Do you hold grudges for an eternity or can you manage life’s knocks without a second thought?
To be able to forgive is a magnanimous act and its significance and struggle is explored in almost every religious practice, from Christianity to Shamanism. “Forgiveness is the key to freedom,” explains top psychologist Nick Jankel. “Not to liberate the person we forgive, but to ensure we claim our own peace of mind.”
But, if you are holding onto feelings of anger, resentment and self-righteous indignation, which are all corrosive to your psyche and spiritual wellbeing, don’t panic. The key to letting go is acceptance and compassion and you don’t need to turn into a hardcore Buddhist monk to achieve it. Read on to find out why liberating yourself from your past can lead to a fulfilling, healthy and happy life…
Studies show letting go of a grudge is good for your physical health, it can lower blood pressure and reduce chronic pain. There is also a strong link between resentment and destructive behaviour – a study published in Eating Disorders Review found that suppressed anger is characteristic of bulimia and self-harm. “Pretending that we are not angry when we actually are provides not so much an opportunity to forgive but also an opportunity to deny our anger,” says Dr Massimo Stocchi, clinical director at Harley Street Psychology.
“This represents a form of self-invalidation and usually stems from a fear of being abandoned,” he adds.
According to Nick Jankel, bearing anger can affect other areas of your life too. “Resentment acts as a wall. It alienates us, else. We all need to be able to see ourselves as the fragile and flawed beings we all are,” he explains, adding that we all mess up. “If we acknowledge all our foibles, and forgive ourselves, then we free ourselves of needless and damaging inner rage,” he says.
Someone who has spent much of her life struggling with the concept of forgiveness is Kelly Connor, who in 1977 when she was just 17, killed a 77-year-old woman, in a road accident. She has since written a memoir about her experience To Cause a Death is dedicated to both her daughter, Meegan, and Margaret Healey – the woman she killed.
“”As I climbed a steep hill, I saw a taxi waiting to pull out on the right and – concerned he’d pull out in front of me – I kept my eyes firmly fixed on him. At the brow of the hill I kept my foot firmly on the accelerator but suddenly on the pedestrian crossing in front of me I saw an elderly woman. As I slammed on the brake she looked up in terror and tried to run – but we collided.
Two weeks later I came home to find Margaret Healey’s brother talking to my parents. He told me that he wanted me to know that neither he, nor his family blamed me, and nor – he was sure would Margaret. Deeply generous as I knew this to be, I wasn’t in a position to accept his forgiveness. I didn’t feel I deserved it. It was only many years later when Meegan was four that I started on a journey towards self-forgiveness after reading a book about creative visualization. I’d tried to imagine how my life would have been without the accident – and during the process I realized that I am who I am because of Margaret Healey.”
Dr Massimo Stocchi believes that listening to your own inner critic is of great importance in the healing process. “Being able to forgive ourselves for the action that we have chosen to play out is a wonderful place to start learning how to forgive others,” he says. “Listen to the language you use with yourself; you will often experience a harsh and critical tone that maintains self-fulfilling prophesies and negative behavior. If a nurturing and self-soothing stance is taken we begin to look for the opportunity in all our mistakes and experiences which turns our attitudes into more optimistic and compassionate ones. By learning how to be kinder to yourself, you will be able to recognize the healing benefits of forgiving,” he adds.
Leading therapist Dominic Knight explains regret in your own actions can also be a catalyst for developing as a more moral person. “By recognizing your own short comings it too gives you an opportunity to rectify your behavior and make the most of who you are.” he says.
Forgive and forget
Is it possible to absolve someone’s behavior if they don’t recognize their wrongdoing? If the perpetrator never has their comeuppance, moving on can prove more problematic but it doesn’t mean you are condoning the act and it can even be a positive experience.
“Forgiving is not disregarding the action,” explains Dominic. “To condone an offence is to overlook the harmful action without expressing disapproval. True forgiveness is not about endorsing, or excusing an injustice. It is not about overlooking the unacceptable,” he explains.
“Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from the destructive emotions and pain. It is not about the offender, it is about you. You can forgive the abuser without condoning their action.”
Trauma specialist Richard Osterfield emphasises the importance of acknowledging your negative feelings. “The main misconception is that forgiving someone means that what they did is okay,” he says. “It actually means that you accept what happened and you are allowed to feel angry and hurt.” He explains that many people try to hold back these feelings because they think it makes them strong but in the end they are simply denying themselves closure. “To forgive and let go of the toxic resentments you need to accept the situation happened and allow your own emotions, then your unconscious will take the final step,” he adds.
Dominic Knight advises that sometimes you may need to move on without an apology. “No one ever changes unless they want to change, you cannot enforce your values on them,” he explains.
“If you feel you have been wronged and the person doesn’t acknowledge the consequence of their
behaviour, if you play the victim everyone loses,” he says.
Instead he advises empowering yourself and the situation by rising above it, and asking yourself, ‘where have I done the same or something similar? What are the benefits of going through this?
What is the arising opportunity?’ He adds: “The only real meaning of forgiveness to me is, ‘thank you for-giving-me this experience’. If you can say that honestly, whatever it may be, you release the grip hurt has on you. Then you are no longer fearful or a victim of what people do around you, or what you do to others.”
“This short crystal ritual uses forgiveness to release and heal painful emotions,” says healer Julia Jenkins. “I’ve chosen rose quartz because of its gentle, balancing effect on the heart chakra. You could use a clear quartz crystal or any pink or green gemstone instead,” she adds.
Sit quietly and take a few slow, deep breaths until you feel calm and centred. Hold your rose quartz level with your heart chakra (at the centre of your chest) and ask your crystal to help you release the bonds of fear, anger, pain and grief using the power of unconditional love and forgiveness. Feel the soothing best coconut oil for skin, supportive energy of the crystal surrounding you with its protective, healing vibrations. Think of someone who has hurt you in the past and, while circling the rose quartz in an anticlockwise direction, ask it to remove the painful emotions which have been left behind. Gently blow on the crystal three times, releasing the negative energy to the earth for transformation. Hold the crystal up to your chest again and rotate it in a clockwise movement to heal and strengthen your heart chakra, filling it with unconditional love from the universe.
Nick Janke’ explains how to use compassion: Imagine you have three different pairs of sunglasses, all with different coloured lenses, on a table in front of you. The first pair has the red lenses, the glasses of rage. Think of a situation that really irritated or upset you. Who was the perpetrator? Mentally put the red glasses on and, from that perspective, explain why they did
it. Now imagine taking those glasses off. You can have them back at any time. The next glasses have purple lenses. They are the glass of comedy — aitrhaps the glasses of a clown or your favorite comedian. Imams putting those on. Now explain why the perpertrator did the deed, making sure you come up with something that sees the funny side. Take those off and put them down too. Now the final pair have yellow lenses. They belong to Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela. Imagine putting those on. Now explain why the person did what they did.