I have a confession to make. I’ve been holding a grudge. It’s an ugly side of me, and recently I became aware of how toxic holding a grudge can be on our mental and physical health. Without sharing too many details, a friend has been saying things that have hurt me, making me angry and tense. Heat rises in my body, my heart beats faster and my hands start to shake. I want to lash out with words that would hurt them back. But I’m finding that my grudge against this person is only hurting myself. Ruminating on these negative experiences is only enhancing my anger and stress. I’ve also seen what holding a grudge can do in the workplace. I have worked with individuals who were holding onto past hurts or wrongs that happened five to 10 years ago. How do we free ourselves from this negative, toxic spiral?
Some of you may already be tuning me out. I’ll admit that I don’t like to hear that word. Forgiveness is soft, it’s for wimps! And why should I forgive them? They were in the wrong!
Forgiveness doesn’t mean glossing over or denying the seriousness of the offense. It doesn’t mean forgetting, condoning or excusing people who’ve hurt you. Yet forgiveness can help you get over painful memories and repair damaged relationships.
One way to practice forgiveness is to let go of anger or past hurt through compassion. Here’s a healing exercise that takes about five minutes:
- Find a quiet place to sit. Relax, breath normally for two minutes. When you exhale, focus on the word “one.” Keep breathing and exhaling on the word one. In a short time you will feel yourself fall into a calm physiological state. Hone in on your breathing.
- Identify a time in the past when someone offended you or hurt you. Notice the feelings that come over you. These old feelings don’t serve you well anymore. For the next two minutes, imagine this person in a positive way, in a merciful way or maybe even with pity. If you’re like me, you can feel the tensions melt away.
By forgiving, you’re not saying their actions (or words) are OK. But through forgiveness, you can undo some of the harm that was done and gain more control of your life. The Berkeley Institute for Well Being also suggests a cognitive approach to forgiveness called reappraisal. Reappraisal involves cognitively reframing an event to reduce the negative emotions you feel. It’s taking a different approach by looking at a situation from an outside perspective. To learn more about reappraisal and practicing compassion click here.
Maybe this Thanksgiving will be a happy “Forgiving” for all of us.