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Embrace Forgiveness

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- Somebody cuts you off in traffic and makes you late. A friend lies directly to your face. An unknown entity steals your identity. Someone calls you a hateful name. A coworker goes all Blue Falcon and betrays your trust. A family member doesn’t keep a solemn promise. Your significant other is unfaithful. A stranger (or worse, a friend or family member) assaults you.

All of these transgressions have happened to me, personally—and I’d be willing to bet many of them have happened to you, as well. When someone else wrongs us, we react with sadness, hurt, or anger. And depending on the significance of the negative emotions we feel in that moment, the event can stick in our minds for days, months, even years to come; it embitters us, forever keeping the feelings at the forefront of our minds, sometimes even morphing into a grudge. Holding on to these strong emotions has relatively minimal effect on the transgressor, however; they serve only to poison the one bearing the sadness or anger, becoming a festering wound which precludes any attempts to grow toward health, happiness, or resolution. But in an odd way it can be satisfying to hold on to these negative feelings; after all, we were wronged and are therefore justified in our righteous anger!

This is why forgiveness is so difficult; it forces us to recognize that we may not have any justice. It calls on us to be the “bigger person.” It tries to make us “let go” of the anger, hurt, and sadness we’ve held for so long, that has become a part of who we are—but it’s necessary for us to heal, to grow, to live, to experience love in our relationships, and to be 100% present in our day-to-day lives. So, if you’re struggling with long-held hate or resentment, give this a try:

- Express yourself. If you want to maintain your relationship with the other person, consider expressing to them (in non-threatening language) how their actions affected you. If that isn’t possible, or might do more harm than good, write a letter to them instead, and then tear it up or burn it. In deciding whether to confront the person, keep in mind: Forgiveness is for YOU.

- Find the positive. Expressive writing is a great tool for better understanding and processing complex thoughts and emotions. Journal about the impact of the other person’s actions on you, and then write about the good things that came from that situation. Every bad experience has some positive benefits, if you look hard enough. A daily gratitude journal can help, too.

- Cultivate empathy. You don’t have to agree with what the other person did, or even try to justify it. But it can be helpful to put yourself in their shoes: what things were they dealing with at the time? What were their motives? What are their struggles? How are they like me?

- DON’T try to forget. Forgetting is not consciously possible; it’s just not how our brain works. Instead, focus on ways to prevent being wronged by this person or being put in a similar situation in the future. Take the lessons learned as another positive of the experience, but know that this doesn’t mean you can bear it as a grudge or bring it up in later arguments!