Forgiving others is the key to a more fulfilling life and boosting your mental health; let go of bad feelings, anger and resentment
It's not unusual to find yourself knee-deep in adulthood feeling besieged by unprocessed emotions due to your confusing relationship with forgiveness. So what do we do?
How often have you been told to say sorry, not to bear grudges and move on? Forgiveness is often regarded as something we bestow on others. We'll believe that we're very good at doing this, while being very self-critical, or perhaps we'll silently hold on to resentment, guilt and pain.
Making a choice to forgive
Forgiveness is a decision to choose and keep choosing to let go by gaining perspective. Unfortunately, we're prone to holding on to stories and judgements, which accounts for our accumulation of emotional baggage. There's only so much we can bear, though. Without processing our feelings and 'tidying up', being unforgiving takes a toll on our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Aside from religious connotations, the biggest impediment to genuine forgiveness is not feeling our emotions, reactions and narratives. There's such a rush to 'move on' and to make others feel good that we don't give ourselves the time and space to process what we feel. We don't learn what we need to. And eventually, as a result, we shut down.
Moving on from bad feelings
Often, it's not that we don't want to move on, but that we don't know how. Where is our anger supposed to go? Are we just supposed to forget? What if we get screwed over or mess up again? The decision to let go only comes with a change of perspective, so repeating the story of what happened in the same way keeps us angry. In fact, a refusal to forgive others points back at the anger we have towards ourselves. For not knowing better. For not getting there first. For imperfection. For not pleasing 'enough'. For the fantasy not coming true.
Forgiveness isn't condoning what happened. We don't have to let someone back in to the same degree. There's no memory wipe. In fact, forgiveness isn't about the other party; it's about us. If our takeaway from the past is 'I'm not good enough', we've learned the wrong lesson.
Work on a compassionate future
A great place to start is not carrying on as if we are (and were) in control of everything and that we should have been perfect. Painful feelings point to the untrue stories we're telling ourselves about how we're essentially responsible for other people's feelings and behaviour. Being honest about the facts and endeavouring to have the compassion for ourselves that we often readily give to others, shifts our perspective and releases us from the bonds of those past events.
We don't have to be victimised by the past and by other people's behaviour. And we don't have to be open to the same situation, in the same way, in future - knowing this paves the way for a more fulfilling and peaceful life.
Natalie Lue is the founder of website baggagereclaim.co.uk. She runs courses and writes books to help people move away from perfectionism, people-pleasing, and unhealthy relationships.