Feeling wronged can seem unbearable, especially when the pain is caused by someone we truly care about. When this feeling is allowed to fester, it can result in arduous years of resentment and even shorten one’s life. To avoid unnecessary suffering, try these five steps to forgiving. They will help you change your perspective and make peace with yourself and the other party.
1. Analyze whether the wrongdoing was intentional
Instead of allowing a negative narrative to develop in your mind, consider whether the person meant to hurt your feelings. There is a good chance they are not even aware of the pain they have caused you.
A heart-to-heart talk could spare you days or even years of baseless resentment. By expressing our thoughts and explaining our feelings with all sincerity, we can come to a mutual understanding. The Confucian scholar Mencius once said, “We can gain people’s trust and understanding only when our inner thoughts are revealed clearly in our faces and words.”
If, after reflecting on the matter we realize that the offense was undeniably intentional, gather your strength and follow the next steps.
2. Shift the focus from others to yourself
Perhaps the other party’s hurtful actions were in response to your behavior. Ask yourself, “Have any of my actions brought about this situation? How have my thoughts, deeds and attitudes contributed to this situation?”
This self-examination requires immense courage and honesty, but it is equally rewarding as Mencius also stated thousands of years ago: “There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity on self-examination.”
This step allows us to break away from the victim mentality and gives us power to shape our lives by resolving to make the right choices. A sincere apology on your part is the quickest way to resolve any misunderstanding.
If you find yourself to be at no fault, the next step is compassion.
3. Develop Compassion
Showing compassion to those who hurt us may not be our initial response, yet it is a position you can only benefit from. It may come somewhat easier towards unhappy individuals.
Perhaps they had a difficult childhood and their personality was shaped as a defense mechanism. Research has found that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have a significant impact on the physical, mental and emotional development of individuals. While their actions may cause pain in others, it is probable that they are silently carrying greater suffering within.
But what about those who seem relatively happy, or even take pleasure in causing you pain? Then we need to remember that everything happens for a reason, whether we can see it or not. A traditional Buddhist tale gives a good example.
The story tells that a mouse was lying dead under the blazing sun. When a merchant passed by and saw the decomposing little body, he covered his nose in disgust and continued his journey. Later, a scholar passed by. When he saw the pitiful creature rotting in the heat, he was moved to give it a dignified death and buried the body on the spot.
Many years later, Buddha Shakyamuni’s disciple Ananda encountered an old woman who chastised him for no reason and refused to give him a drink of water. The Buddha asked another of his disciples, Shariputra, to apologize to the woman for whatever offense she perceived. To everyone’s surprise, the woman was exceedingly kind to Shariputra, and even made an offering.
The Buddha explained that in their past lives, Ananda had been the merchant repelled by the dead mouse (the woman), while Shariputra had been the scholar who had shown her compassion.
It’s impossible to know the extent to which we have hurt others in our past lives. According to the theory of karmic retribution, we pay our debts by suffering in the same proportion that we inflicted pain on others. Although her heartless attitude toward Ananda seemed unfair in this lifetime, he had been unkind to her in the past, he needed to repay her with suffering.
Knowing how painful this suffering is, empathy is bound to emerge when we imagine how we might have earned it, and we may even feel relief upon the debt being settled.
4. See it as an opportunity for growth
In Standards for Being a Good Student and Child (Di Zi Gui, 弟子規), a traditional Chinese textbook about morals and proper etiquette, the reader is given valuable advice: “When you notice bad habits in others, reflect on your own shortcomings. If you have the same faults, correct them. If not, never let them arise.” Although this book was intended for children, we can surely make good use of this suggestion at any age.
By this logic, any troublesome scenario can become an opportunity to improve ourselves, particularly when we are the party that was wronged. We can use this painful situation as a mirror to discern whether we harbor the same negative traits as the other party and reflect on how they affect the people around us.
For some people the process of forgiving concludes when the offense has been forgotten. This is one type of forgiveness and it may be suitable for many of us. However, if the sudden recollection of the event causes pain, it is a sign that there is still work to be done. Do not feel discouraged, though! There is only one last step to take.
5. Wish them well
Science has proven that negative thoughts can have significant effects on our emotional and mental health. By acknowledging the pain that arises when we remember the situation, we can unveil the thinking patterns behind our feelings.
Do we have thoughts of resentment? Do we still see ourselves as victims? Does life seem unfair? Thoughts like these may have become second nature to many of us. Nevertheless, there are ways to tackle them and realize that they are not really us.
Getting rid of these thoughts takes you closer to the end of the forgiveness journey. To end the process on a high note, summon all your fortitude and resolve to replace them with positive, healthy thoughts.
Recent tests on water samples have shown that concentrated thoughts have the ability to change the appearance and behavior of water crystals. When exposed to pleasant phrases like “love” and “appreciation,” water formed beautiful symmetrical crystals, while exposure to words like “You make me sick, I will murder you” led to broken and distorted crystals.
If our thoughts have proven to exert such an influence on the real world, imagine how strong positive thoughts can shape ourselves and our surroundings! Fill yourself with gratitude for all that you have been through and genuinely wish that person opportunities to improve just like he or she granted you.