Why is it difficult to forgive and move forward?
If forgiveness is therapeutic, and change is constant, then why do we get stuck in long-term patterns of pain, anger, and depression about our past?
Surprisingly, fear is one of the things that keeps us from forgiving others. Why fear?
- When someone hurts us, we feel vulnerable.
- We might feel attacked, fragile, weak, and insecure.
All of these feelings come from our sense of having a lack of control over what happened. And we are right to feel that way. We shouldn’t deny it, or bury it deep in our subconscious and not deal with it. Something did happen!
For that brief, or sometimes not-so-brief moment, the other person had control over we feel...
- They did something or acted in some way that affected you.
- They were able to interrupt how you were going to feel and force you into feeling something different and non-pleasant.
Sure, whatever they actually did to cause your pain is terrible, but it is this feeling of lack of control, or uncertainty, that really wounds to the core the deepest. The hurt and pain of the original offense, plus the hurt from feeling a lack of control, combined with knowing exactly who to blame for your pain, makes it very easy to gravitate towards an unforgiving anger or bitterness.
Common reactions to pain and hurt
When we get hurt and lose this control, one common way that we’re able to regain some of our control back is to get angry and lash out. We lash out to different people.
- At the offender
- Someone we care about
- Someone random
- Even to ourselves, for instance, by punching a nearby wall.
By choosing to get angry, we’re now in control of what emotions we feel. Now we’re not feeling helpless, now we feel powerful again! Anger allows us to be on the offensive, as opposed to being hurt by someone else, and on the defensive.
Besides anger being the most common, there are a lot of other unhealthy ways we can regain control, which includes the following:
These options are not healthy, and over the long-term, they will cause much more hurt and pain and long-lasting consequences in a person’s life than the original offense would have.
how fear affects us
Ok, so lack of control makes sense, but then how does fear fit into all of this? Fear leads us to believe many things:
- It is fear that subconsciously makes us feel like forgiveness is not a viable option we could also use to regain our control.
- It is fear that leads us to believe that if we forgive then we’re weak.
- Fear is the one that causes us to believe that if we forgive, as opposed to getting angry, then we will invite future attacks.
- It is fear that says if I don’t get mad and fight back, they will get away with this behavior, and probably keep doing it.
Our fear is a subtle deception because it causes us to respond to the offense in a way that takes a stand against it. But have you really taken a stand? There is some truth to this —but it’s not the whole truth. We should take a stand against injustice. But are we incapable, of both taking a stand and forgiving them? We can, and should, both take a stand and forgive them.
Examine yourself deeply. Think about the person who offended you and how it makes you feel. While you do this, pay attention to where your mind goes immediately afterwards.
- Do you go to anger, bitterness, etc.?
- Does it make you feel more in control?
Better to forgive than to hang on to your anger
Remember, hanging on to bitterness and anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. Choose to forgive them and set yourself free! Notice the words that I used. Choose. It’s a choice! You can be in control, and in a healthy way, by choosing to forgive them. And you can choose to do this whether they have apologized or not, whether they deserve it or not. It’s your choice.
“We can’t control what others do that hurt us—We can only control what we do in response to that hurt.” This is the empowering truth. Making the conscious decision to forgive someone who has hurt you is one of the healthiest, and most empowering, things you can do in response to that hurt.
Hanging on to things like grudges, bitterness, or resentment will foster an environment of stress, in both your mind and your body.
- Are you stressed?
- On an emotional roller coaster all throughout the day?
- Do you feel aches and pains throughout your body?
- Do you have unexplainable recurring nightmares or difficulty sleeping?
- Are you using medication to suppress all of these things, just to get some balance back, or just to get through the day?
Whether it’s the form of pharmaceutical drugs or alcohol or illicit drugs, these things could actually just be crutches used to suppress the emotional and mental stress stemming from your past hurts and hangups. Forgiveness can set you free! Over time, a lifestyle of forgiveness will begin to produce a happier and healthier you—emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.