Almost everyone has felt hurt or insulted by someone in their lives. Occasionally, someone really gets under your skin and then we feel righteous in our anger. We tell ourselves that this instance is different and that there is no forgiving and no letting go.
Anger is not an alchemy that will ever make you well. Sadly, I know people that have held grudges that go all the way back to grade school. It's of little consequence what the genesis of your anger is; an unfaithful partner, an egotistical boss or a disloyal friend; the effect is the same.
Holding on to anger is like feeding yourself poison and hoping that someone else will get sick. If someone has made you angry and has not apologized or has not appealed to you for forgiveness, chances are they do not know that they have hurt you or they know and do not care that they have hurt you. In both instances you are left powerless.
Holding on to anger can make you sick emotionally and physically. Dr. Robert Enright, PhD, has been researching the connection between forgiveness and physiology for fifteen years. The outcome of his work identified that less-forgiving people suffer more chronic illnesses. Heart disease, diabetes and an array of other diseases are profoundly affected by holding grudges because grudges are experienced in the body as another form of stress.
An important first step is rescripting the story that plays in your head when you think of your grudge. Holding on to a grudge maintains you in a fixed position as a victim and giving over your energy and power to your grudge and to the person that has offended you. By recasting your story, you empower yourself to write an ending or a happy ending. You take the power back.
Forgiveness is a skill that can be acquired like any other. Dr. Luskin from the Forgiveness Project developed a technique called PERT or Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique to help reduce anger-related stress. Those that successfully learned to utilize the technique experienced a 70% decrease in hurt feelings. They also experienced decreases in headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, tiredness and muscle tension.
The Forgiveness Project suggested several steps toward forgiveness that anyone might employ. Talk to someone that you rust about your feelings. Consider first that forgiveness is for you and no one else. Forgiveness doesn't mean that you approve of what happened to cause your anger; rather it is a necessary step in letting go of your anger. Remind yourself that the hurt that you are experiencing is coming from your feelings right now, not from weeks, months or years ago. Know that bad feelings will come back again; prepare yourself by learning a relaxation technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, mediation, prayer or another technique of your choosing. Discipline yourself in not replaying the hurtful incident over and over; it will keep your grudge alive. Live a happy and meaningful life; the best message that you can send the offender. Stop relinquishing your power and energy to the person that hurt you. You are not the victim any longer.
As we approach the holiday season, forgiveness may be the greatest gift that you can give yourself and to others around you. It is not easy and it does take practice, however forgiveness can make a dramatic difference in your life. The good news is that you control forgiveness completely. Is there someone out there that you can forgive today? Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org