Few things drain your energy like refusing to forgive someone. Whether it is a backstabbing coworker, an irresponsible family member, or the rude driver who cut you off in traffic, to be emotionally healthy and happy, you’ve got to let go of that grudge. Problem is, it can be easy to buy into two prominent myths that prevent you from letting go:
Myth 1: If I forgive, it means I accept what they did.
Forgiveness does not mean that what the person did was acceptable. Not at all. Forgiveness is not about excusing behavior. Forgiveness is about releasing all of the negative energy that keeps you from moving past their behavior – the bitterness, the rehashing of the story, the desire for revenge. In other words, forgiveness frees you from being held hostage to the aftermath of someone else’s behavior. It puts you back in control. It empowers you to move forward, no longer controlled by the bitterness, anger, or hurt of their past actions.
Myth 2: If I forgive, then I become a doormat.
Forgiveness doesn’t always mean staying in relationship with the person being forgiven. If the other person is truly remorseful and has a change of behavior, you may continue to engage in a relationship with them. If not, you may set boundaries or even move on from the relationship. You can forgive and simultaneously move on. In other words you’re saying, “I forgive you. I may even love you, but I love ME, too. Therefore, I protect myself from being subjected to such behavior in the future.”
Myth 3: By holding a grudge, I’m making them pay.
Maybe your grudge causes them to feel guilt. Maybe not. But one thing is for certain: You conjure up negative emotional energy, and as a result, you pay an emotional and physical price. To punish them with a grudge requires that you punish yourself, too. And why would you do that? Research shows that negative emotion has a host of negative consequences. It weakens your immune system, narrows your thinking, impacts your sleep, and attracts more negative people into your life.
So just how do you let go of a grudge? Some grudges are easier to let go of than others, but you can do it. Here’s how:
Step 1: Make a Decision to Forgive
Be willing to forgive. It is a choice. Let go of the idea that it means the other person was right or justified. Do it so you can get unstuck from your tangle of negative emotions. Grudges are like gum on the bottom of your shoe. The more grudges you hold, the more it weighs you down.
Step 2: Focus on the Vision, Not the Obstacle
Focusing on the obstacle only makes it bigger. Rather than spend any more time thinking about the offense, stop. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What do I want to feel?” Create a vision for what you want. Rather than thinking about the ex who did you wrong and how you don’t trust anyone, imagine for a moment if you were free to move toward a healthy, happy life – maybe even a great relationship with someone healthy and trustworthy. To attract someone healthy, it helps to let go of your baggage – grudges are heavy baggage. Step back and imagine the big picture of what you want rather than overfocusing on the source of your grudge.
Step 3: Write It Down, Get It Out, and Let It Go
Research confirms that writing through life’s difficulties actually has health benefits. On a piece of paper, write down the offense. Then write down why it is so hurtful to you. This simple exercise can help you work through your feelings. Then, write your vision from the above step. Who do you want to be? How could you rise above this? A month from now or a year from now, what does it look like for you to be totally grudge-free? Ceremoniously throw out your hurt – whether you rip it up, toss it into the trash or shred it. But place your vision somewhere you’ll see it often – on the bathroom mirror, in your wallet, or your closet. Keep your vision in front of you and your behavior will soon begin to reflect the picture of you where you want to go.
Valorie Burton is founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and author of ten books, including Successful Women Think Differently and Get Unstuck, Be Unstoppable. Visit her at www.valorieburton.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope @valorieburton.