People hold grudges more easily than they forgive trespasses against them.
While it seems cathartic and correct to feel malice towards an individual who’s wronged you, you’ll benefit immensely from being able to say “I forgive you.”
The problem is that most people misunderstand what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness is not a truce. Forgiveness is not developing an amicable relationship with the one who wronged you. Forgiveness is not even neutral ambivalence.
Forgiveness is when you can look at the person who wronged you as another human being with no negative thoughts or negative emotions.
Forgiveness is the art of letting go of the past
This doesn’t mean that you forget. This doesn’t mean they won’t mess up again. It just means that the quality of your emotions is no longer affected by what’s happened in the past.
Forgiveness allows your emotions to live in the present moment regardless of the emotional pain from your past experiences.
People don’t realize that they’re actually holding a grudge against the action the person committed and not the person who did it. You just project your feelings on the person because they exist in the present and they remind you of the past. You likely don’t realize this, but you believe that your anger and hatred towards them can change the past and undo what they’ve done against you.
Accepting that you’re powerless to change the past is the first part of forgiveness. What happened to you is done. All the negativity you carry is because you believe that if you project enough hatred into the world, the past will change and you’ll be innocent once again.
Nothing can change the past but forgiveness. The only way you’ll ever be able to make it through the healing process is to let go of the past and be able to say “I forgive you”.
It doesn’t matter if:
- The person you’re holding a grudge against says “I’m sorry”
- You walk away or stay in contact with the target of your grudge
- They don’t do anything to show that they deserve genuine forgiveness
As the hurt party, your spiritual and mental health depends on your ability to let go of the past and move on. Otherwise, you’ll do more damage to yourself than holding a grudge would ever do to the other person.
To be free and heal yourself, you must be able to say “I forgive you”, even if they don’t deserve it.
You don’t even have to say it to the person who’s done you wrong. This may sound crazy, but letting go of the past is not something that you need consent to do and it’s not something that’s done only when you feel like the person (or yourself) has suffered enough.
The definition of forgiveness
Forgiveness. It comes from an old English word “forgiefan” meaning:
Give, grant, allow; to remit (a debt) or pardon (an offense)
You carry this grudge because you think it will balance the action which caused you harm. However, you can only relinquish the debt or bear the burden of constantly trying to collect on it.
The act of forgiving someone is defined as follows:
Forgiveness is defined as letting go of past grudges or lingering anger against a person or persons.
Like most challenging things, this is easier said than done. Especially when it comes to forgiving friends and loved ones. It’s those who are closest to us that have the capacity to do the most damage and as a result, they are the most difficult to forgive.
But this article will teach how I did exactly that. Read on to learn how I forgave my mother and in the process, made both of our lives much better for it.
How I let go of the past
I’ve written about my upbringing.
I was poor. I lived in the projects. I was bullied. I was abused. I thought this was all normal until I got to high school.
I went to a high school across town with kids from the middle and upper classes. As I watched how they lived and the relationships they had with their families, I got angry.
It was one thing when I didn’t know any better and I thought everyone lived the way we did. Once I saw the rest of the world, my life became a much more painful experience.
I became aware that what I thought was normal was incredibly dysfunctional. The negative feelings I had about my life grew nearly every day while I was in high school.
I wasn’t jealous. I simply didn’t understand why my mom would have me if she couldn’t afford to give me opportunities as simple as living in a safe neighborhood. It didn’t happen instantly, but by the time I was 19, I felt intense anger towards my mom.
I don’t know if hatred is the right word to describe how I felt, but it was *very* close.
I didn’t speak to her and when I was forced to, the conversation ended with us shouting at each other and me storming off. This lasted until I was about 23 years old when I started studying forgiveness.
I knew something was deeply wrong but I couldn’t afford therapy and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to any of my friends about this. All I knew was that I needed to let go of anger over past events that I could do nothing about.
This self-awareness was key, but I also recognized that I needed to forgive my mother because it led me to harbor an incredibly poisonous and weak thought:
I lacked opportunities and had destructive tendencies because of the environment she raised me in.
Nothing stumps your personal growth more than blaming your position in life on things from your past that you can’t do anything about.
Whether the blame is deserved or not isn’t relevant.
What is relevant is that this will keep you from ever making something of yourself.
I would work myself up thinking of the ways my painful past gave me tremendous disadvantages in life. I’d remember everything my mom did or didn’t do and view it through the lens of this self-destructive thought.
I believed that everything wrong in my life was all her fault. After all, I didn’t ask to be born so I should have had better.
The power of this thought grew in my mind and eventually infected my heart. I grew to have such a strong dislike of my mom. Even writing about it now, I can’t believe that I ever felt like this towards another human being–let alone my own mother.
I was sick and it was ruining my relationship with my mother. It was also ruining my relationship with myself. My self-destructive behavior at this point in my life was partially motivated by this.
I always say that I am lucky to have survived this time in my life without a criminal record. I say this not because of the things I knew better not to do, but rather the things I did but didn’t get caught doing.
However, I have a pretty good relationship with my mom today and I have completely forgiven her for any negative experiences in my past. How did I do this and heal myself at the same time?
Letting go of the past and genuine forgiveness
I wanted to have a different life, a different family, a different anything. I love myself now and all the things that I’ve been through–for better or worse–made me who I am, but at that point I simply did not want to be me.
This changed when I made a small bit of intellectual reasoning. Rather than think about the negative experiences from my childhood, I focused on the positive things my mother did. This allowed me to look at my past in a slightly different light.
This didn’t mean that I no longer had painful feelings and that there weren’t TREMENDOUS negatives that had an effect on me. This didn’t erase the bad things from my past. It simply meant that I was going to stop ruminating on them.
I made the conscious decision to stop feeding the hatred that had infected my mind and heart.
How to let go of past hurts and stop holding a grudge
Focusing on the positives brought me to a powerful conclusion: my mother did the best for me that she could given what she knew. Though many times her actions were destructive and detrimental, they were never done to hurt me in particular.
It was simply all that she knew.
Once I realized that it was her doing the best she knew how to do, I thought about who was responsible for teaching her that. Her mother? And if this was the case, then who raised her wrong? It never ends because it’s in the past and even if I did find the source of dysfunction, there’s nothing I could do about it.
Holding grudges and placing blame is a game that you can’t really win
You hold grudges because you’re looking for the source of your grief. You want the emotional debt to be repaid, but that’s impossible. Fixation on a person convinces you that if they do something (or you do something against them), perhaps it will undo what happened.
However, this is impossible. Once a thing is done, it can’t be undone.
Unfortunately, human beings are sometimes terrible and do terrible things and nothing can undo the effects of terrible actions. You will ruin your life if you expect an external resolution in the present to resolve internal feelings about the past.
This is what motivates people to seek revenge.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t enact justice for crimes and trespasses, but justice is to keep order in the external world. Forgiveness is for your inner world. Revenge is the erroneous belief that the former can accomplish the latter.
Instead, forgive the debt from past pain. Forgiveness is a multifaceted process which takes place over time, but understanding one thing will accelerate the process:
You are holding a grudge towards the action, not the person who committed the action. This is the primary reason why revenge and eye-for-an-eye justice doesn’t resolve the emotional damage.
You don’t forgive because the person “deserves” it. You don’t forgive because you deserve it.
You forgive because it’s the only way to cure your heart of hatred of others, hatred of yourself, and hatred towards the world.
When you say “I forgive you”, it’s for yourself. The other person doesn’t even have to hear it. You do it as part of letting go of a grudge because your well-being deteriorates when you don’t forgive.
The old saying sums it up best:
Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.