Tag Archives: Forgiveness

# 71 Deciding To Let Go of Bitterness


C 3 quarks/Dreamstime.com

C 3 quarks/Dreamstime.com

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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# 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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# 45 Respond To Anger By Yielding To It




This is the fifth and last entry on responding to anger.

You do not have to respond to anger with anger. You can respond with humility and by yielding to it. This is very powerful. It throws your attacker off base. This is especially useful when faced with someone who is over-critical and fault-finding. Your attacker has prepared a barrage of verbal assaults on you. Your yielding to the force of it leaves him speechless. In assertiveness training, we call this fogging–making yourself as yielding as a drift of fog. You do this by agreeing with that part of the situation that bears some truth.


Angry person: “I can’t believe you’re 30 minutes late! Did you forget you said you’d be here? Are you addle-brained?”

You: “I am late. Yes, I did forget this time.  Lately I’ve been losing track of time.  Please forgive me”


Angry person: “You never pay any attention to me. You’re always busy or working. You’re off in a world of your own.”

You: “I guess I have been preoccupied lately and spending too much time at work. I do tend to withdraw sometimes, and I need some help paying attention to people and things around me. Let me know when I’m doing it, and I’ll try to do better.”

Consider how you have responded to criticism with defensiveness and counter-attack. What was the end result? Was there understanding? resolution? A felt sense of connection with the other person?

Write down the verbal attack on you



Write down your defense of your self, your counter-attack against the other person.



Write down a response of yielding to it, using the technique of fogging.




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# 44 Respond to Anger With Insight and Forgiveness

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 .    You do not have to respond to anger with anger. You can respond with insight and forgiveness. Anger in human beings is often the surface expression of emotion that arises out of fear, pain, ignorance, turmoil and confusion, or some other form of distress. See beyond the anger to what lies behind it. When you see the vulnerability there, you can let go of your anger toward the person. Here’s an example. I recently saw a woman who was distraught over her husband’s behavior. He was often paranoid and accusatory when she left the house, insisting she was going out to see another man. Looking back over the last few years, we were able to see how her husband, who was over 70 and retired, had lost the access to many of the activities in life which made him feel successful. He was terrified of losing her to someone who was “more of a man” in his eyes. Rather than argue with him, she began to see the fear behind the anger and reassure him that she valued him and would not leave him.

Consider a person you know who is often angry at you, or at others? Ask yourself these questions. Is he afraid of something? Does he feel betrayed, mistreated somehow? Is he simply uninformed, unable to comprehend things? Is he confused, bewildered, unsure what to do?


Write your statement of forgiveness toward that person and let go your anger at him or her







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# 43 Respond to Anger With a Search for Understanding


       You do not have to respond to anger with anger. You can respond with a search for understanding. Richard Carlson, in his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, suggests that when faced with angry people, we ask ourselves, “What does this person have to teach me?” Our tendency is to stop listening to an angry person’s statements, because our initial response is one of emotional distress. However, instead of shutting them out, suppose we only shut down our emotional response, while trying to distance ourselves from the person, and taking a bit of an objective, analytical stance toward their statements. This allows us to stay in the situation without feeling so distressed. Often what the angry person has to teach us is patience. The other person may have a very different perspective on the subject which we had not considered.  The experience may even be a window into the inner life of someone who is very different from us.

Consider an angry encounter you have had recently. Did you feel emotionally flooded? Did you lash back? Suppose you ask yourself, “What could I learn from this person? From this person’s anger? What does this person have to teach me?



Carlson, R. 1997. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. New York: Hyperion, p. 31.

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# 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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#25 Forgive Yourself

yellow-dotPeople who are excessively critical of others are usually prone to fault-finding with themselves as well.  It is as if our internal radar which is scanning theart show piece,bunnell environment is tuned to mistakes, errors, and lapses.

Learning to forgive others, and ultimately to live in harmony with the human race, begins with forgiving oneself.

At the end of Sheldon Kopp’s book, If You Meet the Buddha, is a  “laundry list” of words to live by.  My favorite is this one:  “I must forgive myself again and again.”

Toward the end of the day, complete this statement,

“I forgive myself for my mistakes and my less than stellar performances.  Today I forgive myself for:

If at the end of the day you find yourself reviewing all your mistakes and frustrations, your failures and regrets, bring your negative brooding to a close  with your statement of for-giveness.  Then shift over to asking yourself this question,

“What are three things I did right today?”    Write it out for today.

“What went well today?”

“What lucky break came my way today?”


Kopp, S.  If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. Bantan:  1972, re-issued 1982.

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# 6 Practice Letting Go of Mistakes

Buddha Statueyellow-dot Sheldon Kopp was somewhat of a guru to the psychotherapy field in the 1970’s.  In his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him, he summed up the human condition this way:  As human beings we stand somewhere between having total freedom to make our own decisions and total helplessness.  At least in this culture, we are given total responsibility for our lives without total control over it.  All of our important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.  We take our best shot, face the consequences, good or bad, and go forward.

All of us have regrets over past mistakes, wrong choices, the road not taken, the thing we didn’t do.  It is easy to see where we went wrong once all the data is in.  However, we are always making decisions based on partial information because we don’t have a crystal ball, and we can’t look into the future to see how things will turn out..  What did you know afterward that you didn’t know at the time?

Remind yourself you were acting on partial information and you gave it your best shot.  Now let it go.  Write down your statement of self-forgiveness.


S. Kopp, 1972.  If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  New York:  Bantam.

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