Unforgiveness is when you are unwilling to forgive someone who has wronged you. When you have been upset, disappointed, or deeply hurt by someone, the logical response would be to think you’re hurting the person by not forgiving them and holding a grudge. But who are you actually hurting?
Sure, withholding forgiveness can make us feel good, even righteous, for a time. And sure, at our age, many of us have been wronged more times than we can count. But inevitably, even our sense of righteousness transforms into a deep-rooted sickness that has a toxic effect on our hearts, our souls, and our relationships.
Not forgiving someone is the equivalent of staying trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for someone else’s crime. “It’s a mixture of anger, depression, and blame. But most of all, the opposite of forgiveness is stagnation,” says psychologist Kristina Hallet, Ph.D. and author of Own Best Friend: Eight Steps to a Life of Purpose, Passion and Ease. “It’s getting mired in an emotional place regarding a particular incident, and it prohibits future growth and discovery. There’s a common saying: Not forgiving someone is like slowly poisoning yourself and secretly hoping the other person dies.”
When life hits us hard, there is nothing as effective as forgiveness for healing deep wounds. There are many reasons why it’s sometimes better to forgive and forget, even if part of you doesn’t want to. Here are just a few of them.
Forgiveness means acceptance. Acceptance is not about defeat or resignation; it is about accepting what has happened. After all, while change is inevitable, suffering is the result of our resistance to it. Acceptance shifts the balance. Your view of what is happening alters.
To forgive, you must accept the past. That is not to say you like it or that it was within your power to stop it, but it has happened – and cannot be undone.
Forgiveness means empathy and compassion. Empathy and compassion help you feel what another is experiencing and can be incredibly helpful on the path to forgiveness.
While empathy is powerful in understanding the pain of another, compassion encourages you to take the action needed to reduce that suffering.
Forgiveness means strengthening YOU. It takes a strong person to deal with a wrong, forgive, and then release it. “Your ability to forgive someone often has little to do with that person or what they did,” Dr. Hallett says. “Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as ‘to cease to feel resentment against an offender’ or ‘to give up resentment of or claim to requital.’ It’s an internal state of being, and it’s not dependent on anyone but you. The only person in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions—and the only one who can make a shift occur—is you.”
Forgiveness means releasing after someone has died. The concept of forgiveness gets more complicated when someone has passed away. A deceased person cannot show remorse, repent, or make amends. Many people want to forgive, so their resentment does not live on long after the other is gone. But how do you forgive someone who has died?
You can have the peace you seek by writing a letter to the deceased person you want to forgive. In your letter, say everything you’ve ever wanted to say to them, but make sure you end on a positive note so that you can move on. Writing your feelings down is also a way of lessening the power they’ve had over you all this time. Once you’re finished, you can burn the letter, tear it up and throw the pieces into a body of water, or you can bury it. Another option would be to read the letter at the person’s gravesite. The choice is yours.
Forgiveness means talking it out. When you feel ready to forgive, you might want to contact the person who did the wrongdoing to express yourself. Talking things over can help you let go of your anger and hurt.
If you are finding yourself mired in bitterness, toward either yourself or someone you loved, really doing some of the emotional heavy lifting with the help of a trained therapist can be a huge relief and can help you see positive movement.