We can be stubborn assholes. Ego-driven, angry, resentful, miserable people. For no reason other than feeling like we’ve “won” somehow, we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us. We hold on to anger and resentment, letting it fester, fester, fester. We stay stuck in that negativity for days, months, years, decades even, because we lack the tools for letting go. Don’t you sometimes just want to shake someone and yell, “JUST LET IT GO ALREADY!”?? Or maybe you’re the one struggling with how to let go of the anger or pain someone caused (or is causing) you.
I’m here to tell you: YOU CAN LET GO OF THESE ATTACHMENTS. You can forgive, release, and create new empowering relationships instead. I’m not kidding. I know this because I’ve done it. Really, truly released someone who hurt me deeply by sending him nothing but love and light. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Psychology Today reports, “Mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us, instead of allowing anger toward them to eat away at us, is the course of action recommended by most psychologists.” But as Gabby Bernstein reminds us, forgiveness is not something that can simply come to pass within the scope of a logical mind. It requires a spiritual practice. Indeed, psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff explained, “Forgiveness is the act of compassionately releasing the desire to punish someone or yourself for an offense. It’s a state of grace, nothing you can force or pretend. There are no short cuts.”
I used to be a student of the “don’t get mad, get even” approach, doing petty things to undermine those I thought had wronged me in some way. Stupid, immature, childish things that would give me some temporary satisfaction… and then I would feel like a stupid, immature, childish asshole for doing them in the first place. I did these things out of revenge and anger — the ultimate in negativity. And though I know this is a common enough emotional reaction, it never sat well with my soul. It never left me with a sense of peace or even a “Ha! I didn’t let him/her get away with it!” victorious feeling. I ended up feeling terrible. Dr. Orloff says this of revenge:
Revenge reduces you to your worst self, puts you on the same level with those spiteful people we claim to abhor. Additionally, studies have shown that revenge increases stress and impairs health and immunity. Sure, if someone hits you with a stick, you have the impulse to hit them back–the basis for wars. To thrive personally and as a species, we must resist this predictable lust for revenge, and seek to right wrongs more positively. This doesn’t make you a pushover; you’re just refusing to act in a tediously destructive way antithetical to ever finding peace. As Confucious says, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
I think part of what stops us from forgiving — or even attempting forgiveness — is that feeling like we’re letting someone “get away with” something. We can’t excuse that egregious behavior! By forgiving someone, aren’t I just approving of their horrible actions? Encouraging them to do it again? Actually, no. I’ve realized that forgiveness is not about denying or minimizing your hurt. It doesn’t mean you condone what happened. Forgiveness refers to the actor not the act. Not to the offense but the woundedness of the offender. What we’re doing when we practice the F-word is attempting to forgive the conscious or unconscious suffering that motivates some people to act abominably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to restore that toxic relationship. Forgiveness does not necessarily have to = reconciliation. Forgiving someone means you have made the choice to move on from the negative experience. You have decided to put the focus back on yourself rather than the other person. Forgiveness is about YOU. Not them. It can’t change the past, but it can enhance the future.
As Dr. Orloff noted, our desire to transform anger is a summoning of peace, and it’s well worth the necessary soul stretching. Because it IS a stretch for most of us to forgive. When Dr. Wayne Dyer pondered why we forgive, he determined that first, we have to face the truth that in order to consider forgiving someone we must have been blaming them for something in the first place. We must have anger, resentment, blame, even hatred in our hearts in order to feel the need to forgive. It’s not such a great feeling to realize you’re carrying this negativity around with you. But forgiveness is the act of letting go, releasing the anger, the hatred, the bitterness, the thoughts of revenge that have been weighing us down. And the good news is that we can do this without ever encountering the person we want to forgive! We don’t need to ever see that person again. We practice the F-word by releasing all the negativity and thus set ourselves free from those horrible feelings that weaken us.
We have to get past blame. Then we have to learn to send love. For anyone who ascribes to Christian dogma, one of the greatest lessons of forgiveness is the report of Jesus’s words on the cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” They really did not know the harm they were doing to themselves and to all of us. The lesson: meet hatred with love. Taking all the anger and hatred that is standing in your way and replacing it with love is the most healing thing you can do. Fill your soul with love, rather than anger and so many things will change in your life. None of us needs revenge, but we all need love. It is all we really have to give away.
All of this sounds simply lovely, doesn’t it? But HOW DO YOU DO IT? Cheryl Strayed suggests this to her reader Mourning and Raging: “You do [it] by simply looking it square in the face and then moving on. You don’t have to move fast or far. You can just go an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath… When you breathe with calm intention you’re zapping the white rage monster precisely where it lives. You’re cutting off its feeding tube and forcing a new thought into your head — one that nurtures rather than tortures you.”
My girl Gabby has a foolproof 3-step process to do this. Accept & release. She explains that when we feel attacked or judged by others, our immediate response is to attack back and that THIS NEVER WORKS. When we attack back we’re investing in the other person’s fear-based illusions. By investing in this fear we only experience more fear. But these 3 steps can greatly impact you in a positive way:
- Accept & witness that all of us suffer (a very Buddhist way of perceiving the world). Recognize that we have all, in some way, been taken over by fear at some point in our lives — this fear takes over & creates a dark corner in our minds. Embrace the fact that the person attacking you is, herself, suffering.
- “Insisting means investment” (from A Course in Miracles): When we insist on focusing on how horrible someone has been to us, we’re investing in their fear-based illusion. We’re simply reflecting the anger they’re directing toward us back onto them. It’s important for us to truly see how we’re taking their negativity and projecting it outward as a result of our own reaction. Recognize your investment in the illusion.
- Truly release them through prayer (or whatever you want to call it). When we get ourselves to a place of praying for someone else — praying that they be at peace, praying that they release their attack thoughts & negativity — we come back to the oneness that is the Truth between all relationships. We have compassion for their suffering, and while we choose not to invest in their illusion, we pray for them to have peace. Release them to the universe. Simply saying, “I forgive you & I release you” can be so, so powerful.
The magical, miraculous moment you truly feel the release in that relationship is what A Course in Miracles calls the “Holy Instant.” That ancient hatred becomes a holy love and we reconnect with the Truth of that relationship, the truth of ALL relationships: peace, love, & oneness.
Dr. Orloff reminds us: Forgiveness is a paradigm-shifting solution for transforming anger. It liberates you from the trap of endless revenge so that you can experience more joy and connection. Forgiveness does more for you than anyone else because it liberates you from negativity and lets you move forward. Forgiving might not make anger totally dissolve but it will give you the freedom of knowing you are so much more.
And you are SO MUCH MORE than your anger. Remember: only love is real. Be present in the real.
Don’t exist in FEAR. Live in FORGIVENESS (a completely different kind of F-word).