Those of us that have to interact with other human beings (so, pretty much all of us) know that people aren’t perfect. They can be rude, insensitive, or downright mean. Sometimes, people hurt us in unimaginable ways. But carrying around resentment and bitterness towards others can weigh us down. Holding grudges keeps us stuck and keeps light and happiness from entering our hearts. Here are four tips to let go of grudges so we can enjoy the present.
Tip One: Let go of your identity as the “victim.”
Sometimes we have trouble letting go of the past because we continue to think of ourselves as the person who has been wronged and the other person as the offender — long after the offense has occurred. The problem with this way of thinking is it puts the responsibility of our situation in someone else’s hands. We are powerless. When we stop thinking of ourselves as victims, we can focus on controlling our reactions to our circumstances. That’s empowering.
“There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tip Two: Recognize that forgiveness is not the same as trust.
Often, we resist letting go of a grudge because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness doesn’t mean being friendly with the person who hurt us, or reconciling an unhealthy relationship. It doesn’t mean we ignore repeated offenses or put ourselves in situations where we will be abused or disrespected again and again. Forgiveness does mean putting aside the need to seek revenge and the wish that the past had been different. Forgiveness is having faith that a higher power will make things right. Forgiveness is shifting the burden of vengeance from ourselves to the same higher power who understands — and loves — all of our hearts. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves.
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” —Paul Boese
Tip Three: Give yourself some love.
Another reason we have a hard time letting go of grudges is we focus our attention on the offender rather than on the actual pain of our experience. The moment we were offended was probably terrible. We may have felt embarrassed, terrified, unheard, unwanted, or unimportant. We hold on to the grudge and focus our anger on the wrongdoer to protect ourselves from negative emotions. But the grudge acts like a plug in our hearts, keeping pain in and keeping peace out. The key to pulling the plug on grudges is to give ourselves the love and comfort we didn’t get earlier. If that love is hard to come by, we can rely on our faith. Our faith allows us to tell our higher power about the exact nature of our suffering and then trust that soothing peace and comfort will follow. Our faith invites the love and compassion into our hearts that we need to heal our pain and truly let go.
“At the heart of all anger, all grudges, and all resentment, you’ll always find a fear that hopes to stay anonymous.” – Donald L. Hicks
Tip Four: Remember we don’t have to do it alone.
Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor who wrote and spoke often about the healing power of forgiveness. After speaking once in Munich, a former Nazi guard approached her, hoping for her forgiveness. She was paralyzed, unable to extend her hand — until she realized she didn’t have to create a feeling of good will for this man all on her own. “In that moment,” she later wrote, “something miraculous happened. A current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me…. I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”
With faith, we can tap into a universal source of love, healing, and forgiveness that already exists, instead of trying to create those feelings on our own.