There are lots of lists out there describing what people consider to be the most important things to do in life. And these lists have lovely sentiments. Find love. Appreciate your family. Do something you are passionate about. I don’t disagree with any of that advice. Those are important things. But all those lists avoid […]
We tend to think that forgiving others is something that we do for them. But the reality is that when we forgive others, it is a gift that we give ourselves. Whenever you forgive another person, you improve your own life.
Admittedly, that sounds counterintuitive. Shouldn’t the other person benefit if I forgive him or her? They may benefit, but it is doubtful.
Think about it. When is the last time someone who really hurt you asked you to forgive them? Probably never. Most people aren’t seeking forgiveness for their wrongdoings.
Rather, most people go through life justifying their actions to themselves. So, if they are irresponsible, or if they hurt someone, they come up with a pile reasons as to why they were justified in doing so. Most people aren’t introspective enough to recognize their own bad behavior.
So, given that no one is likely seeking your forgiveness, forgiveness isn’t something that you do for others. Forgiveness is something that you do for yourself.
When we forgive others, it frees us in ways that we may not realize. Below are ways that forgiving others can significantly improve your life. Read about them and feel inspired to forgive!
When We Forgive, We Become More Relaxed
Have you ever gone to the airport with a big suitcase for a long trip? If you have, you know that carrying that suitcase from the car and through the airport is a hassle. The suitcase is heavy. You either have to maneuver it up the escalator or track down an elevator to get you and your suitcase to the airline check-in.
How good do you feel when you finally give that heavy suitcase to the airline check-in person? Pretty darn good! You are no longer dragging around this enormous weight. Now you can go through security, track down a Starbucks, have a cup of tea and relax, no longer burdened by that crazy suitcase.
Bitterness is the same as that suitcase. It is a weight that we carry. And it is exhausting. Bitterness leads us to be irritated today over events that happened in the past. Events that are long over and done with.
When we forgive those who have hurt us, we decide to stop being irritated with other people for events that occurred long ago. Instead, we let that irritation go. We accept past bad events as over and unchangeable. And we decide to stop being mad at the people who have hurt us, and just move on.
That simple decision to forgive and to stop being mad and irritated has tremendous benefits. The weight of that “bitterness” suitcase is gone, and you can really breathe. By forgiving others, you naturally feel lighter and more relaxed.
Forgiving Others Makes You More Humble
Being angry at others requires a certain amount of arrogance. That is because to get good and mad at someone, you have to look in the mirror and say, “I’m perfect, and everyone else is bad, immoral and an idiot.” That is not a healthy or realistic way to look at the world.
The reality is that we are all incredibly imperfect. We all do regrettable things. There are no saints among us. And in the process of forgiving others, we recognize that fact.
That is a good thing! A strong dose of humility makes us better people. It certainly makes us less annoying. There is nothing worse than someone who likes to tell everyone that they are bad or wrong.
By forgiving others and recognizing our own imperfection, we also grow in maturity. After all, emotionally mature people aren’t angry and bitter at every last person who has wronged them. Instead, they are humble. They recognize their own imperfection. And that leads them to forgive and let their bitterness go.
When We Forgive Others, We Become Better at Forgiving Ourselves
Very often, when we struggle to forgive others, it is because we also are struggling to forgive ourselves. The corollary of “I’m so mad at the way he or she treated me,” is “I’m so mad at myself for allowing myself to be treated so poorly.” Self-forgiveness is hard.
But once we recognize that others are imperfect, and we forgive them, we become better at forgiving ourselves. We can forgive ourselves for not immediately walking away from a bad relationship. We can forgive ourselves for not standing up for ourselves when being mistreated.
By forgiving others, we then can forgive ourselves. We can say to ourselves, “No one is perfect. So, don’t be so hard on yourself. You did the best you could under difficult circumstances.”
If you are struggling with self-forgiveness, I encourage you to try the following exercise. Mentally go back in time to the period when you were mistreated. Visualize yourself walking over the “past you.” Hug “past you.” Tell him or her, “It’s OK. I’m so sorry this has happened. It will get better.”
It sounds like a strange exercise, but try it. You’ll be surprised at its cathartic value. And you may find that forgiving yourself is a lot easier after you do the exercise because you’ll feel more compassion for “past you.” You’ll stop being so hard on yourself, and you’ll forgive yourself.
Forgiving Others Allows You to Move Forward in Life
When we hold onto anger and bitterness in our hearts, it stops us from moving forward in life. We may struggle to trust people if we haven’t forgiven someone who hurt us the past. Or we may have trouble doing well at a new job, if we still feel resentment toward our former employer. When we don’t forgive and let go, we, effectively, block ourselves from moving forward in life.
If you are struggling in certain areas of your life, you might ask yourself, “Is there someone who I need to forgive? Is there a grievance that I need to let go of?”
I’ve met people who have carried anger against their ex-spouses for decades. I know other people who can tell you how unfair it was that they lost their job … 15 years ago. There is no expiry date on bitterness. You can be bitter for as long as it suits you.
As a result, if you want to move on with your life, you need to make an affirmative decision to forgive. It has to be intentional. Certainly, bitterness and anger fade with time. But they don’t completely go away until you make a decision to forgive the person who wronged you. It is only then that you can move forward with the lightness of someone who is free from the past.
If there are people that you need to forgive in your life, make a commitment to do that today. Work at not holding on to bitterness, anger and resentment toward anyone. Instead, improve your life dramatically by forgiving others. You will be amazed by how much happier you will be. (To read about learning how to forgive others, click here.)
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