Based on the work of Dr Robert Enright, two big things that keep us stuck are resentment and revenge.
Resentment...Holding onto a deep-seated grudge against someone who has hurt or offended us. Words like, “I hate you," "I will never forgive you,” or “You’ll pay for that,” show resentment. We can get addicted to the high that comes from allowing our hurt to manifest in resentment. Holding onto resentment can become a habitual response to people or circumstances that do not meet with our approval, and it can create the habitual need for revenge.
Revenge...Revenge is defined as persistent ill will, a deep need to retaliate against someone who has offended us by hurting someone/anyone as badly as we’ve been hurt. Revenge can also be a desire to teach someone a lesson they won’t forget. In its more subtle form, we might abandon the offender and/or withhold communication from her or him as punishment. Such behavior can easily spiral downward into depression and can become an obsessive compulsion. Words like, “I was hurt, so it’s okay for me to hurt anyone who gets in my way,” “What goes around comes around,” “Serves you right,” or “God will get you for this” are all expressions of the desire for revenge.
What can we do to get ourselves unstuck? Dr. Enright offers two keys to getting unstuck and moving toward forgiveness.
The First Step…It may feel like hurting others is the only way to deal with our pain, but there is another way…forgiveness. Before we can forgive, we need to stop allowing ourselves to react to negative situations with resentment. Sharing our feelings is a great starting point because often the offender doesn’t have a clue that their words/actions were hurtful. At a minimum, communication can validate our experience, and it might even open the door to new understanding. This doesn’t always help, but often times it’s a catalyst to understanding and healing.
Offering Yourself Forgiveness…Along with forgiving others, we also need to consider offering ourselves forgiveness. Forgiving yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. Forgiving yourself for not being smart enough, for not recognizing the signs, for making a poor decision, etc.
In order to truly get to a place where we can be a forgiving person, we need to start with ourselves. When you find that you are berating yourself for choices you made, opportunities missed, people you misjudged, behaviors you condoned…the first step is to stop and tell yourself "No more." Start exercising self-compassion and be a kind to yourself. Over and over again, start by easing up on yourself. Letting go of resentments and judgments of yourself first.
Once you start easing up on yourself, you’ll find it easier to ease up on others. Realizing that what you need, so do they. If I make mistakes and deserve to be forgiven, so too do they. If I hurt another and can be forgiven and move on, so too can they. If I have been critical and judgmental of someone and can be forgiven, so too can they. Give what you are seeking for yourself.
Forgiveness Techniques…I've worked with several forgiveness techniques over the years, including several meditation techniques. Finding what works best for you is key. I believe it’s important to see forgiveness as a process, it usually doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on the depth of the wound, it can take several months. Here's what I practice:
Start by being clear with yourself on this question, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” Make practicing forgiveness a daily practice, a daily devotion, a daily intention to forgive yourself and others.
Be willing to look inward and ask yourself, “What was my role in the situation?” In some situations this is absolutely not part of the equation, but in most everyday relationship situations it is. Exercising empathy is an important piece to forgiveness. I remind myself that I'm seeing things through my own lens, from my perspective and that there are many other viewpoints, angles and possibilities. Ask yourself, “What did I bring to the table and what can I learn from it?” Be curious and try to obtain a full understanding of the situation.
Pray for that person’s happiness for 30 days every day for 5 minutes. If I pray for somebody one of 2 things will happen…either they will behave differently or I won’t care. Your greatest power to change the world is your power to change your mind about the world. And remember, everything is energy. If you are sending out healing energy versus resentment, that person will receive it and be impacted by it. Don't discount the impact this ripple, this blessing, may have.
As Marianne Williamson says, ”In the beginning it's really hard, but so what? Is it easy to sit there with the anger and bitterness and toxicity and blame? It's so much easier to bless someone versus blame them, not immediately, but long-term."
Forgiveness is not about forgetting, but about letting go. It's about choosing positive emotions over negative ones. I'm working on building my forgiveness muscle. Each day I'm setting my intention to forgive myself and others and to have a willingness to forgive. Each day I'm praying for the happiness of those I desire to forgive. Each day I'm choosing positive emotions over negative emotions. Each day we get to choose.