Are you troubled by a problem that occurred in one of your relationships? Are you having difficulty getting the hurtful words that were exchanged out of your head? Are the unresolved issues affecting your sleep? Interpersonal issues can deplete your spirit, and cause physical problems as well. Learning to forgive is the path to restoring your happiness and health.
The most common response that I hear from people I’m counseling who’ve been hurt by someone is “that person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven for what they did.” The trouble with that way of thinking is that holding onto all of the negative emotions associated with the conflict is causing more harm to my client than to the offender.
In addition to generating anxiety, anger and sadness, unresolved conflicts have been shown to increase the risk of having a heart attack, elevating cholesterol levels, disturbing sleep, intensifying pain, and raising blood pressure. Being trapped in chronic fight or flight mode damages your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Research has revealed that practicing forgiveness alleviates emotional distress, which improves a person’s physical wellbeing.
Forgiving someone is more than mouthing the words. It’s making a choice to let your negative feelings pass rather than ruminating on them. It’s deciding that you don’t deserve to suffer anymore. It’s releasing the hostility, resentment and hurt that has been bringing you down. It’s electing to be a compassionate and caring person in spite of how others may choose to act.
Here are six steps that can help you learn to be a more forgiving person:
First, reflect on the problem situation. What factors contributed to the conflict erupting? How was blame assigned? How did you react? How did you feel? How have your feelings been affecting you since that time?
This step allows you to develop self-awareness of why the person’s behavior just feels so wrong. It helps you to understand which of your core values was violated in the exchange. Completing this step enables you to know what you need in order to rectify the problem, if that’s going to be possible.
Second, look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. This is hard to do when you’re hurt and angry. So let those feelings pass. Become curious about how the other individual might be interpreting and reacting to the situation so you can empathize with them.
Why, you may be asking, is it so important to empathize with the person you feel is in the wrong? Because it’s central to knowing what that individual needs from you. If resolution is to occur, it will need to be on a win-win basis. You’ll both want something different from one another in the future.
Third, forgive the other person for not being perfect. Studies show that connections further deteriorate if you simply forgive someone because you think you should (for religious or business reasons, for example) in order to salvage the relationship. People who forgave someone who they came to understand had handled the problem situation imperfectly were much more likely to be able to resume a normal relationship, even if the other individual never apologized.
Fourth, forgive yourself. When you reflect on the problem, you may realize that you too were imperfect in how you contributed or how you reacted. You probably didn’t intend to hurt the other person, but something you said or did may have been taken the wrong way or made the situation even worse. It’s crucial that you adopt the attitude “I may not always be able to do it right, but I can always try to make it right.”
Fifth, don’t expect an apology or even that the relationship will change. You are doing what you need to do to alleviate your own unhappiness and open the door to mutual understanding. But the other person may not ever choose to come through that door. In any case, you will be exercising the relationships skills that will work with people who share your value of “no mistakes, only lessons.” That will allow you to attract and maintain a satisfying array of relationships.
Sixth, convert your intention to forgive into action. It’s often helpful to write about how you’ve come to understand the problem, the emotions that each of you had, and your resolve to handle similar situations differently in the future. If it’s possible to talk to the person, share your understanding. If you can’t, share your story with someone you trust.