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The Art of Forgiveness: Let Go of Resentment

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One of my favorite sayings, because it is so true, is this: "Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die."

Dr. Wendy Walsh: There's no way around it, when someone has wronged us, it hurts. It often

woman forgiving a friend

hurts a lot for a very long time. The injury could be minor, though profound, like a betrayal by a friend, or it could be major, like a physical assault. The point of the saying is that, no matter the injury, we can't truly move on until we learn to forgive. And that's a very tough walk. Here are a few thoughts on the art of forgiveness and how we can all learn to cultivate it.

First of all, think of forgiveness as a gift to yourself, not a gift to your offender. When a deep injury is done to us, we'll never recover until we forgive. It is a way to clear a blockage in our minds and move forward with new knowledge and new growth. We are a more evolved person after we forgive, and that's our gift to ourselves.

Forgiveness requires empathy. It is essential that you begin the forgiveness process by putting yourself in the shoes of your offender. Imagine that pain and fear are behind his or her anger. Imagine a small child inside your enemy who is as confused as you are about the injury. Imagine what it must feel like to walk with the guilt of having hurt someone. It doesn't matter if your offender will ever actually get to the conscious place of feeling guilt and remorse. He or she need not seek your forgiveness in order for you to have a transformation. This process is about you. But it is helpful to come up with some explanation for your offender's heinous action that feels rational to you. This is your mental journey. So, whether you imagine their bad childhood, their feelings of racial or gender persecution, or their feelings of envy toward you, find a reason for their bad behavior.

Now, from that place of understanding, make a conscious decision to forgive that person. Create a private action that supports your decision. Write an unsent letter to them, light a candle and say a prayer in their name, or simply stick a Post-it on your bathroom mirror that says "I forgive (insert name) I have feelings of love for (insert name)." This is a secret act but it's a powerful action for brain change. For a few weeks, return daily to these private actions of forgiveness. Reread that letter. Relight that candle. Say the words on the post-it out loud. This is a way to rewire your brain.

The biggest step toward forgiveness is to express it to your offender. Whether you do it in an email (easiest) on the phone or in person (best, if possible) it must be done so that you can move on. And the tricky part of forgiveness is this: to express forgiveness without expressing blame. Your words should focus on your own feelings of hurt rather than the act that caused the injury. So, instead of saying, "I forgive you for stealing from me, you jerk," you might say something like, "I felt so betrayed when I lost that money. But now I am letting go of those feelings. I want the best for you." This is your journey and this higher level communication will speak to the highest level of your offender's personality.

And, be reminded that forgiveness in not a magic trick to change someone else. Even if you change, the other person may not. And that's OK. And finally, know that forgiveness takes maintenance. During future life stresses, old feelings about this injury may bubble up again. Each time they do, quietly walk those feelings back to bed with the same techniques. Eventually enough time will pass that those memories will lose their emotional punch. Forgiveness is the most mentally freeing experience. I encourage you to try it.

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11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Helen Hawn August 15, 2009, 8:34 AM

Beautifully written.

Sheri August 15, 2009, 10:52 PM

Thank you…just what the doc ordered.

me September 13, 2009, 10:51 AM

I need to let go of some resentment of someone who has almost literally destroyed my life - this is no small thing, and shows no remorse and offers weak, false “I’m sorry but you are wrong and I am right” and believes she is justified. Everyone else, including the members of her own family who would normally side with her believe she is in the wrong, and she has begun to tell lies about me in order to make them believe she is correct.
I can’t say I wish the best for her or that I feel love for her. I have never felt so many negative feelings for anyone and I don’t want this to eat me away but she has taken away everything she can (which is just about everything but my home.)
I want to follow your steps but cant.

K November 10, 2009, 1:02 PM

Hey me -
I just offered this on a similar topic of ‘hating mom’.

Go to a counselor and ask them to medaiate a discussion between you and this person. Hate is a terrible burden to carry when you ‘can’ learn to forgive and move on in love as in the past. Let them know how you felt when they hurt you. Don’t make it into something it really isn’t because of your pride and don’t attribute everything suspicious to them. A counselor will help you do this. Try it….for ‘your’ benefit. Give this a shot even though you don’t want to. Good luck.

K November 10, 2009, 1:10 PM

Great advice! I have held on to resentments and one day I finally realized I was clinging, more often than not, to my need to be right about them and the situation rather than do what was right. My pride got in the way of forgiving. Once I learned this lesson, it’s been easier each time and I can actually let all the ‘small stuff’ go and move on in love with them. And, more importantly don’t keep re-visiting it! A much more plesant way to live. Bottom line, I forgive as I want to be forgiven.

km November 13, 2009, 7:16 AM

Email going around that’s fits this discussion.
Those who truly know ‘How to Love’…

Understand with compassion…
Ignore gossip & ridicule…
Don’t assume but discuss…
Recall the good though angry…
Agree to disagree & apologize…
Forgive the unforgiveable…
Are kind when hurt verbally…
Do what is right though wronged…
Never react with vengeance…
Choose to Love ‘Them’ No Matter What!
~ We know how to love when we know how Christ loves us ‘unconditionally’, and we love Him, and love ‘all’ others in the same way ~
We do this when WE forgive. Try it!

Jan November 27, 2009, 1:51 PM

To me 09/13/09 10:51 AM We all have a choice… Become Better OR bitter; Become Understanding OR hold a grudge;Become Compassionate OR cruel…. Sometime the injured person, you, hold the accused feet to the fire for life. That is sad. Reconciliation will free YOU if you put your pride aside, grow up and forgive as you would want them to forgive you had the situation been reversed. I’m sure you have done something that was needed to be forgiven as we all have. Take it in context of the situation at the time and talk to them. No need to take it to others for a vote for that shows gross immaturity and pettiness. Think about it…. You can and should do this for yourself and if it’s someone close don’t throw the relationship away. Forgive, Love, Live.

Lucy December 23, 2009, 2:17 PM

Jan is right on the money here!

Forgiveness heals the heart if you let it. God forgives you no matter what and so should we.

Carrie March 27, 2010, 3:52 PM

Watch out “me”! Just like you I resented someone deeply [in my situation my mom] because I thought she did something to me. I accused her, cursed her and said the most vile things to her and about her to her family. I thought she destroyed my life. I nurtured and justified my beliefs and couldn’t let it go. I trashed her to my kids and anyone who would listen. I found out not too long ago the truth from well meaning friends. Now I am the one that needs forgiveness!………….

“me”….Listen to the advice from the post above.

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webwatcher March 28, 2011, 6:40 PM

Fantastic info, do you mind if I reference back to it? I’m blogging about this too, thanks for sharing it.

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