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Do Yourself A Favor--Forgive

"Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." Buddha

I can't count high enough to number the people in my clinical office and in my seminars who have argued... "He/she doesn't deserve to be forgiven after what happened. I just can't let him/her get off scott free!"

Yet scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated that it is the person who chooses to hold the bitterness that pays the price...not the perpetrator. Little by little, your feelings about that person bleed into the rest of your life, negatively coloring your view of other people and your attitude. It's like dropping one drop of red ink into a beaker; soon all the water is pink. Months and years of refusing to forgive weakens your immune system, damages your other relationships, and robs you of psychological health. Picture yourself perpetually tied to that person! Ouch!

Forgiveness is not sweeping the situation under the rug, excusing the behavior away. Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean that you keep yourself in a dangerous or destructive situation. Nor does forgiveness require a "loving" feeling.

Thoroughly confused? Good. It's misconceptions like these that have kept many from reclaiming their own lives.

So what is forgiveness? I recently heard a great definition from Dr. Charles Stanley: "Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me."

Forgiveness is a decision, a choice. It's a deep personal and spiritual transaction in which you choose to let go of plans or fantasies of revenge, and to release yourself from the burden of psychologically or physically "evening the score." Someone wisely said, "If you're always trying to get even, you'll never get ahead."

Sometimes reconciliation with the person is possible, and sometimes it's not. If the other person is willing, you may be able discuss what happened and make mutual plans for a better relationship in the future. (Caution: Avoid the holier-than-thou approach, like "Being perfect and full of grace myself, I forgive you, you horrible person, for the things you did to hurt me!" Be sure that you're willing to take responsibility for the part you played in the problem.)

In other situations, reconciliation of the relationship is not possible. Maybe the other person refuses to change, and the truth is, if you totally let down your guard, the same thing will happen all over again. It may be that the person you need to forgive is not even alive. Sometimes, you simply have to do business internally, between you and God.

Will you feel better immediately? Maybe. But don't expect all your bad feelings about that person to vanish. In fact, the next time you see him or her, you may find yourself in an emotional battle that causes you to question whether you really have forgiven. Don't get drawn into a mental rehash of all the things that happened. No, immediately focus on the positive decision you made, and remind yourself that after the decision comes the process of emotional healing. (Asking for divine help about now certainly won't hurt!)

What about forgetting? If you don't forget, have you really forgiven? I disagree with many on this. I believe that as a human with a brain that is a super-recorder, you will have a physical memory of the events, even when you've truly forgiven. So don't tell yourself that if you still remember what happened, you must not have done it right.

The crux of the "forgetting" matter is this: are you choosing to remember, to internally rehearse the situation over and over, and to watch and wait for the person to experience "what goes 'round comes 'round"? If so, go on back to your "forgiveness closet", because you have some more work to do.

Thomas Fuller said, "He that cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself, for every man has a need to be forgiven."

Do yourself and all those you love a favor...release those who have harmed you. As you do, you will release yourself.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist who has worked with organizations across the globe for over 20 years. Her high-energy, high-content, high-involvement Magnetic Workplaces (r) programs provide dozens of practical strategies and skills that can be put to work immediately to:

  • build strong leaders who influence and develop others through serving

  • energize, motivate, and retain team members

  • successfully accomplish important organizational transitions

  • impress customers and build their loyalty

  • Review a complete list of her programs available for your convention or corporate meeting at the website,


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