negativity. We’re saying, “I am choosing to accept that the past cannot be changed. I am choosing to relinquish my grudge and release my anger.”
Give it a try. Trust me, you’ll feel a major weight just lift right off your shoulders. Forgiveness truly is a gift that you give yourself. If you’re still not quite ready to let go, though, perhaps this next section will help you.
Forgiveness Has Very Real Health Benefits, Especially for Women
Not only are women just plain better at forgiving (according to this study), but it also actually has some very real health benefits for us.
For example, a 2015 University of Missouri-Columbia study found that forgiveness helps protect women from depression. Researchers looked at the effect of the act on aging adults. They found that “older women who forgave others were less likely to report depressive symptoms regardless of whether they felt unforgiven by others.”
It makes sense, especially when you consider this study that shows forgiveness is something we’re predisposed towards. In other words, it’s a very natural human emotion. Senior author of the study, Yale psychologist Molly Crocket, writes,
“The brain forms social impressions in a way that can enable forgiveness. Because people sometimes behave badly by accident, we need to be able to update bad impressions that turn out to be mistaken. Otherwise, we might end relationships prematurely and miss out on the many benefits of social connection.”
If you can’t forgive, at least release your tight grip on that grudge
Some acts are so atrocious that forgiveness really isn’t possible. That’s entirely understandable, and I would never suggest that you force yourself to feel something that you’re not ready to feel quite yet. In that case, make a conscious decision to stop “holding” onto a grudge. Say to yourself, “I cannot ever forgive this act, but I can stop giving it my attention.”
Again, doing so is a gift for yourself rather than the source of your anger. Holding onto that grudge and actively devoting energy towards it is downright unhealthy. It can lead to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and other physical problems.
How to forgive and let go
We’ve talked about the importance of forgiveness and how it’s a gift that you give yourself. Now, let’s talk a bit about how to do that. This isn’t a step-by-step guide or anything. You have to figure out what works best for you. But here’s what works for me. Keep in mind that all of these apply to forgivable situations. As I said, some things are just unforgivable. No amount of letter-writing and empathizing will change that.
Let it all out
I think the first step in forgiving someone is to let them know exactly why you’re angry in the first place. Try to keep it civil, but at the same time don’t bottle up your emotions or sugarcoat them. If you’re not comfortable with confrontation, try writing them a letter.
Empathy in forgiveness doesn’t mean that we accept or condone what someone did. It just means that we strive to better understand their motivations from their perspective. Sometimes, we realize that we would have done the same thing.
Ask yourself how you’d feel if you NEVER got the chance to forgive them
If you’re struggling to decide if you even want to forgive someone, imagine how you’d feel if you never got that chance. Life is so short, and tomorrow is never promised. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Ask yourself if this is how you want to leave things forever.
Commit to truly forgiving (or just let them go)
You can forgive someone but not want them to be a part of your life anymore, and that’s okay. But if you choose to keep them in your life, then you need to fully commit to forgiving them. Don’t just say that you do, then hold onto their act to throw back in their faces during your next fight.
I’m definitely not saying forgiving is an easy thing to do. If it were, no one would ever be mad at anyone else, right? I just think that if we can find a way to let go of the energy we devote towards holding a grudge, we’d all be a lot happier and healthier in the long run.