We’ve all heard the saying “forgive and forget,” but how many of us truly know what this means or how to do it? Forgiveness involves engaging with a complex series of emotions – anger, pain, frustration, and fear – which most of us try to avoid.
When you have become emotionally close to another person, you have become more vulnerable. This vulnerability opens the doors for that person to do things that really hurt, which often comes out when conflicts arise. At the same time, you can develop higher expectations about what the other person does and how they should act towards you. This also can lead to unfulfilled expectations which could result in resentment or even anger, even without the other person knowing that they have done something to hurt you.
Unfortunately, we can’t escape these feelings in life, at least not for long. Chances are, you have been hurt in the past, and you have experienced anger, pain, frustration, and fear. All of these emotions have shaped your current perception of the world, along with the decisions you make, your health, your attitude – nearly every aspect of your life.
But forgiving – as well as being dull compared with revenge – is by no means easy. Forgiveness experts define it as a process that results in your losing the desire to retaliate and letting go of negative emotions. You can forgive but not be reconciled to the person you are forgiving. You can forgive without telling them. No wonder it’s not easy
Let’s take an example. Do you have an ex who cheated on you or somehow blindsided you? Did you have to give up on your idea of what the relationship was – and the life you thought you’d have together? Now think about how you dealt with the pain. Did you allow yourself to grieve, or did you emotionally attack your ex in anger? Or did you hold the pain inside of you, forcing yourself to internalize your hurt and carry on?
When you hold on to negative emotions like these, they manifest in your psyche. Over time, you don’t trust men (or women), and have sabotaged recent relationships trying to achieve some sort of guarantee that you wouldn’t get hurt again. Or maybe you have numbed yourself, hiding behind a string of casual relationships that never quite satisfy you. Either way, there is a common link here. You have become so wrapped up in the injustice of the past that you can’t live in the present. Perhaps you’ve become depressed and anxious, or you can’t help but look at the world as a frightening place that needs to be controlled, because it will only let you down.
Maybe it’s time to let go of the baggage you are carrying. Maybe it’s time you considered forgiveness.
There are two main areas where forgiveness has an influence.
1. Less negative conflict
When we hold a grudge against someone, even the littlest thing can fuel a conflict. We start to notice all the things they are doing wrong and may even take a stance of “getting even.” At this point, negative conflict becomes a common occurrence.
It becomes very difficult to have a productive relationship when we can’t move past the emotional pain someone may have caused us. It’s through forgiveness that we can strive to mend relationships. We can take on a new perspective and have less negative communication and a more empathetic approach.
2. Increases relationship effort
Making an effort to improve a relationship and doing what it takes to have positive interactions is required for relationship longevity.
Partners in a relationship must also be being willing to regulate their behavior in a way that benefits the long-term goals of the relationship. Focusing on the long-term consequences as opposed to the immediate urges we may want to react to can drastically change the way someone will respond and deal with a situation.
As you forgive and let go, your life will no longer be defined by your pain. Instead, you’ll have greater compassion and understanding towards others. As I say in my book, Date Expectations, your perspective changes because you have changed.