We all have suffered pain and hardship in our life at one time or another. Sometimes it might have been unavoidable, and sometimes it is pushed upon us and beyond our control. We don't always know why it had to happen, but we know with a certainty that it leaves a huge impact on us. For some types of issues, it is a trauma so deep that even years later we cannot utter the words about it. In other cases, it is just a bothersome memory that might have bruised our pride, or perhaps, even our ego. In either case, we know that human beings are quite resilient and capable of moving forward and breaking free from the pain being felt from the negative events that took place in our life. We have examples of these already if we only thing back to times when we have overcome such issues in the past.
So how does one get to a place where they can learn to let go of past hurts and feelings? We learn how to forgive, in a way that sets us free from the bondage of bitterness, resentment, and even hatred. We need to understand what forgiveness is, and what it is not. In the area of mental health, forgiveness can be seen as a release from holding the offending person(s) in our mind as captives for wrongs done to us. Ultimately, the holding on to resentment or bitterness long term is really only causing us damage. The impact of holding on to the these grudges or negative feelings toward other people can result in mental, emotional, physical, and even, spiritual sickness.
Forgiveness does not mean that the person who committed the offense or wrong against us, is necessarily off the hook. We may not ever want to see the offending party again despite our offering of forgiveness - even if only to ourselves about those who hurt us. What forgiveness does, is it empowers us to set ourselves free from no longer being enslaved to our thoughts and pain. It is also perhaps one of the greatest steps we can take to move into a process of healing. Now, some may say, "No, I will never forgive [name] for [enter offense here] as long as I live." Well, the end result, is [name] is off and moving forward with life, while you are still at the point (at least mentally) where the offense or wrong doing occurred - and that could have been many years ago. You are effectively holding yourself back, thinking that you are punishing the person(s) who did this offense, but in reality, you are simply perpetuating a cycle of victim/persecutor within your mind.
Now, what if the person who wronged you, came to you and said they were sorry for what happened. Would that change things for you? Would you be more inclined to offer forgiveness, or continue to hold a grudge. Some people might offer forgiveness, but there are still many people who would likely hold on to the grudge. Perhaps as a way to keep someone at a distance from us to avoid being hurt again in the future, or as a weapon against the offending person so as to have something to always hold against them. As if to remind the offender of how you see them with a major imperfection. Again, you are the one holding on to that toxicity, and doing far more damage to yourself than to the other person. What ever the reasons of forgiving or not forgiving in either case, it clearly can be said that one approach certainly seems more healthy than the other.
There are times when we feel stuck in our grief or anger, and need to get a nudge in the right direction to move us into a place of better health and living. Counseling can be helpful with this of course. Seeing a counselor can be effective in helping you process your thoughts and feelings and gain a greater level of perspective about what is troubling you. Consider a counselor if you think that there is a need of help in moving through your pain that you are holding onto in your life. Most times, avoiding the pain doesn't resolve, the problem it merely gets shoved into a closet. Hopefully this information is helpful as you begin examining people you want to forgive in your own life.
Shawn Thomas Berthel M.S., is the owner of Life Path Counseling PLLC, and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He lives in University Place, Washington.