I don't judge anyone for how they feel. However, at some point you have to ask yourself, "Is holding on to this anger and resentment healthy for me?" The most common occurrence is in relationships where your trust has been violated by someone (e.g. lying, deception, infidelity, breakup, etc.). I'm not suggesting to allow someone to hurt you and then forgive them unconditionally; I'm suggesting to consider your feelings about you, instead of focusing on your feelings about the other. It's much harder, but it will be worth it.
Sometimes it feels better to blame the other person, remind them of their faults, hold on to resentment because they made the mistake. It feels in control, like things are balancing out: from being hurt to punishing the perpetrator. It feels fair.
With that said, there comes a time when holding on to negative feelings becomes unhealthy and problematic for you, not the one who hurt you. Anger and resentment can blind you from what matters in your life. It can cause you to focus on the details, losing awareness of the big picture. Anger and resentment can spill into other relationships and experiences, and not in a good way.
For many people, letting go and forgiveness are associated with power. If you have been hurt, you feel powerless. You feel acted upon. You may feel deceived, manipulated, lied to. By holding on to feelings of blame, anger, and resentment, you are able to feel more powerful. It gives you a sense of purpose, a sense of direction. However if you hold on to those feelings for too long, those same feelings get the power. You lose control again. The negative emotions drive how you think about things, how you interact with others, and how you feel about yourself. This usually does not end well.
When you hold on to a feeling, when you blame the other, it takes away from your own responsibility for what happened. This does not mean you are to blame for someone else's actions, it means to examine if you had any type of role in what happened. What was your part? What could you have done differently? Anything? This type of self-reflection is challenging and can be painful, but it can be very rewarding in your own personal growth.
So how do you know that it might be time to let go and forgive? Here are a few things to consider:
Is holding on still beneficial for you? If so, how?
Is this a pattern in your life? Has this happened in previous relationships?
What is keeping you from moving on, what are you actually holding on to?
What was your role and responsibility in what happened? Did you have a role?
Letting go and forgiving is not easy. It takes strength, courage, and compassion. Not compassion for the other person, but compassion for yourself. Forgiving does not mean you are weak or foolish, it means you have the strength to move on from a negative experience.
Feel your feelings fully, reflect on the experience, take the good with you, learn from the bad, move forward. Life is too short to be looking over your shoulder at the past.
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Salmaan Toor is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Knoxville, TN. If you are interested in being notified of future posts, you can “like” The Family Center of Knoxville on facebook here or can follow me on Twitter here. Thanks for your support!