Why and How to Forgive

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No matter who you are, chances are you have some kind of emotional baggage weighing you down. Maybe it makes you nervous and upset whenever you think about a bridge you’ve burned with someone you care about, maybe fear of losing face and admitting wrongdoing is preventing you from reviving relationships or partnerships that could otherwise improve your life, or maybe you still haven’t forgiven yourself enough to pick up where you left off. Whatever is holding you back, the fall season is a great time to make peace with others and yourself, and start afresh.

Why you need to let go of grudges and forgive those who’ve wronged you:

  • You miss them. When you burn a bridge, it’s easy to get caught up in feelings of anger or frustration about a particular incident, and forget the overall value that the person brought to your life. When it may have felt right in the moment, now that they’re gone, you’re realizing how much you miss having that relationship. This feeling is telling you something important – it is telling you that you have sacrificed a valued friendship, and need to really consider whether the status quo is worth the sacrifice.
  • You don’t know what you’re missing out on. That’s right – FOMO is actually a pretty good reason to rebuild friendships. Good friendships, even ones with the occasional rocky patch, can do wonderful things for a person. They can help motivate you to learn and try new things, they can teach you things about yourself, and they can comfort you when you need it. Did this person contribute positive things to your life in the past? Well think about how much more they could contribute if you let them back in!
  • The anger is a waste of your energy. Being angry for an extended period of time can be draining. It can mean spending a lot of time meditating on your rage, it can infiltrate your current friendships by getting other people involved, and it can distract you from achieving things for yourself. Even if you aren’t interested in rebuilding a friendship, letting go of anger is still often the healthier option for your own mental health and interpersonal relationships.
  • It shows maturity & loyalty. Being able to talk it out with someone you’ve had a problem with in the past is an important skill, and it’s one a lot of adults still haven’t mastered. When you are able to work through your issues with one friend, other friends will feel more comfortable trusting you, because it shows that you are diplomatic and level-headed.

How to make peace with others who have wronged you (and yourself)

You may be thinking “well that is easier said than done,” and honestly, you would be right. However, just because it is harder doesn’t mean it’s not do-able. Here are some tips:

  • Think about things from their perspective. We know that they wronged you, but try to envision what led them to take the action they did. Maybe they had a bad day and took it out on you. Maybe fear or anxiety prevented them from speaking up about something important. Maybe they misinterpreted something you said. Try to step back and understand what the situation looked like to them, without casting a judgmental eye.
  • Reflect on your own actions. Maybe there is some way that you could have handled the situation better. Recognize that you are a human being, and chances are, there was some amount of normal human error was involved with the way you handled the situation.
  • Forgive yourself. Like I said, you are a human being, so there’s no need to beat yourself up. The key is to remember that your mistakes do not define you. Mistakes are how you learn. Failure is an event, not a person. These are clichés, sure, but once you internalize them they can lay the framework for a positive attitude.
  • Apologize. Now that you’ve forgiven yourself, it’s time to approach the other person. The best way to kick off a “let’s make amends” conversation is to start with an apology. You don’t have to accept blame for everything. Even apologizing for something small like “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch,” or “I’m sorry I didn’t take your feelings into account” can be really meaningful, as long as it is genuine.
  • Express your hurt without getting angry. You will get a much better reaction telling someone “I am sorry that I haven’t been in touch, but I was feeling really hurt,” rather than “I am sorry I haven’t been in touch, but after what you did to me last year, I can’t look you in the face without wanting to throw up because you’re ugly and I hate you.” Admitting that you felt hurt might make you feel vulnerable, but in reality it is a very brave act (way braver than simply telling someone off). Not only that, it is the only way to build and empathetic connection, and ultimately, rebuild your relationship.
  • Listen. Now that you’ve said your piece, give them a chance to explain things from their perspective. Most people will follow your cues, and if you’ve been respectful and genuine, chances are they will return the favor.
  • Hug it out! You know, if that’s your thing (it should be).

This week I decided to focus on forgiveness in honor of Yom Kippur, as that is the spirit of the holiday. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this subject in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.

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