Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? Have you reached out or are you still hanging onto the hurt? I reconnected with a friend of mine, who I’ll call Mary, earlier this week. Thanks to a big miscommunication about a job search nearly a decade ago, Mary and I parted ways almost as quickly as we became good friends in graduate school. She felt betrayed, and I was just plain pissed off. Rather than discuss the issue, we held onto our anger and self-righteous versions of what happened like badges of honor. Recently, Mary stumbled upon an article I had written and decided to reach out.
After spending nine years trying to avoid her at networking events and other functions, I felt a strange happiness about the prospect of seeing her again. My thinking had shifted to the point where I wanted to talk. Quite frankly, I realized I had been a big fat idiot and wanted to let her know that; she felt the same way. We spent two hours catching up with each other and realized that we had experienced some amazing parallels. Our inability to forgive had prevented us from being there for each other as friends – to share in the joys we had both experienced and to provide comfort during life’s tough times.
Realizing that you need to forgive and actually doing it are two different things. If forgiveness is something you want to practice, try one of these strategies:
Think empathetically. It never occurred to me that Mary might have been going through a difficult time in the years after our falling out. All I focused on was my own anger and how hurt I felt. In addition to promoting forgiveness, empathy is also a hallmark of resilience. Empathetic people tend to be less selfish, having a genuine interest in the well-being of others (Skodol, 2010).
Do a brain dump. Writing your thoughts and feelings about the event on a piece of paper will not only feel like a release, but it will also help you look at the situation from a different perspective. Ruminating about what happened won’t help the wounds to heal.
Connect. When Mary reached out to me, I was ready to accept her invitation. Your face-to-face encounter might not go as well as ours did, but you’ll feel better for having tried to extend the olive branch. You’ll have some peace in knowing that you tried to make the situation better.
Stop gossiping. When our friendship ended, I told my version of the facts to whoever would listen, and she did the same. The problem was that neither of our fact patterns was completely true. We took a bad situation and made it worse by talking about it to others.
Get professional help if needed. Forgiving isn’t easy, especially if the issue is ongoing or particularly traumatic. Working with a therapist or mental health professional can help you process your feelings and the overall experience at a deeper level.
While forgiveness has many benefits, I understand that you may read this and think, “This forgiveness thing just isn’t for me.” That’s fine. For many people, there are certain acts that are simply unforgiveable or you may have strong reasons for not forgiving. However, if you’re ready, I hope you give one of these strategies a try.
Paula Davis-Laack, is an internationally published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has helped train resilience skills to nearly a thousand professionals, including lawyers, educators, and military personnel. Paula will soon launch a new online magazine called “Build Your Strong” which will help busy professionals better manage stress and build strong, happy, and healthy lives.
Hebl, J.H., & Enright, R.D. (1993). Forgiveness as a psychotherapeutic goal with elderly females. Psychotherapy: Theory, research, practice, training, 30, 658-667.
Skodol, A.E. (2010). The resilient personality. In J.W. Reich, A.J. Zautra & J.S. Hall (Eds.), Handbook of Adult Resilience (pp. 112-125). New York: The Guilford Press.