By Joanne Reid Rodrigues
WHEN we’ve experienced a tremendous hurt or betrayal, it’s natural that we’d feel distraught or even angry for a while. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, and the extent of the wound, there’s usually a process we need to go through to regain our peace. But healing is possible.
Just as a broken bone takes time to mend, so healing a non-physical wound takes time too.
It’s not time that heals, but what we do with our time as it passes. After a dispute or betrayal, some folks don’t heal. They stay angry and bitter for years – decades, even. So, time alone isn’t the healer.
While some people understandably focus on their right to be angry, others focus on their right to have peace of mind. Their priority is restoring their balance and regaining health. Chronic anger has a toxic effect on our mental and physical health.
Over time, as we make new memories and enjoy the company of goodhearted people, our attention is slowly diverted from painful events. Whatever we focus on mentally becomes a strong emotional force within us. When we give our attention to a new picture, eventually the old picture becomes weaker due to lack of attention. In this way, we cut off the nourishment to the old picture. Eventually it begins fading, and emotions around the memory fade somewhat too.
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Easter story. But is it realistic for us in daily life? I believe it is. And if we value our peace of mind, it’s the only way.
When I work with the concept of forgiveness as a therapeutic intervention, the greatest hurdle to overcome is usually people’s belief that forgiving is condoning bad behaviour. It’s absolutely not. Shifting this misperception can be helpful.
Forgiving doesn’t mean we’re permitting wrongdoing or co-operating with it. It doesn’t mean we need to maintain any type of relationship with the person or people who wounded us. And forgiving doesn’t mean we allow injustice to persist.
There are times in life when we have to take a stand for what’s right. Speaking out about matters of principle and supporting vulnerable people is always the right thing to do – even if it irritates some. We always have the right to defend ourselves and others.
Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.’
Forgiving is wishing no harm and having no hatred or malice towards those who hurt us. Far from being a doormat, it takes strength of character to rise above the level of consciousness that caused the trouble.
It’s an act of self-care, first and foremost. We can’t be happy if we’re angry. And we can’t have inner peace or complete health if we’re bitter or vengeful.
So, we forgive for our own sake. But if it still feels like too high a mountain to climb, let me put it another way: instead of using the word ‘forgive’, we can use the word ‘release’. Releasing ourselves from suffering makes good sense.
As I’ve come to see it, our lives operate under cosmic laws. In this, we’re all equal. We reap what we sow. What we do to another we do to ourselves. If we cause suffering, we won’t escape suffering. If we uplift and support others, we’ll draw to us equivalent blessings. Our actions have a boomerang effect.
Releasing ourselves from suffering, and releasing the other person to the cosmic law is the quickest way to regain our balance and peace.
There’s a quote worth contemplating: ‘Harbouring anger or hatred towards another is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill them. It doesn’t. It harms the one who drinks it.’ This is why forgiveness – or releasing ourselves from the toxic effects of anger – is the greatest healer.
When our past isn’t ideal, it’s understandable that we might long for what we didn’t have. But regretting the past can cause despair. Psychiatrist and author Gerald G Jampolsky said: ‘Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past.’
We can’t change what’s done. Longing for love we never had can only prolong suffering. And this is what blocks our peace in the present moment.
The hardest challenge for many people is forgiving themselves. We punish ourselves for mistakes we’ve made, evoking guilt and sadness. But whatever our mistakes in the past, we’ve all made them. If we’ve learned and grown as a result of the experiences, the life lesson served its purpose. There’s nothing to be gained from scratching old wounds and making them bleed again.
Every difficulty conceals an opportunity for us to learn from the experience, and develop our understanding. And with understanding comes a degree of compassion. When we see others making the same mistake as we once made, instead of judging them, we might help them. In helping others, we help to heal ourselves.
The Easter story is one of great hope and renewal and it’s as important today as it was 2,000 years ago.
In his life, Jesus performed many miracles. And the greatest of these was the act of forgiving his killers while suffering unimaginable agony. His killers tortured his body, but they didn’t succeed in touching his mind.
Ignoring his own suffering, Jesus asked God to intercede and hold back the cosmic law to protect his murderers from undergoing their inevitable fate. He knew his killers were oblivious to the fact they were activating an energy dynamic that would draw to themselves great suffering. He took no revenge. His compassion, in the most extreme circumstances, was an act of love so immense that it still reverberates in hearts around the world today.
I fall short of Jesus’s example every day, but I hold him dear. He came to help us and to show us our potential. When we weigh up the cost of holding a grudge or an anger versus the benefit of releasing it and letting go, the answers become clear.
Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and stress management. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com.