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Forgiveness: A Holiday Gift You Can Give Yourself

By Susan Murphy, Ph.D.

This holiday season why not give yourself a precious gift and forgive those who have hurt you?

When you forgive someone, you pardon the mistake or offense. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is an act of the will – a decision to let go of negative emotions like anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge. By embracing forgiveness, you allow love, peace, joy and gratitude to enter your life and are able to move forward unencumbered.

Everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of people in their inner circle. These wounds could be inflicted by your unfaithful partner, your mother-in-law criticizing your parenting skills, your best friend spreading gossip about you or your trusted colleague double-crossing you in business. When someone you care about hurts you, it’s tempting to hold onto your resentment and harbor thoughts of revenge. However, if you don’t embrace forgiveness, you may be the one who pays most dearly. A Chinese proverb says, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” In other words, your anger and resentment can destroy you.

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the transgression nor condoning the hurtful behavior. The saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” is applicable here. Experience is the best teacher, so I don’t recommend that you completely forget that you’ve been wronged. Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was reminded by a friend of a cruel thing that somebody did to her years before. Barton acted like she didn’t remember it, and the friend asked, “Don’t you remember?” Her famous reply was, “No, I distinctly remember forgetting it.”

What are benefits of forgiving someone? The act of forgiving has many pluses including greater spiritual and psychological well-being, stronger immune system through lower levels of stress and hostility, healthier relationships and higher self-esteem. When you are holding onto grudges from past grievances, you are living in the past and not enjoying the present. I know of one woman who never recovered from the anger and bitterness she felt when her husband filed for divorce 40 years earlier. She lived a miserable, joyless, loveless life and died at 85 years still wearing her wedding band. Her life’s potential was never realized, nor was joy and happiness.

Do you always need to confront the person who harmed you? No, sometimes it is more appropriate to forgive privately. For example, one client felt he had been harmed by the cruelty of his parents and he harbored a huge grudge that negatively impacted his life. Peter wrote a letter forgiving them for his mistreatment and flew to Scotland to their gravesites where he read the letter out loud to them. Now, Peter has moved on and can live positively in the present.

All religions preach the importance of forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer includes, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Tips for Forgiving

  • Reflect on the situation and how you have reacted to it. How has this transgression affected your life, your health, your well-being? Make a list of the benefits of letting go of your resentment and anger. What is the value of forgiveness?
  • Consider the situation from the other person’s point of view. Why would he behave the way he did? Were his intentions really to harm you? Oftentimes, the intention was not meant to cause harm to you.
  • Reflect on times that you’ve hurt others and on those who have forgiven you.
  • Make a commitment to forgive the person who has offended you.
  • Choose to change your mindset from that of a victim to one of having control over your situation and life. You might even find compassion and understanding for the person who has hurt you.
  • If you’re stuck, talk with a counselor or impartial loved one. Consider writing in a journal or meditating.
  • Practice gratitude. It’s impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time.
  • Visualize the new life that you want. See yourself in the future as free of this pain and suffering.
  • Realize that forgiveness is a process and some hurts may need to be forgiven over and over again.

As this holiday season approaches, search your heart for relationships that need forgiveness. It may be yourself who needs to be forgiven by you. Why not give yourself a precious gift and forgive those who have hurt you?

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal-achievement. Dr. Murphy can be reached at Dr.Murphy@LiveWellClinic.org and (760) 674.1615.

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