“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Up until my early 20s, I carried around a lot of anger toward someone in my life. I’d been hurt by a person I trusted, and for a long time in my adolescence I wanted to hurt them back.
I lived in painful stories and in visions of what could have been if I hadn’t been wronged. I blamed someone else for the life I didn’t have, and felt vindicated in the soul-sucking resentment I carried around from day to day.
I realize it makes less compelling writing to talk so generally, but these stories aren’t only mine to tell. They involve someone I love and have since forgiven. So perhaps the kindest thing I can do both for them and me is not retell the story, but instead create a new one: a story about letting go.
It’s a hard thing to do—to completely let go of something painful and forgive the person who may or may not have realized what they did. At my angriest point, I was convinced the person who hurt me did it with full intention and cruelty. I felt not a shred of compassion; just unadulterated pain and rage.
Then I realized: unless someone is a sociopath, they are rarely without feeling. And if they’ve hurt another person, even if their ego prevents them from admitting it, odds are they feel remorse on some level.
No one is purely bad, and everyone carries their own pain which influences the decisions they make. This doesn’t condone their thoughtless, insensitive, or selfish decisions, but it makes them easier to understand.
After all, we’ve all been thoughtless, insensitive, and selfish at times. Usually, we have good intentions.
And for the most part, we all do the best we can from day to day—even when we hurt someone; even when we’re too stubborn, ashamed, or in denial to admit the hurt we’ve caused.
So how do you forgive someone when every fiber of your being resists? How do you look at them lovingly when you still have the memory of their unloving action? How do let go of the way you wish things had worked out if only they made a different choice?
I decided to consult the Tiny Buddha Facebook community to learn how they’ve moved on from anger and resentment.
Readers offered nearly 150 ideas to help forgive someone when it’s hard. The ones that resonated with my most strongly were:
1. I remember them as a child and it’s much easier! -Joy Thompson
2. I remind myself that I forgive not for them but for me and that it’s easier to forgive than to hang on to so much anger, hurt and betrayal. -Sarah Clark
3. I just acknowledge that we are humans, so we are allowed to make mistakes. -Haydee Lizbeth Lopez Cruz
4. Remind yourself that they are not separate from you; they only appear that way. Then you will realize you are one, and it is yourself you are forgiving. -Justin Hayden
5. Do not keep thinking of the past or the bad thing that happened; when you let go of it, you get over the anger/bitterness that you felt and it clears the path of forgiveness! The best thing is time! -Ashna Singh
6. Remember that we are all doing the best we can at the time. -Diane Paul
7. Remind yourself of how much forgiveness would mean to you if it was your turn for a mistake! – Carol Mcbride-Safford
8. Wayne Dwyer describes how hate is love which has been turned around. Seeing the expression of what can’t be forgiven as love makes it easier to forgive. Were also all doing the best we can, according to our own evolutionary state, including those we find hard to forgive. – Lise Heeley
9. Because it takes less energy to love and forgive than it does to stay angry and hold a grudge. It brings peace to your life. -Linda Adams
10. I know that I need to forgive someone, not for their benefit, but for my own peace of mind. Don’t do it for them, do it for you! -Cathryn Kent
11. You remember why you love them. Love is about forgiveness.- Holly Chapman
12. Forgiveness comes easier with the passing of time. I tend to find that, if I am wronged, I forgive the person before they forgive themselves, and when I am in need of forgiveness, it is I who feels the guilt for longer. -Mandy Richardson
13. Stop thinking and just do it. Open your heart and forgive. -Lindsey Windrow
14. Don’t force it. If I don’t feel forgiving, I can at least not act on my anger. Eventually forgiveness will come if you welcome it. -Julie Trottier
15. Just learn to smile and let things go. -Sudharma Lama
16. Give up on all hope of a better past. -Matt Child
17. Every time you think of them send them love. After a while it gets easy. -Crystal Chang
18. Meditate, meditate and meditate some more until it’s gone! -Margot Knight-Guijt
19. The harder it is to forgive someone else, the more I am responsible. When I understand and forgive myself, forgiving others is easy. -Pamela Picard
20. Two different approaches. One involves restoring your boundaries and sense of protection first. The other involves focusing on what your body is feeling and stop dwelling on the offense. Both involve being present. -Chris Campa
21. Forgiveness comes easy when you know that what people say or do is about them, it’s not about you. -Kim Kings
22. Shift the focus, feel the pain and think of the thousands of others in the world who are also feeling the same pain, then send a loving-kindness message to everyone to be relieved of this suffering. -Nick Ong
23. When it happens I often ask myself “What strengths must I develop further from this?” Often the feeling of resentment just goes away, slowly but surely, because I wasn’t focusing on the person that wronged me, but the lesson that the event was trying to tell me. -Natassia Callista Alicia
24. I allow myself to feel again whatever I didn’t express “in the moment” when I was with them. Forgiveness always seem to follow those (usually) difficult emotions. -Cynthia Ruprecht Hunt
25. Write a brutally honest, emotionally raw letter telling them how much they have hurt and angered you, then tear it up and burn it. As you watch the smoke rise, think about the fact that you are not that hurt and that anger. It is fleeting, just like everything else. As the smoke carrying your hurt and disappointment disappears into the air, you can let it go. -Renate Wuersig
26. For some wrongs, I just have to remember that they are responsible for their actions and then it is easier for me to just let it be. -Karen Garland
27. By remembering that it will free me from the burden of the stress I feel, also, if I can’t forgive then how can I expect to ever be forgiven? -Leslie Brown
28. Just look to the future instead of focusing on what’s past…think of creating new good memories to wipe away old bad ones. -Elizabeth Lindsay
29. It becomes easy when you remember a time when you were forgiven, centering on how it made you feel. -Louisya Graves
30. Understand this: whether you like it or not, over time, you will stop feeling the pain, so why hold on to something that’s going to away anyway? -Nirav KAKU
How did I forgive when it was hard? I came to this realization: no one ever gets to the end of their life and thinks, “I wish I stayed angry longer.” They generally say one of three things: “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” or “I love you.”
After taking space to heal myself, I decided to cut out the middle man of time. I now set boundaries to take better care of me, but I’ll never regret that I’ve forgiven.
Photo by miss.libertine
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lori Deschene is the Founder of Tiny Buddha. Her first book, Tiny Buddha, Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions is now available on Amazon. Follow Lori on Twitter @tinybuddha