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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Why we need to forgive...and move on

“Resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Nelson Mandela

We have all been badly hurt, at some time or another, by the things that other people have said or done to us. And in turn we have all said or done things to other people which have caused great hurt to them. We are all culpable. Some of the hurts we have caused, or suffered, may be hidden from us. Some of the worst hurts are often those which we know about and feel responsible for. Forgiving others for what they have done to us is often easier than forgiving ourselves.

Forgiving isn't the same as forgetting what happened to you. Whatever hurt or offended you, or whatever hurt and offense you may have caused another, may always remain a part of your life. But forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. Forgiveness also doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimise or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person, including yourself, without excusing the act.

The feelings of hurt – anger, sadness, confusion – may start out small, but if you don't deal with them, they can take over and become all encompassing. Feelings of resentment can turn to hostility especially when you can't stop yourself replaying the original action or event. When this happens you can find yourself swallowed up by bitterness or guilt. You feel trapped and often can't see a way out. The problem is that when we hold on to this bitterness or guilt, every other area of our lives can suffer. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the past wrong that we can't enjoy the present. It's we who pay the price, over and over and over again.

“Our anger and annoyance are more detrimental to us than the things themselves which anger or annoy us.”
 Marcus Aurelius (121-180)

Forgiveness can be incredibly difficult and it can take time. It may be particularly hard to forgive someone who doesn't admit wrong or to ask for forgiveness from someone who won't acknowledge that they have been hurt, but remember that the key benefits –  the real secrets - of forgiveness are for you. You can't make someone else forgive you or accept your forgiveness, but you can do something about how you deal with the situation.

The first crucially important step is to recognise the detrimental effects of sustained anger, hurt, or guilt on your well being. Another is to recognise the benefits – to yourself – of forgiveness. In the end we all need to stop being the victim of the original hurt and release its power over us, which is why the quote from South African poet Mayflower Archipelago (see below) is so instructive. Feeling resentment about what some one else has done to us, can sometimes be an excuse for all that is wrong in our lives. There is a real danger that we end up wallowing in our own self-pity.

So we need to forgive. How do we do that? In The Real Secret book we introduce a five step programme developed by psychologist Everett Worthington which we encourage readers to develop into a habit whenever they feel resentment and upset over past as well as present hurts. Below are the bare bones of this approach - easily remembered in the acronym REACH.

Recall the hurt as objectively as possible. Avoid wallowing in self-pity or thinking of the other person as evil.

Empathise with the person who hurt you and try to see it from their perspective. Remember that people often hurt innocents when they themselves feel threatened; that people who hurt are often in a state of fear, worry and hurt themselves. Remember the situation and think about what effect that may have had on the behaviour of the other person; remember that often we lash out without knowing that we are doing it.

Altruism. Recall when you were once forgiven and try to rise above the hurt and vengeance.

Commit yourself to forgiveness. If appropriate, approach the person who you have hurt and ask to be forgiven. Remember, the person may not wish to be approached and any contact may further the insult. You need to be sensitive and decide what would be in the best interests of the other person. The other person may not be ready to forgive you or they may no longer be alive or contactable – if this is the case then all you can do is forgive yourself. Truly forgive yourself – with all your heart and all your mind. If some one else caused hurt to you and shows no sign of recognition or sorrow then all that you can do is forgive them. This is most likely the hardest step, but once taken the relief will feel enormous.

Hold on to forgiveness. When the hurt comes up, don't ruminate on it. Focus on forgiveness.
“If you are carrying the burden of hate, anger, pain, bitterness over what someone has done to you, I ask you what are you gaining from this state, what are the benefits? What are the losses, what are the missed opportunities you have experienced from this state of living? Have compassion for yourself and put that burden down, and feel the lightness of being and see the difference.”
Mayflower Archipelago, Black* South African writer and poet

Posted by Annabel

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