Imagine that you have $604,800 in your bank account right now. Now, imagine someone stole $20 from you. Would you spend the rest of your money chasing that person down to hold them accountable? No way. After all, it was just $20.
The number 604,800 happens to be the number of seconds in a week. It’s all the time you get. However, 20 seconds of a bad experience can ruin the rest of your week if you allow it.
When you make another person responsible for how you feel, you are giving them power over you. Dwelling on a thoughtless action, a malicious word, or a hurtful event prevents you from putting energy into creating the life you desire and becoming the person you are meant to be. Imagine for a moment that your mind is a house, and you are the landlord. You decide who your tenants are, the conditions of their lease, and what kind of accommodations you will give them. (The tenants are your thoughts and feelings.) Ask yourself: are your feelings of resentment going to get the master bedroom? Are you going to build your grievances a hot tub in the back?
Getting hurt hurts. But ultimately, you decide how much time and space to allow resentment, suffering, and bitterness in your life. Dwelling on your wounds only gives power to the person who inflicted them. Forgiveness, on the other hand, allows you to reclaim your power.
Recent studies show that forgiveness has more benefits than just peace of mind. It can also promote measurable health benefits, like lowering your risk of heart attack and reducing pain. Participants in one study reported less anxiety, depression, and stress, along with better overall sleep habits when they chose to forgive others.
Those are some pretty compelling reasons to forgive. But all data aside, our lives are simply better when we forgive those who have harmed us. Generally, we know that we are happier when we can let go of life’s little frustrations and disappointments. But when it comes to deeply painful situations, this idea is harder to put into practice. We tend to replay them in our minds again and again.
In one conversation in The Light Between Oceans, the wife asks her husband, “You have been through so much in your life, yet you are always happy. How do you do it?”
His response: “I can forgive and forget … it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. It’s too much work.”
Like many profound and universal truths, the reasons we should forgive are simple to understand, but often difficult to do. This is where empathy comes in. When you are reacting from a place of hurt, you risk becoming judgmental, resentful, or even spiteful. Forgiveness, however, requires empathy. Forgiveness stems from the realization that people are doing their best. And while their best may not be acceptable, it’s all they have to offer. Look at the people in your life whose thoughts or actions have hurt you, and remind yourself as many times as necessary that they are doing their very best.
To forgive is not to condone negative behavior. Forgiveness is not becoming a doormat or allowing the same person to hurt you repeatedly. The first step is forgiveness, and the second step is establishing boundaries that support your growth and happiness. Be clear on what you will and won’t accept from others. Paradoxically, the stronger your boundaries are, the more empathy you will have for everyone in your life.
Forgiveness isn’t something you give to someone who has wronged you. It is a gift you give to yourself.
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