After heated discussions, arguments, or even life-long feuds, you might find that it feels good to hold onto old grudges, to stew in your anger. However, forgiveness can be freeing. As individuals, we are often so caught up in our own heads, our own biases and anger, that we almost forget how to forgive someone.
Forgiveness is not surrendering to our rival, but rather a kindness to ourselves. It allows us to have peace of mind and room to grow.
American novelist Anne Lamott once said, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” In other words, though begrudging another person might make you feel powerful, it does nothing but cause you pain and negative feelings.
After the initial storm of anger or sadness has passed, learning how to forgive is a crucial part of our journeys to kindness and compassion. Try thinking through these steps in order to dive into letting go of your pain.
Investigate who we are blaming, and why
To let go of blame is not to let go of accountability. Try to understand the other person’s actions, and what may have motivated them to hurt you. Viewing them as a full person with motivations, joys, pains, and a deep inner life is a path to letting go of the hatred or resentment you hold towards them.
You can learn how to forgive and not forget – just because you forgive a person in your heart does not mean you have to allow them power in your life.
Imagine the other person as a child
Imagining another being as a child can allow us to see them as an imperfect person, who is allowed to have flaws. It lets us consider what might have happened in their life as a child or in their later relationships that motivated them towards mean-spiritedness, emotional shortcomings, or lack of ability to maintain intimacy.
If a friend abandons or betrays you, consider that their actions do not necessarily reflect upon your worth. They may have felt undeserving of your friendship, insecure within themselves, or feeling a loss of control. Treating others as we would treat a child teaches us how to forgive. None of us are perfect, and none of us have a complete understanding of others’ emotions.
How to forgive someone who isn’t sorry
It can be harder to learn how to forgive someone who isn’t sorry for what they’ve done. If a person doesn’t apologize, change their behavior, or express remorse, it is likely best to exclude them from your life.
Despite this, it is possible to stop holding grudges against them. Learning to let go is the best thing we can do for our mental health. Living in the past, waiting for the other to apologize, or stewing alone in silence while your anger grows is not a way to live. As the poet Kay Ryan once said, “silence is not snow. It cannot grow deeper. A thousand years of it are thinner than paper.”
If you really wish to forgive someone who isn’t sorry, recognize your forgiveness and kindness towards them as a strength. See the forgiveness you have for them as a testament to your own worth and loving heart.
How to forgive yourself
Sometimes allowing yourself grace and mercy is the hardest challenge of all. While we often pick out our flaws in the mirror and dwell over embarrassing moments, others might not notice our perceived flaws at all. When you recognize a feeling of blame or shame within yourself, acknowledge it. Attempt to forgive yourself.
If you don’t like your body or have a bad breakout, think about all of the wonderful things your body does for you. Find solace in the small things, like the color of your hair, the way your legs are able to carry you from place to place, or how your senses allow you to enjoy something as simple as the smell of rain. Appreciating the beautiful things about your body and mind can help you to accept the parts that are not your favorite.
If you make a mistake at work, think “I did the best I could with the information I had at the time,” or “I know I could do better, but I’ve been having a really hard time recently.” The world is full of people who want to judge you. If you can’t be on your own side, who will?
Learning how to forgive yourself for past mistakes is a long process. Learning to accept and forgive yourself for being imperfect is even harder. For more complex emotions, it may even take the help of close friends or a therapist to sort out self-sabotaging behavior or obsessive thinking. Seeking help is always a brave thing – sometimes you need a guide in your journey to self-acceptance.