Category Archives: Forgiveness

# 71 Deciding To Let Go of Bitterness


C 3 quarks/

C 3 quarks/

When you decide you no longer need the bitterness and resentment, you are ready to let go of it.  You are ready to forgive.  There are many ways. People decide to forgive when it just isn’t interesting any more.  Like an old movie that has been played over and over, it is time to put it back on your shelf and watch something new.  Recall number #59 by Mary Oliver.  Where she refers to sorrow, substitute bitterness and resentment. “When I was young, I was attracted to bitterness.  It seemed interesting.   It seemed an energy that would take me somewhere.  Now I am older, if not old, and I hate bitterness.  I see that it has no energy of its own, but uses mine, furtively.  I see that it is leaden, without breath, and repetitious, and unsolvable.”  People let go of old resentments by imagining them as snow flakes falling on the ocean, as sand castles on the shore, melting away with the incoming tide. People let go of bitterness and begin to forgive when they decide that they are tired of being controlled by other people and past events.  They want to stake out a claim on their own lives again.  They want to control how they feel, and what they think about it.  They decide that while they can’t change the past, they can change how they feel to day, and what they dwell on today. People decide to forgive because they are tired of seeing themselves as a person who is victimized, self-preoccupied, trapped, and embittered.  They prefer to see themselves as a person who is generous, tolerant, and nonjudgmental.  People who have forgiven those who betrayed them feel emotionally free, and they feel they have risen in stature as a human being. What method will you use to forgive those who hurt you, betrayed you, or disappointed you?

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# 70 Let Go Of Your Grievance Story


A second part of learning to forgive involves understanding how we construct a script or story over time about our hurt or betrayal.  All our experiences with other people involve a variety of experiences, good and bad, but mostly neutral and even mundane.  When we have trouble forgiving someone, we put on a selective filter and select out only those elements of the experience that support our perception of events.  Typically, this perception involves recalling the most negative aspects of the other person and their most hurtful actions.  We filter out anything positive about the person.  Then we select out only the most virtuous and innocent aspects of ourselves, and filter out any personal shortcomings.  Thus we arrive at a story about righteous indignation.  Bolstered with that story, we seek out confirmation from other people.  We look for past “warning signs” that the grievance was fated to occur.  We rehearse the story to ourselves subvocally, adding emotional intensity to the story each time.

Luskin says we construct a “grievance story.”  This phenomenon has been noted by others as well, however.  John Gottman, a psychologist who studies marital failure, says that couples who are heading for marital failure, typically construct a “distress-maintaining scenario.”   Instead of forgiving partners for past wrongs, they harbor and nurture resentments.  They withdraw from their spouses and rehearse these scenarios over and over in their minds until they feel sufficiently justified to pursue divorce.  They literally “rewrite history,” going back over past events and re-interpreting them as an omen of their partner’s future betrayal.  Janet Johnston and Vivienne Roseby, researchers who study parents and children caught up in vicious post-divorce conflict also found that these parents could not forgive but in fact, constructed “inner scripts” in which they selectively filtered out events to support a stance of righteous indignation, and that they often rewrote history.

Listen to your own story. How have you selected out the parts which serve your need for righteous indignation?

How have you re-written history? How have you sought to get confirmation from others, by looking for more evidence, telling the story to people who will agree with you?

Consider revising your story.  What part of the problem can you take responsibility for?


Luskin, F.  2002.  ibid.

Also:  Gottman, J.  1994.  Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and How You Can Make Yours Last.  New York:  Fireside.   Johnston, J. & Roseby, V.  1997.  In the Name of the Child:  A developmental approach to understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce.  New York:  Free Press.







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# 69 Don’t Take It Personally


rafters in river

Let’s focus on forgiveness.   No one can go through life without getting some emotional scars.  Most of us recall, perhaps obsess over, past hurts and grievances which we suffered at the hands of someone else.  Research in the fields of health and psychology has found that people who cannot forgive suffer broadly–not just from the emotional pain of the event itself, but they suffer from higher rates of depression, health consequences such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, and a more pessimistic outlook on life.  Even moreso, they suffer a narrowing of perspective that keeps them tied to the original hurt and unable to move on to new experiences.  The focus on the past betrayal takes up space in our mental life and sends out feelings of increased tension and irritability.  It becomes like an unwanted popup message on our computer screen, or like a virus periodically worming it’s way across the screen, eating up useful and important files.

A first step in learning to forgive is to take a larger perspective on the event that happened.  Your husband had an affair;  your boyfriend dumped you;  a co-worker got credit for your work and unfairly received a promotion;  you have never felt that your father (or mother) showed you the love you wanted and deserved, but loved your sister (or brother) better. One way to take a larger perspective is not to take things personally.  These people most likely did not do what they did out of a conscious intent to cause as much emotional harm to you as possible.  As we learned in #45, they most likely did what they did out of some human frailty–ignorance, fear, emotional distress, self-absorption, even thoughtlessness, carelessness, an impulse–that the flesh is heir to.

Psychologist Fred Luskin points out that one way to not take things personally is to consider the whole population of people this has happened to.  Affairs occur in at least half of all marriages..  Most of us have to kiss a bevy of frogs before we find our prince, and the corporations of America are filled with people who stepped on others on their way up the ladder.  Few homes are blessed with two perfect parents.

  • Consider for a moment the person whom you have difficulty forgiving. Most likely you make statements to yourself like, “How could she do that to me?” or “What she did to me was terrible. I am her only daughter.”  or “After all I did for him, the way he treated me was cruel.”  Write down your statement in which you personalize what happened to you.

____________________________________________________________________________________   ____________________________________________________________________________________   ____________________________________________________________________________________

  • Now, rewrite the statement in an impersonal way.  Here are some examples:

“I know my mother wasn’t very loving.  She was unhappy and preoccupied.  Her life was disappointing.  I guess she did the best she could.”   “I don’t think he meant to hurt me.  In a weak moment, he must have followed an impulse and did what he did without thinking of me at all, most likely.”   “He took credit for my work, but then he took credit for a lot of people’s work.  He got the promotion and alienated several people in the process.  I’m not alone.”




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# 60 Forgive Someone and Heal Your Heart


     We all know that our feelings interact with our bodies, particularly our immune systems, in ways that have a direct impact on our health.  In fact, extreme stress can result in a spasm of the coronary arteries.  Andrew Weil has written,

“… I advise you, as a spiritual exercise, to try to heal damaged relationships–for instance, by extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.  My experience is that the act of forgive-ness heals the forgiver, and along with many other components of the body, the coronary arteries might be beneficiaries of the healing energies released.”

Andrew Weil is a physician practicing holistic medicine and a widely known writer on health issues. He proposes that to heal the body, one must heal the spirit as well. Estrangement’ and bitterness cause fractures in the soul. Who have you been estranged from, unable to forgive? How could you begin the process of reconciliation? Perhaps you can write down your statement of forgiveness as a prelude to saying it in person. You do not have to lay blame or to accept responsibility for the estrangement. You can begin with a simple acknowledgment, such as, “I’m sorry that this feud has gone on so long.” or “I’m sorry we quarreled.” or “I feel badly that things took such a bad turn between us.”


Weil, A.  1997.  8 Weeks to Optimum Health.  (New York:  Knopf).

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# 33 Offer Compassion to Someone Who Acts Badly


DSC_0417“People Behaving Badly” could describe much of human interaction.  Responding to people behaving badly with anger and resentment could easily become the story of your life.  Do you want it to be?  I have come to view people’s bad behavior as arising out of one or several of the great human weaknesses:  Ignorance, Fear, Emotional Pain, Cowardice, Thoughtlessness.

When viewed in this way, we make a perspective shift.  The person behaving badly becomes small, human, flawed, pitiable.  We, in turn, let go of anger and become enlightened.

For example, the person who races ahead of you on the expressway and cuts you off… most likely does so out of a fear that others will get ahead of him or a fear that something catastrophic will happen if he isn’t where he wants to be when he feels he must be there.

When your child says hurtful things to you in the heat of an argument, he does so not out of an intent to cause harm to you but out of emotional pain, or thoughtlessness.

The co-worker who makes disparaging remarks about other co-workers does so out of a fear of not being deemed the most successful or well liked, or ignorance of the contributions of others.

The customer who is demanding does so out of a fear that she is not getting enough in life, or that she will be exploited by others if she lets her guard down.

The person who betrays you by lying to you does so out of cowardice.

Take one individual with whom you are angry.  Try to frame the person’s behavior as due to one of the above sources.




Now view the person as deserving of some small amount of sympathy.  Take some small measure of gladness in the fact (hopefully) that you are not that misinformed, afraid, cowardly, thoughtless, etc., at least not for toady.

# 28 Forgiveness Is a Phone Call Away

gold-dot???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Is it such a bad thing to want revenge? If you have been wronged, betrayed, denied justice, don’t you think about how you would like to get revenge on the one who has made you miserable? We tend to demonize revenge and treat it as something out of our prehistoric, caveman past. We like to think that in the 21st century we are too modern, too enlightened for such a base emotion. Not so fast, says psychologist and researcher Michael McCullough at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. He states that the motive for revenge is hard wired into us and has evolved with us. We can see revenge at work even in animal societies such as the chimpanzee and the Japanese Macaque monkey. He argues that for most all of human history, it is the fear of retaliation that has kept violence and deception in check. Thus, this fear of revenge has contributed to the stability of society and to the safety of social groups.

On the other hand, McCullough argues that the desire to forgive is also hard-wired into us; it too is a basic instinct. Forgiveness has had evolutionary advantages. The act of tolerance toward one’s fellow citizens, and the tolerance for each other’s mistakes has kept societies harmonious and stable. If we never forgave each other, society would fall apart because we would be constantly at each other’s throats.

When are people most likely to forgive someone? McCullough states that it is when the person who has been wronged is reassured that they are safe from any future harm. It is also when the relationship between the two has “value”—they have a personal history together and anticipate being beneficial to each other in the future. This may help us explain why it is often easier to forgive someone known to us than someone who is a stranger.   When asked what a person can do when he or she is having trouble with forgiving someone, McCullough answered, “Forgiveness is often a phone call away.” He stated that he learned through his research that most of those who held long-standing grudges against another had never actually spoken to that person. McCullough found that, in most cases, a single conversation cleared up the problem.

McCullough was interviewed by Krista Tippett on the radio program On Being on May 2, 2012. You can listen to the entire program at this web link.

You may also want to listen to some of the personal stories recorded there and read the remarks of listeners who sent in their personal responses to the program.

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#14 Accept the Forgiveness of Others

following is from a journal by a man who thought he was facing death.  gold-dot“So I asked if he could get me a copy of The Book of Changes as??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? I hadn’t read it. Two days later, he turned up with a copy of The Book of Changes with Corrections to the Zhou Commentary. Deeply moved, I took it and went on to say that when we were children I thought he’d taken the mouth organ I’d bought, wrongly accused him of taking it, and then found it. I asked if he still remembered. There was a smile on his plump round face. He was uncomfortable and said there wasn’t any point in bringing this up. It was he who was embarrassed and not me. He clearly remembered yet he was being so kind to me. It then occurred to me that I had committed wrongdoings for which people did not hold grudges against me. Was this repentance?”

–from: Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian

It is easy to hold grudges against others for the wrongs they commit against us. We may hoard them like small treasures, savoring the sense of self-righteousness we feel when we re-examine them. Yet we seldom consider the wrongs we commit against others, or at least the small ones–the book we borrowed and didn’t return, the plans we canceled, the phone call we said we’d make but didn’t, the callous remark we shouldn’t have made. We are all being forgiven every day. We move about in a sea of benevolence.

Consider wrongs which you may have committed against others, and how they have forgiven you. List examples of times you acted badly, disappointed someone, failed to make amends. .

Repeat this phrase to yourself several times today. “I am grateful for the forgiveness of others.”

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