When someone does something that harms or offends us, we often respond with anger. Feeling angry at upsetting situations is completely normal and not something you need to feel guilty for. “When you’ve had your rights violated, safety threatened or peace stolen, you have the right to feel angry about it,” says Steve Adams, Family Support Specialist for Centerstone. But is it okay to hold onto that anger?
While there is no standard to dictate whether holding onto anger for a long time is right or wrong, it can be unhealthy to do so. There’s a reason the phrase is, “Carry a grudge,” because a grudge is a burden you carry. When you hold onto anger, you are using your energy to keep something that isn’t good for you. You extend the pain you feel from the situation and add more stress into your life. This is especially true when the offender has apologized for their wrongdoing and has done what they need to do to make up for it. “Once the other person has apologized, they’ve done their part – they’ve released their burden,” says Steve Adams. “The best way to move forward is finding the strength to forgive.”
There is immense strength in putting revenge aside and offering forgiveness. Beyond showing strength, offering forgiveness can make you more mentally healthy, socially well and feeling like you are putting good into the world. However, forgiving isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
While forgiving is the best way to stop holding onto your anger, it doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms or offends you, it can fuel your desire for revenge. You might feel that it’s only fair that you get back at them so they know how it feels. It’s hard to give up your right to seek revenge, because it feels like losing. However, revenge only leads to more pain and likely will not resolve your bad feelings. Steve Adams says, “Revenge is highly antisocial and counterproductive.” It might feel good for a second, but it leads to more damaged relationships and hurt feelings.
Forgiveness is also hard because there is no tangible reward in the high road. Even though it is not helpful, seeking revenge at least yields a result – seeing the other person hurt. Taking the high road and forgiving may even leave you feeling unresolved at first. When this happens, it is important to focus on the good you are putting into the world by letting your long-held anger go. Remember that you don’t need to carry the burden anymore and live free from it.
Mindfulness is the first step to bringing yourself to forgive others. Take the time to check in with yourself, and then try some of these tips:
Recall when you’ve been forgiven. Have you ever done something wrong to another person, and yet they still forgave you? Dwell on these moments, and think about the way these relationships stayed strong even after the offense. One person’s wrongdoing does not have to mark the end of the relationship. Treat forgiveness like a blessing or a gift – the receiver feels good to receive it, and the giver feels glad that they gave it.
Measure the weight of your anger. Is your anger proving to be a burden? Often, there are already pains that came as a result of the offense – resentment only adds to this weight. If your anger is weighing you down, try to let it go.
Don’t dwell on the past. Did the offense happen a long time ago? If you are still holding onto anger that is years old, you might still be living in the past. Even if it doesn’t affect your daily life, thinking of the situation can bring you back to the way you felt all those years ago. Focus instead on the present, trying to be content with where you are now.
Maintain boundaries. Did the offender do something truly detrimental? In extreme situations, such as that of a neglectful or absent parent, it may be best to not let the relationship move forward. In this case, you can still forgive while setting clear boundaries for the relationship. You don’t have to reenter a relationship with the person for your forgiveness to be valid.
If you need help putting aside old anger, or with any other mental health challenge, Centerstone is here to help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) or visit centerstone.org/connect-with-us/ to get connected with care.
If you are in crisis, please call our crisis line, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room.
If you're still having trouble and would like to reach out to someone about counseling or other Centerstone services, contact us.
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