Many people find it hard to forgive. As we go through life, it’s inevitable that we’ll come across people who wrong us in one way or another. From the one who cuts you off in traffic to the one who puts you on hold and forgets about you, there’s no shortage of people out there who aren’t treating us exactly the way we’d like. Unfortunately, we’re rather limited in our ability to influence their behavior. But the good news is that we have a lot of control over how we react to them.
First of all, keep in mind that it’s generally in your best interest to forgive people. Choosing to carry a grudge forever keeps you from ever repairing the relationship. Long after you’ve forgotten what the other person actually did, you’re still focused on being mad at them because you’re stuck in that habit. It’s very easy to blow something way out of proportion because you think too much about what went wrong instead of how to make it right. Don’t be too attached to your anger.
Another thing to consider is what you accomplish by not forgiving. You might decide never to forgive Hitler, and I can’t really object to that. In that case, many people would consider forgiveness to mean compromising their integrity. But what about someone who just made a rude comment about you? Do you really need to be mad at them forever? Is it really worth the stress and the higher blood pressure, or can you just let it go? Just because you might be justified in being mad, doesn’t mean it’s your best option.
To be able to forgive others, it’s helpful to understand where they’re coming from. Sometimes we make assumptions that someone must be a jerk to act a certain way, when there might be factors we aren’t considering.
The person who cut you off in traffic? Maybe they were racing to the hospital. Maybe they were late to an interview for a job that they really need. Maybe they swerved to avoid someone else.
The person who put you on hold and forgot about you? Maybe they were severely understaffed because some people were sick that day. Maybe they were trying to track down the perfect person to solve your problem. Maybe their phone system malfunctioned and you got transferred to the wrong place.
The person at the store who gave you bad service? Maybe it was their first day. Maybe they hadn’t been trained properly. Maybe they had a bad experience with the previous customer that had them frazzled.
In many cases, the person who wronged you might have acted completely out of character for some reason, and they might truly be sorry. It’s also possible that they don’t even know they did anything wrong! Try not to make assumptions, and just talk to them instead. Say what they did, why you think it was wrong, and how it made you feel. If they didn’t mean for it to be an act of vengeance, then why not forgive them?
Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. If someone else makes a mistake, we’re more objective about it, and we can see that they really did the best they could. If we make the same mistake, it’s a lot harder to be objective. We think back over all the details and see how many things we could have done differently. Other people might say it’s OK, but how do you appease your own toughest critic?
As with other people, you need to consider what you have to gain by not forgiving yourself. Usually it’s very little. If you can make the situation right, do it. Otherwise, work on doing better next time. If necessary, avoid similar situations until you’re sure you can handle them better. But don’t wallow in guilt. It’s one of the most useless emotions of all.
Is there anyone you need to forgive today?
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