The power of forgiveness is so important for our relationships, teams, and overall well-being. But it can be difficult, especially these days.
Resentment doesn’t serve us.
As the saying goes, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We are the ones taking the poison in and somehow think it will impact the other person, but it usually doesn’t.
What can we do to release resentment and forgive the people around us?
We all hold onto those little subtle things that we don’t know how to address – things that create resentment in our lives and build up over time. These small things damage our relationships and trust. They impact our teams and culture.
We have to learn how to address these things, but first, we must understand why many of us find it so hard to forgive.
What Makes Forgiveness So Challenging?
Forgiveness is challenging for many reasons. Here are a few of them.
1. We aren’t taught forgiveness.
Most of us do not learn much about forgiveness as we grow up. We learn how to navigate relationships and conflicts, but we don’t learn how to forgive after getting let down, disappointed, or heartbroken.
If we did get any education around forgiveness, it was to ‘let it go.’ While there is good intention underneath that, it’s not always helpful or empowering.
2. We don’t like to forgive.
Let’s be honest, we sometimes like holding grudges and resentments. We get off on feeling morally superior to others and holding resentments.
And while holding on to grudges is not healthy, helpful, or pleasurable, there is something we get out of it. We think holding onto grudges allows us to get rid of some of the pain and negativity, but it doesn’t get to the root of it and doesn’t allow us to be free.
In addition to this, many of us don’t like to forgive because we use it as an excuse for why things aren’t working out in our lives. It’s easier to blame others or unfair circumstances, than it is to take responsibility for our lives.
3. Sometimes, we’re afraid to forgive.
Many of us are afraid to forgive because we worry that if we forgive a specific person or situation, we’re condoning their behavior and “letting them off the hook.”
We want people to be responsible and accountable for what they did, and if we forgive them, they somehow get a pass.
But this isn’t true. Forgiveness is for us – it’s about freeing us from the pain, stress, resentment, and negativity we carry about the person or situation.
Forgiving someone or letting go of resentment doesn’t mean that we’re saying that whatever a person did is okay. We choose to forgive that person because we don’t want to relive the pain of that situation over again anymore – we don’t want to carry around that resentment anymore because it’s harmful to us.
How Can We Embrace the Power of Forgiveness?
If you have trouble or challenges forgiving, you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with this to some degree or another. It’s challenging to authentically forgive.
So what can we do?
1. Let go.
Don’t run away to avoid it. Think about all the resentment you hold – big and small. Create a list in your journal or with your therapist of what you hold onto – the baggage you carry. List the biggest resentments to the smallest ones.
It’s very likely that you are ready to let go of many of your resentments. Do you really want to hang on to something that someone said or did years, maybe even decades ago?
I’m not minimizing certain situations or traumas. If you’re not ready to let go of certain things, that’s fine too.
But what are you willing to let go of?
Ultimately, it’s a choice. You choose what you want to hold on to and what you want to let go of.
2. Talk to the person directly.
Have what I call a “sweaty-palmed conversation.”
Having the conversation might be difficult and scary for you – and it might not always get resolved, but it’s a practical solution.
Most people feel much better after talking to someone they have an issue with or feel resentful towards – I certainly do.
And while having a conversation may make you feel better, it doesn’t mean that the situation is magically resolved. You may not feel better after talking to people depending on the issue or nature of the person – but it will often help.
3. Write them a note.
The note can be in the form of an email, text message, hand-written letter, etc. Communicate with the person with the intention of having a conversation or saying what you need to forgive and let go.
This is also something you can do to someone who has passed away or you no longer have communication with. If you cannot send the person the letter, just get all your feelings out.
4. Write an anger letter.
Write an anger letter knowing you’re not going to send it to the person. This letter is going to be for you. Vent on the page – get it all out of your head.
You can keep it for a few days and re-read it, but destroy it once you feel like you’ve gotten all your emotions out. It’s like a message to your subconscious – you get all your feelings out, and let go.
This is another exercise you can do if the person is no longer in your life and you have no other way of letting go of your feelings toward the person.
5. Talk to a proxy (or to yourself).
Voice dialoguing with another human is extremely helpful. It could be a coach, therapist, or friend.
That person will stand in for the person you hold resentment towards. Talk to that person as if they are the one you have the anger for.
It’s incredible what can happen when we do this because if we can get it out – get out all those emotions, feelings of anger and resentment – sometimes it helps us release our feelings of anger and resentment.
You can also create a voice note and have a conversation with the person you are trying to forgive. You won’t send it to them, but just like writing an angry letter, you’re letting it out. You’re releasing the emotions.
6. Practice meditation and visualization.
While meditating, try to visualize the person there. Imagine having a conversation with them about your feelings.
Visualization helps us remove negative emotions and focus our attention on positive things that can create change to our lives. Our minds cant differentiate between visualizing and what is real. That’s why visualization is such a crucial part of manifestation.
7. Pray and ask for guidance.
Whether you’re religious or not, ask for guidance. Ask for the universe to help you let go of your resentment and frustration.
Ultimately, the power of forgiveness comes from intention.
We can lighten our load and take some of the emotional rocks out of the bags we carry around, we can let go of the resentments that hold us back.
Forgiveness is a challenging but crucial aspect of our inner work. It is also a critical part of creating teams and relationships filled with authenticity and depth.
The most challenging aspect of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves – forgiving ourselves for holding onto a grudge for so long.
Start with forgiving yourself. Do you forgive yourself for holding a grudge?
Forgiving yourself is the first step that will open up space to forgive other people.
What can you do right now to embrace the power of forgiveness? Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, or questions in the comments below.
Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
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