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Tiny Wisdom: On Forgiveness

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Someone wronged you. Maybe they treated you thoughtlessly without your feelings or best interests in mind. Or maybe they hurt you with full awareness in a moment of anger orfrustration.

Your pride’s bruised, and your expectations destroyed. Why should you extend compassion to them when they didn’t offer you the same? Why should you reach out to them when you’re not the one who was wrong?

You could easily come up with a laundry list of excuses to stay righteous and unyielding. Unfortunately, no one benefits when we fester in anger, bitterness, or negativity—least of all, ourselves.

It takes tremendous fortitude to acknowledge we all make mistakes and let go of our pain. The alternative is to hold it close to our hearts, where we can feel right and hurt over and over again.

The Buddha said that, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Put this way, it makes a lot of sense. We can’t possibly feel better if we choose to hurt ourselves. And yet it can still be so hard to forgive and move on.

Psychologists suggest we don’t do anything unless there’s a payoff in doing it. We’re wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain; we’d only cling to a hot coal if we feared a worse pain in dropping it.

But that’s the thing: We can’t possibly know how it will feel to let go until we muster the strength to do it. We can’t even fathom the transformative and healing power of forgiveness until we challenge ourselves to embrace it.

Many times, it will be a challenge—perhaps the greatest we’ve ever known. It might take time, and it might require a sense of compassion we don’t feel someone deserves. Regardless, we deserve that relief.

In giving it to ourselves, we may finally feel the peace to consider that someone else does, as well.

Not all relationships can be healed, but all pain can transform into healing. That means it’s up to us to decide whether it’s time to let go of the person, or let go of the story that keeps us in anger.

It’s only in doing what we need to do to forgive that we’re able to set ourselves free.

Photo by mhaller1979

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About Lori Deschene

Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene is the author of the Tiny Wisdom eBook series and co-founder of Recreate Your Life Story, an eCourse that helps you change your life. She's now seeking stories for her next book, 365 Tiny Love Challenges from Tiny Buddha. Click here to share your story and follow on Facebook for inspiring posts and wisdom quotes.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/amymeizer Amy

    A really nice reminder. Not always easy to do, but definitely something to work toward. Thanks!!

  • Michele

    Wow! this is a big one for me. Still working on it .It really makes you think.

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  • http://twitter.com/amymeizer Amy

    A really nice reminder. Not always easy to do, but definitely something to work toward. Thanks!!

  • Michele

    Wow! this is a big one for me. Still working on it .It really makes you think.

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  • http://twitter.com/thebridgemaker Alex Blackwell

    Forgiveness is one the best gifts we can give – not necessarily to the person who wronged us, but to ourselves for making the decision not to allow the past to hold us hostage any longer.

    Alex

  • Nicolelemelle

    Probably one of the hardest things to do, but I bet it feels good once it’s done.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/kataclysmichaos Kaffer

    I’ve found a new meaning to the phrase ‘ to forgive and to forget’. That is to say, I find that to truly forgive someone for hurting me, I must truly forget that person i. e no longer have that person in my life causing pain and hurt. Similarly if that person is (unforgotten) and still in my life causing pain and hurt, I find it impossible to truly forgive. 

    This theory of mine however, is in the context  of removing negative influences from one’s life, and not in context of the spirit in which you’ve written this post. 

    X

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    I know what you’re saying. I think sometimes it’s impossible to forgive until we’ve set a new boundary to take care of ourselves.

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  • Nmargullis

    Forgiveness sounds very ego centered. Behind all conflicts lurks ego. Work on the influences of ego and forgiveness becomes irrelevant

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Interesting perspective! Would you care to expand on this? I’m curious what this looks like in action. If you’re feeling angry, resentful, frustrated, etc, what would you do to work on the influences of the ego and let go of these feelings?

  • Iya3000

    This is very profound.

  • gollum

    Why do I feel so very sad and depressed even when I have forgiven my girl friend who sometimes says mean things that really hurt me? This also happens when I do not show my anger for something she had done wrong?
    I am a person who tries to avoids arguments so I never say anything to anyone. Is this depression because of my inability to vent out my anger?

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    It sounds to me like you hit the nail on your head. If you don’t communicate how you feel, those feelings will likely just fester and bubble inside you. I know how difficult confrontation can be. I’m not a big fan! But it’s something that gets easier with time. It may mean seeing other people get angry with you–but I have learned that this is a reasonable price to pay for taking care of myself and my needs. It may ruffle some feathers if you speak your mind, but in the end, people do respect when other people take care of themselves.

  • Michele

    gollum-I know all too well about this topic and understand  how you are feeling.  I spent many years not wanting to ever let anyone know if they upset me.  As I got older, I got very sick for one year with many stomach problems. They had to look inside my belly with a camera only to tell me that nothing was wrong and my stomach doctor told me to go to a therapist.  Years of unresolved feelings and resentments manifested in me physically.  I soon as I opened up to people about all the things that had bothered me, the stomach problems went away.  Some of my relationships were compromised for that decision but now I am a healthy and happy person and other people are missing out.  I wish you the best!
    Michele

  • Michele

    gollum-I know all too well about this topic and understand  how you are feeling.  I spent many years not wanting to ever let anyone know if they upset me.  As I got older, I got very sick for one year with many stomach problems. They had to look inside my belly with a camera only to tell me that nothing was wrong and my stomach doctor told me to go to a therapist.  Years of unresolved feelings and resentments manifested in me physically.  I soon as I opened up to people about all the things that had bothered me, the stomach problems went away.  Some of my relationships were compromised for that decision but now I am a healthy and happy person and other people are missing out.  I wish you the best!
    Michele

  • http://droppingtheact.blogspot.com/ Taryn

    I was talking about exactly this today. About having compassion for others and perhaps reconnecting to ourselves. It’s only by letting go of all our baggage that we can find out who we really are underneath it. Thank you for this.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You are most welcome. I have definitely found that forgiveness sets you free. When I was holding onto anger and resentment, it consumed my identity. Releasing my bitterness changed everything.

  • http://howtogetarelationship.com/ Rose

    I’m listening to a Deepak Chopra audio right now “Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You” (great listen by the way!) One of the points that I just listened to and coincides with this post is about stopping the tug-of-war that anger can bring about. For example my neighbor has constantly made me upset, to the point of tears, and instead of forgiving her I held on to it and because of that new problems always emerge. The funny thing is, when I stopped being angry (for a small period I admit) she left me alone. Now I see that it was because I was not playing tug-of-war with her but rather looking inside myself for something better to do. She just naturally drifted out of my energy. I think when you forgive, move on, and stop wasting time on something so negative you reap the rewards big time. The biggest one for me, being able to live in the moment instead of holding on to past moments.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks for sharing this story here. I’ve experienced something similar in the past. As soon as I decide someone doesn’t have power over me, miraculously, they don’t! I will definitely check out that Deepak Chopra audio. =)

  • Lmeiy

    I recently found out that my ex moved on pretty quickly after our break up. After months of trying to get over it, reading articles from tiny buddha & trying to move on, it all just came back to me. It was a mixture of anger, disappointment & resentment. How could he moved on so fast while I was here struggling to put my heart back together. Seeing any girl that resembles his current girlfriend makes me feel small & upset, these emotional triggers make it harder for me to forgive him. I’ve been trying to let go of the past for over half a year now, I really don’t want to stay this way anymore, how can I truly forgive & let go? How can I not see images of him & her in my head & stop feeling this heaviness in my heart ? :(

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi there,

    I’m sorry to hear about the pain you’re dealing with right now. I know it isn’t easy to let go and move on. The hard thing is that there really isn’t any easy answer–there isn’t an exact formula. It’s just about taking it day by day, doing what you need to do to take care of your mind and body, and then letting time heal the pain.

    There are a couple of posts on the blog that may be helpful to you:

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-let-go-of-a-past-relationship-10-steps-to-peacefully-move-on/
    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/knowing-when-to-walk-away-from-unrequited-love/

    I hope these help a little!

    Much love,
    Lori

  • lalala

    I just found out that my boyfriend essentially cheated on me. Up until this point, he has been the most loving, trustworthy man I’ve ever been with. I have upheld him as an example of how a girl should be treated. He is amazing. This image of mine was shattered recently when he admitted to me that he drunkenly made out with another girl, though he didnt even remember it. I know it could have been worse, and that he would never have done this if he wasn’t drunk, but I am struggling to find what is best for me to do – to forgive him because I love him and he told me a thousand times that he will never, ever hurt me again; or to respect myself and leave him as he has betrayed my trust.

    Any advice would be so helpful <3

  • lalala

    Is forgiveness the right thing, even when someone has so seriously betrayed you?

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi lalala,

    I think there are two ways to forgive: We can either forgive someone and maintain our relationship as it’s always been; or forgive and move on. The constant in both situations is that we choose to free ourselves from the weight of anger and bitterness. What this means is that we can do that without having to stay in a relationship we no longer want to be in.

    My question for you is this: Do you believe what your boyfriend said–that this was an isolated drunken incident, that he would never purposely hurt you, that he’s sorry, and he hopes you’ll forgive him? And are you able to accept these things, put them behind you, and stay in this relationship?

    You may need time to make that decision–and you should take it. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you’re able to let this go, if not now, then at some point. There’s no right or wrong here. There’s just what feels right to you. What does your heart tell you when you look within?

    Much love,
    Lori

  • shreyas

    purpose of ego is to protect and grow in the direction of the well being of mind and body…but the ego is defending the ego due to ignorance..

  • shreyas

    forgetting is a defense mechanism to avoid anxiety . Its shows inability to handle the situation.

  • shreyas

    If suppressed anger leads to depression and if expressed anger leads to rage. By understanding there emotion its best to show compassion.

  • Jess

    I want to thank you for writing this post. I have been having a hard time with knowing HOW to forgive. Reading this made me realize that 1) Forgiving isn’t about the other person. It’s about me. That sounds selfish, but it’s really true. It’s hard to think about forgiving when someone has hurt you so much. But shifting the perspective to forgiving for me, because I deserve to be happy, has helped tremendously. The rest will come. And 2) My story of anger is wrong. Thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not always right or the truth about your life. I let that story go and am on the path to feeling free. Thank you thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome, Jess. The first realization was a big one for me, as well. I’m glad this helped. =)

  • thefuglytruth

    Forgiveness is a lie. Conflict is the only real justice.