The benefits of not forgiving
Posted November 7, 2016
My ex-husband hurt me so deeply I cannot even express the depths of my anger, hurt and devastation. He has moved on and is happy in a new relationship, but I can’t seem to stop hating him and wishing horrible things would happen to both of them. I think I would feel better if he would just get what he deserves, but his life is just grand and happy instead. How can I stop being so bothered and angry at them for being happy while I’m not? People say I should forgive for me, but I can’t even see how that is possible. Help me.
There is a reason you (and most of us) struggle with forgiveness. The fact is there are very real benefits to staying mad or hurt. Ask yourself the following questions and be honest about why you might want to stay mad.
- Does casting the other person as the bad guy bring me a sense of righteousness myself?
- Does it earn me sympathy, attention or validation from others when I talk about how I was hurt?
- Does being a sad, poor victim excuse some of my behavior, because I’m so wounded and broken I can’t help it?
- Does it give me an excuse to be depressed and disengage from life and moving forward (which scares me)? What am I afraid of if I moved on?
- Do I feel as long as I stay mad, it firmly casts the other person as the bad one and me as the good one, and am I afraid if I stop casting him as the bad one, people may forget his guilt and think I was bad?
- Do I feel like letting it go would be saying it was OK, and forgiving would pardon the person from their guilt?
Forgiveness may feel impossible right now, but that is because you think forgiveness means something it doesn’t mean. You think it means pardoning the offense or saying it’s OK that he hurt you. But it is not OK, it was wrong, and this fact is keeping you stuck.
But there is another way to approach forgiveness that involves looking at this situation in a different way, which will completely change how you feel about it. It comes down to choosing one of two mindsets about life. You need to examine which of these is your current life perspective, and consciously choose which way you really want to live.
(If you don’t make a conscious choice about your life perspective, your subconscious mind will choose for you, and it might make a bad choice.)
The first mindset option is a judgment and condemnation mindset. In this place you believe life is a test and we (human beings) must earn our value. Here, any mistakes we make count against that value, which means some people end up being better than other people. With this mindset you see human value as changeable, based on our behavior, appearance, property, etc. In this place there is judgment, criticism, attack, gossip, guilt and a constant fear that you aren’t good enough because you believe that is possible. This fear mindset makes you focus on the bad in others and cast them as worse than you so you can feel better. This mindset creates anxiety, insecurity and fear of failure. If you choose this mindset you will struggle to forgive others because you must condemn them to feel safe and good about yourself. (This is where most of the world lives, but it doesn’t sound too enjoyable, does it?)
The second option is a trust and forgiveness mindset. In this place you believe life is a classroom, where humans are here to learn and grow. In a classroom you can erase any mistakes and try again, and no mistake affects your value. Here everyone has the exact same intrinsic worth and that worth cannot change no matter what bad choices we make. Bad choices just sign us up for some interesting lessons and create educational consequences we get to work through, but we still have the same value as everyone else.
With a trust and forgiveness mindset, hurts and mistreatment happen to make you stronger, wiser and more loving, and you can trust there are reasons and purpose in having them. Here, you can see the positives that each negative experience creates and you are grateful for the strength and wisdom you gain from them. Here, you don’t need to condemn others to feel safe, because you understand you are all safe the whole time. You understand your value is infinite and absolute and so is theirs. Here, forgiveness is easy because you trust God that you can’t be diminished and your journey is always the perfect classroom for you. You trust the universe that it knows what it’s doing, and from here it is easy to let offenses go and forgive.
The question is, “how do you want to live?”
Holding onto anger and judgment is like reaching into a fire to grab a hot coal to throw at your enemy, even though you are the one being burned. It would make a lot more sense to pour water on the whole thing and let it wash away. A trust and forgiveness mindset is the water.
Staying in condemnation of others is like choosing to be the warden guarding the prisoners at the jail (making them stay guilty) even though neither of you can ever leave. If you stay at your post to keep them in, you are still there with them (in prison) the whole time.
Let yourself out of prison, even if it means letting them leave too! Choose to let everyone out and do it for selfish reasons — because you want a better, happier life, free from pain.
Remember, forgiveness is not about pardoning the guilty or saying it’s OK that they hurt you. It is about choosing to see life as a classroom and seeing all human beings as divine, amazing, scared students in the classroom of life whose poor choices are driven by misconception, fear, confusion and stupidity but whose value is the same no matter what. It is about choosing to see every experience in your life as something that happened to serve your education. If the hurtful experience served you on some level, does it make sense to stay mad about it?
This is the one point in this article I want to make sure you get. You must choose a forgiveness mindset if you want to ever feel good about yourself. You must choose to see everyone as a guiltless student for you because it is the only way you can escape your own fear of not being good enough and create peace.
If you insist on staying in judgment and condemnation, you will be giving power to the idea that humans can fail and not be good enough, and this will have to be true for you too.
If you choose to give power to the idea that human value is infinite and not tied to our mistakes, that counts for you too. Remember, there are no benefits to not forgiving that are worth feeling horrible yourself.
There is a High Level Forgiveness Formula worksheet on my website that would also help you shift your perspective. Make sure you answer every question on paper and process your resistance to forgiving.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles is the president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is the author of the book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a popular life coach, speaker and people skills expert.