I had rather an extraordinary conversation with a friend recently. What brought it about was unfortunately an unpleasant communique I had gotten from another friend. I was venting and lamenting to this friend of mine and she took me on a three-step journey that I realized could be applied to any situation where there are feelings of hurt or anger. I found it quite helpful in that particular situation, so I thought I would share the process in case you are wanting and/or needing to forgive someone these days.
Step 1: Ownership
The first thing you need to do is take a step back and say, “OK, does this person have a valid point?” This can be extremely hard to do when you yourself are feeling hurt. The natural reaction is always going to be, “Geeze, I certainly did not deserve THAT!” In fact, if someone asks you something like, “Well, did you do something to cause that reaction” you might actually end up lashing out at that person, right? Humans don’t like to think we’ve done anything wrong. Ever. Even so, it’s extremely important to step back and evaluate your actions or your words from the vantage point of another person. Did you do something that could be perceived as mean even if you didn’t intend it that way, or is this person reacting in a way that doesn’t make any sense? If you can’t determine this for yourself, find a trusted person who can look at the whole situation with an outsider’s perspective and see what they say. You might find that your effort to give results in you actually apologizing.
Step 2: Acknowledge that you might not know the full story
I often think of this story: A man and his three kids are at a shoe store. The kids are running around like wild banshees and they are irritating the store customers and the store employees. Someone finally goes up to the man and in a frustrated tone says something like, “You really need to get a hold of your kids. They’re behaving very poorly.” The man responds, “I know, I know. We just left the hospital. Their mom passed away and I really don’t know what to do right now.”
If someone lashes out at you for seemingly no reason, or if they react to something you did but the reaction seems a bit over the top, pause before you immediately retort in anger or in hurt. Maybe there’s something going on with that person that you don’t know about. Maybe, without realizing it, you said something that opened up an old wound. Human beings are covered in these invisible traps. You could mention something in passing and it could totally throw a person into turmoil for reasons you can’t even begin to comprehend. If you know the person well enough, and if the time seems right, perhaps make sure that there isn’t something else going on that is causing them to be off-balance. In this case, your path to forgiveness could result in helping someone out.
Step 3: Remember that failing to forgive only adds weight to your shoulders
Maybe someone has done something that for you hedges on the level of betrayal. Maybe they have cut you to the core. You don’t feel you deserved it and frankly you don’t care if they’re “Going through something.” You have no interest in letting them off free and clear with your forgiveness.
This might seem logical – if you are mad at someone right now maybe you’re saying “Amen.” But here’s the problem, and unfortunately it’s something people often have to learn the hard way. Forgiveness frees YOU. It in most cases probably impacts you more than it impacts the person you’re forgiving, oddly enough. By saying, “I forgive you,” and by really trying to mean it, what you are actually doing is saying, “I’m not going to carry around the results of this exchange. I’m going to leave it by the side of the road and move on.” If you don’t forgive, the event will just keep eating away at you. You’ll keep analyzing it. Maybe it will change in your head over the span of days/weeks/months/years until it becomes all-consuming.
In the worst case scenario, you will lose that person you’re mad at before things can get resolved. At that point, all you may be left with is the bad feelings about them until you can work it out, and then it is too late. Life is uncertain and too short to take such risks, don’t you think?
None of this is easy, of course, and in the online world it is all too easy to fight back before thinking. Those fingers of ours can start typing before we even realize we have a keyboard at our fingertips. But I have found that these three steps in recent times have helped me prevent relatively small events from snowballing out of control. I hope they serve you in a similar fashion.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8185675@N07/3633152013/ via Creative Commons