Mastering the Art of Forgiving
Have you ever felt so angry, hurt and disappointed that you lie awake at night, tossing and turning? Blood courses through your veins as you mull over what they said or did. Your heart races, your face transforms into folds of fury at the mere mention of their name or when you hear their voice or see them coming down the corridor. You may even make a loud, contemptuous snort or look away at the sight of them.
And, when they are finally out of sight, you exhale a sigh of relief, thinking – that showed them. That knot in your stomach unwinds, and your body rests, for you have proved a point and revealed to the person just how much you despise them. For a while, you feel pumped and experience release.
Alas, the feeling does not last. It never does.
The spring in your step vanishes, and the satisfaction of hitting back disperses, transforming into a lump in your throat. The anger and hurt come rushing back, and your body goes into a frenzy as it slips back into another whirlwind of emotion. The actions of your so-called nemesis begin to torment you once again. The words they uttered during your row start ringing incessantly in your head. Their actions or lack thereof gnaw away at your soul and chirp away at your confidence. Suddenly, you start second-guessing yourself. You feel unworthy, violated and wronged. And when you realise that nothing you do makes any difference, your body becomes paralysed, robbing you of your joy, creativity and everything good in your life - because your object of torment has now become your sole focus. It has occupied your mind and soul.
You are hurting, and you resent them for what they did or said to you. Anyone who’s ever been hurt and disappointed understands that.
But, the bad news is that more often than not, the person who wrongs us forgets the moment their back is turned. In the Shona culture, we say 'muti watemwa haukanganwe' which means: The tree cutter forgets the tree they cut, never the tree. In other words, the people who hurt us often go on to lead their lives and, on their terms, while we are left reeling, broken and debilitated.
Emotions are necessary. For example, anger and hurt can alert us to that which we do not like. By experiencing them, we get to reflect, and in some instances, they can become the motivation we need to make changes in our lives. But anger, hurt and disappointment, if not well-managed, lead to bitterness, resentment and hate.
Science informs us that anger as an intense emotion triggers that fight and flight response. The body recognises something wrong and releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help it cope. During this period, the blood pressure rises, the heart rate soars, and the gut becomes compromised as the brain shunts blood away from it and towards the muscles as it positions itself for a physical attack. If this happens long enough, your body gives way to disease - headaches, digestion problems, stress, depression, heart attack, stroke, and so on.
So to liberate ourselves from this soul-destroying mission when someone wrongs us, we must forgive. Challenging to achieve if the person who wronged us is not remorseful or apologetic. To quote the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.’ You do not have to shake a person’s hand, give them a peck on the cheek or let them know you have forgiven them. Instead, exhale and let it all go because forgiveness is never about the other person, but it is about you and you alone.
And, there are steps you can take to get to that place of true forgiveness and setting yourself free. These are as follows:
1) Realise that you cannot control someone’s actions, thoughts and behaviour. But you control only yours. You control your reactions and grasping that enables us to detach ourselves from toxic situations quickly. Other people’s character flaws are not your problem. Your responses to those flaws are your superpower. If it comes, their apology should be a bonus, for, in your spirit and mind, you would have already forgiven them.
2) Embrace your feelings and allow yourself to feel what you feel. You are human, after all. Part of embracing your feelings is learning to forgive yourself. When you learn to forgive yourself, you will find it easy to forgive others because you understand that no one is perfect. You have empathy and compassion for their flaws, for you are also a flawed human being.
3) Think positive and breathe life into your soul - this boosts your confidence and self-esteem, and you will need this to tackle the next stage, which is;
4) Do not give value to hurtful words and actions If someone knows you go on a rampage whenever they push your buttons, there may decide to amuse themselves by playing with your emotions.
5) Instead of reacting negatively, turn things around One way you can do this is by being kind. Kill them with kindness, as the saying goes. I have found that when you do not react how the other person anticipates, you catch them off-guard and throw them off course. Since in their minds, they would have prepared for your defensiveness, when you show the opposite attitude, they are more likely to feel stupid and embarrassed, even small.
6) Communicate Endeavour to look at things from the other person’s perspective. Perhaps they wronged you because they misunderstood a situation or something you did or said and, therefore, reacted out of anger. We should always consider the possibility that we could be wrong about a person and their intentions. Sometimes people hurt us unintentionally; therefore, having an open mind allows us to see things differently. If it is something as serious as cheating, ask if something could have enabled that behaviour. Were there early warning signs that you ignored. Sometimes, people cheat or wrong us due to their character flaws and not something we did or said. Through communication, we can determine the cause. Then, we can start working on our problem-solving and negotiating skills. By talking, we can find common ground and come to a place of understanding. That is not to say, take a cheating partner back, but you can forgive them while deciding to move on with your life. Likewise, you can forgive a friend for all their wrongs and still remove them from your life.
7) Last but not least, practice the act of forgiving often. Forgiving, as challenging as it is to do, is a healthy thing to do. When we do it often, it becomes a part of who we are because we already know and understand that the act of forgiving another person is a gift unto ourselves and a crucial part of self-care. After all, the only person we have power over is ourselves. When we learn to let go of anger and resentment effortlessly, we take back the reins of our life. Other people’s actions can no longer haunt us.