Forgiveness can be a loaded term. We can use it to assume moral superiority that we’re better than others – as we forgive them for their wrongs. The pressure to forgive others can force us to glaze over deep injustices with phony peace and love, sometimes called a spiritual bypass, and in doing so, we end up betraying ourselves.
Forgiveness ultimately means freeing ourselves from feelings of anger, resentment, and victimization, and ending with clarity about our values.
Consider these three steps to forgive yourself and others, and then let go.
1. Claim your anger. Anger can be a sign that a situation or person’s behavior is not tolerable. In this way, it’s useful information and fuels action to change the situation or change yourself. Anger can also create the separation or distance needed to change our perspective and see things differently. It’s important to feel your feelings, understand what they mean, and then release them. Science tells us that suppressing anger can cause serious health problems (like heart disease), as can expressing anger habitually, known as chronic hostility, takes its toll on our bodies and our relationships (Smith, et al, 2004).
Example: Jane felt belittled and undermined by a work colleague’s comments. She valued her reputation of being a good co-worker and didn’t want to appear disagreeable or uncooperative, so she put up with her colleague’s remarks. When he took credit for one of her ideas, it was the last straw. She got angry demanded that she be credited else she would file a complaint. Her anger helped her to set a boundary and sent a clear message on how she wouldn’t allow herself to be treated. She distanced herself from her colleague by collaborating with other team members who respected her and valued her contributions. She forgave herself for not standing up sooner and she forgave him for simply acting in his habitual way of testing others’ limits. She didn’t stay mad – but whenever she felt a little bit of anger coming up she paid attention to it and took steps to assert herself before things got out of hand.