Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Last week, a client talked to me about how a friend had done something to hurt him. As he talked, I couldn’t help but notice how his whole demeanor changed. He slumped forward, frowning like he was in pain. His energy drained. I was reminded of how our emotions can make us sick.
And so I said to him: “I know you were hurt by what your friend did. But how is it helping you to carry this grudge around with you? From where I’m sitting, I don’t see the benefit.”
Do you need to forgive?
Is there anybody in your life that you haven’t forgiven?
Let’s take a look at what carrying around that grudge can do to you. For one, holding grudges can lead to stress. Think of all that negativity churning around inside of you as you remind yourself, over and over, of what that other person did. If you have a grudge against someone close to you, most likely this is having an impact on your relationship as well. Being unable to forgive someone can also lead to depression. And if your mental energy is being directed to keeping that grudge alive, then most likely your ability to concentrate and care for your diabetes, is being affected.
Do you really want to walk around with all of this negativity?
4 ideas to become more forgiving
Take a step back and look at the facts. Use some mindfulness here, and imagine that you are observing one of those events from your past that you can’t let go of. Ask yourself: What might have been going on with the other person? Were they acting out of malice or out of their own unhappiness? Was I at my best? And finally: Are there two sides to this?
See people for who they are. People out there in the world are doing the best they can and, unfortunately, that isn’t always so great. But we are all imperfect beings, and we don’t always treat each other very well. Having high expectations for how others should behave can be a setup for a letdown.
Let yourself be imperfect too. Are you imposing your own impossible standards on others? While you’re at it, maybe it’s time to go easier on yourself, too. If you do, you will find it’s a whole lot easier to let other people be themselves. In other words, forgiveness starts from within.
Ask yourself a tough question. Is dwelling on what other people have “done to me” a way of avoiding taking responsibility for my own life? If there is an upside to holding a grudge, it’s that you can place all of the blame for what’s not going well in your life on others, and you don't have to work on yourself. But that’s also disempowering, and it leaves you stuck.
Taking the best possible care of your own health starts with creating a healthy environment. That’s an inside and outside job. Exercising forgiveness is a great way to replace inner chaos and stress with peace and tranquility.
Forgive. Leave the negativity behind. Preserve your mental energy for what’s really important.