Have you heard the unattributed quote, “Holding onto a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”? I find it rather apropos. When you hold onto wrongs you think …
Have you heard the unattributed quote, “Holding onto a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”? I find it rather apropos. When you hold onto wrongs you think have been committed against you, you truly are poisoning yourself. That does not mean to say that you need to forgive and then expose yourself to the grievance once again. There are ways to protect yourself from future offenses and still forgive the other person. We will also look at what happens when the one you need to forgive is yourself, but let’s begin with others.
Parents aren’t perfect. The odds are, if you review your childhood, you can find some complaints to wage against the people who raised you. I used to work within the foster care system, and I can tell you true stories about some horrible things done to children at the hands of their parents. It was heartbreaking. If anyone deserves to hold onto grudges, it’s a child who has been physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Most of us haven’t experienced that level of abuse, but even if you have, it is still a good idea for you to forgive the perpetrator.
Forgiveness does not mean you are saying it’s OK. It’s not pretending you weren’t hurt by the situation. Forgiveness simply means you recognize the person was doing the best they knew how to get what they wanted in those moments. That simple recognition does not make what was done all right. It doesn’t mean the person isn’t culpable for the pain inflicted. It just acknowledges that whatever happened wasn’t your fault. No child has ever caused their parent’s abuse of them, no matter what that parent said.
Parents, even those who didn’t abuse their children, still did what they did to get what they wanted in that moment. Some parents strive to be the best parents they can possibly be. Even still, it’s possible to hold on to grievances perpetrated by well-meaning parents.
Forgiving your parents can have the added benefit of being able to see them as the humans they are. When you were a child, your parents seemed omnipotent, holding all the power and controlling everything. You may have convinced yourself that your parents were so powerful, and since they chose to hurt you, then you must have deserved it. This is untrue. Whatever your parents did to cause you pain says more about them than it does about you. It is they who were flawed. They may have been passing on patterns from their parents that they experienced growing up. They may have been struggling with an addiction, were distracted by other priorities, or they simply had no idea how to care for children.
It’s also possible that whatever you are holding onto is a misunderstanding. You may be making assumptions about a situation that isn’t what you think it is.
After parents, the list of people who may have wronged you is truly infinite. It could be schoolteachers, religious leaders, friends, siblings, grandparents, bosses, co-workers—the potential list is endless. When you apply the concept that everyone, at any given point in time, is doing the best they know to get what they want, you may come to realize it was never personal. I know that can be challenging to understand since it felt personal at the time, and it happened to you, but you were just a part of the other person attempting to get what they wanted.
This knowledge makes it hard to blame people for doing what they thought was best in attempting to get something they wanted. It doesn’t mean you have to approve or like the other person’s behavior; you can forgive them and still not want them anywhere near you. You may forgive and set strict boundaries, or you may forgive and reengage the relationship. That part is up to you, but let go of the hatred because it will eventually lead to your own disease. The mind can create physical manifestations of disease when we have been in emotional distress for a long time.
For your own sake, forgive. You don’t even have to tell the other person you’re doing it. You can forgive from a distance, simply to clear your own psyche of the negative energy of holding onto that grudge. Focus instead on what you want and how to create some contentment in your life.
When the person you need to forgive is yourself, use this same idea that whatever you have been punishing yourself for was either an unintended accident or your best attempt to get something you wanted. You may be upset with yourself for wanting what you did, but that is something in your past. There is nothing you can do to change that in the present. Your past is a page in your life you don’t get to edit. It’s already been written.
Forgive yourself and focus instead of becoming a better person in the future. Feeling guilty over the past is not going to help you. You may think you deserve to be punished so you punish yourself. But why would you punish yourself for doing your best at the time to get what you wanted in that moment?
If you believe you made a mistake, mine the situation for what you can learn from it. When you avail yourself of the lessons your experience taught you, then it really wasn’t a mistake. You were able to make meaning from it and developing wisdom to be more of the person you want to be in the future.
I can’t think of one situation you could be holding onto where forgiveness wouldn’t be a better alternative. You aren’t forgiving for the other person, although that can be part of it; you are forgiving for your own peace of mind.