Forgive Yourself and Others - How to Get Rid of Guilt and Resentment
Years ago, i did something I had a hard time forgiving myself for. A friend pointed out that I didn't kill six million Jews. Another friend pointed out that if there's a name for it, you're not the first person to make that mistake. Those two comments added perspective that I was only human and therefore fallible and imperfect. I have learned to allow myself to be human.
If we were perfect, there would be no variation, no creativity. I have heard that if you're not making mistakes, you're not doing enough. I would add that if you're not making mistakes, you're certainly not challenging yourself to the point where you can grow and learn.
Humans are worthwhile just because they are human. You are worth the effort it takes to forgive yourself. Making amends helps. If it's impossible to make direct amends to whomever you wronged, you can make amends to someone like them. For example, I didn't visit my aunt in the nursing home before she died, so now I make sure I don't neglect my elderly relatives and neighbors.
The purpose of true guilt is to get us to change our behavior. Once we've changed, any remaining guilt is false guilt. Deal with false guilt by reminding yourself that it is a waste of your emotional energy. False guilt can hold you back from doing all you can to be happy and make others happy. Challenge false guilt with the facts. Remind yourself, "I'm not like that anymore."
Don't allow others to bring up long past mistakes. That is not being fair. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. If you've apologized, done what you can to right the wrong, and moved on, refuse to listen to accusations based on ancient history. Leave the room if you have to.
Forgiving others is also in your best interest. "Resentment is a substance that destroys the vessel used to store the negative emotion." "The best revenge is living well." If you are angry, use the anger as energy to improve your life.
If the anger is overwhelming, try releasing it safely. Write an angry letter and rip it up and toss it. Pound a pillow. Get in the car where no one can hear you and scream. (Stop screaming before you lose your voice.) Go for a brisk walk.
Some offenses are hard to forgive. Trying to understand the struggle of the offender can help. I found it easier to forgive my father's absences when I realized that, having seven siblings, he never got much parenting himself. I see him as a person who made mistakes, much like myself.
If the offense is ongoing and you want it to stop, make a plan of how to communicate with the offender only when you are calm. Plan to be clear about what you want and what you will do if your requests are ignored. Consider the feeilings of the other person as you plan. Don't bulldoze them.
Forgiveness, however, does not mean being a doormat. Sometimes the only way to stop abuse is to leave the relationship. Leaving should be sooner rather than later if the abuse is physical. Forgiving does not mean that there will be no consequences for negative actions. Forgiving means that the consequences are not delivered in anger and that the forgiver becomes free of negative emotions.
Festering anger can cause stomach ulcers, addictions, or even heart attacks and affect our relationships with others who have nothing to do with the offense. Resolve to forgive yourself and others, even if this means seeking professional counseling.
A quick end-note about apologizing: Keep it simple. "Sorry I hurt you," is better than, "sorry I called you a _____." The latter forces them to relive the insult.