Now I want to turn to the idea of forgiveness, and let me do this by trying to read you mind. If you’re holding a serious grudge, then you might saying something like this: “OK, doc, this is all well and good, but you don’t understand the depth of my pain— my husband had an affair… he didn’t just forget to buy me a gift! More importantly, you haven’t said anything about how to get over a grudge.”
As a therapist, I have worked with many adults who were terribly abused as children. Understandably, some of these people remained totally stuck in their anger and hurt. This anger went beyond a mere grudge, and in some cases my clients’ lives revolved entirely around how they were wronged and mistreated by others.
A key idea behind one of the treatments we routinely used to help people in these circumstances was that although they were not responsible for what happened to them or how other people hurt them, they were entirely responsible for overcoming and getting past the hurt. Getting past a grudge hinges on changing how we think about the events in our lives, and this is where forgiveness comes in.
Many people deplore the idea of forgiveness because they see it as a weakness or an agreement to forget what happened. This is not the case, and most experts on forgiveness recognize that it takes considerable courage to get past anger and resentment.
So, how do you do it? The first thing to recognize is that forgiveness is a process not an event. It’s better to say to yourself and others, “I am trying to forgive,” than, “I forgive.” The trying in this case means a conscious effort to let go of the negative feelings. With respect to a grudge, one way to try to do this is to consider understanding the other person’s perspective and perhaps his/her own weaknesses or limitations.
Here is how I overcame my own grudge against the college bully. In 2009, I got a friend request from him on Facebook. I sent back a scathing reply:
This is a [expletive] joke, right? …If you simply state, "I am very sorry for being a total [expletive] when I was younger. I realize that there were periods in which I was a belligerent S.O.B., and I am especially sorry about the night I chased you down and tried to beat the crap out of you for no good reason right after you had spine surgery..." then we'll be square from my end.
What do we see here? I was angry! This is a seething, hostile message and I basically demanded an apology. Guess what: I got it. And it was sincere and heartfelt. He said this was a low point in his life, and that he really regretted what happened. At that point, it was easy to forgive him, and all of a sudden, it was water under the bridge. (In fact, I quickly apologized to him for writing such a nasty response to his friend request.)
We can’t always get this kind of closure, but forgiveness provides a route for letting go of our grudges, and it’s as much of a gift to yourself (remember the hot coals?) as it is to others.
If you’re holding a grudge, I hope these ideas are useful and help you move toward some forgiveness.
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