“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
One of the hardest actions to take with someone else is to forgive them. This time of year is a good time to reflect on the challenges and power of forgiveness.
Growing up in a family of six kids ensured that conflict occurred between us, more often than my parents desired. Our childhood fights often followed “quid pro quo” rules. I would hurt my brother and he would hurt me back, or vice versa. Usually we held onto our resentments toward each other and wanted revenge because we felt hurt or wronged. The hardest part of these experiences was when my parents would make us figure out how to forgive each other.
At first, my brother and I didn’t want to forgive each other. In the same way, families experiencing conflict and pain may struggle with forgiveness. It is said that in order for forgiveness to happen, you have to “give something up,” or “let something go.” I take this to mean that we need to let go of our resentment and desire for revenge and see/accept the hurt we feel. For many, this is no easy task, especially when deeply hurt.
Forgiveness does not mean the behavior was OK or that you are required to forget the behavior that was hurtful. In fact, forgiveness may include creating clearer boundaries for protection purposes or new agreements between people and family members.
As my brother and I learned, quid pro quo doesn’t work very well with forgiveness; “if you forgive me, I’ll forgive you.” Forgiveness starts with doing our own reflection on the hurt we experienced and how revenge and resentment may show up. Each of us had to choose to forgive the other. We also learned that we needed to make new agreements with each other to “leave each other’s stuff alone,” or decide how we would share.
Interestingly, after my brother and I forgave each other, we went outside and rode our bikes to the park to play. We each “owned” our behavior that hurt the other. While I remember the forgiveness part, I don’t remember exactly what we did to each other. In that case, forgiveness helped us to be kids without holding onto the past. We soon realized it was better to have fun together than stay mad at each other, until the next disagreement occurred. Sometimes we need the help of others to see ways out of the stuck place of resentment and hurt.
Take action to learn the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness allows one to let go of resentment and maintain boundaries of safety. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to open yourself up to being hurt again.
Blessings to my parents for teaching us how to forgive each other and stay in relationship with each other.
By Michael Borowiak, MSW, LICSW