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We’ve all been there.
We’ve all heard of the same saying more than we care to admit ‘Let bygones be bygones’, ‘Experience is the best teacher’, ‘Forgiving is hard but it’s healthy’, or ‘Leettt it goooooooo’.
They’re all cliche, I know, but you’ll reach a point in your life whereby you’d think to carry around all that hatred and need for revenge is too heavy a burden.
ON TOP OF THAT, it’s a burden you CAN let go of. There’s an option of letting it go. Sometimes, we just don’t know how to and end up feeling stuck with that negative emotion.
Forgiving someone whom you think has wronged you or hurt you is hard work, that much we have to acknowledge, admit and accept. Don’t we all wish there was a panacea solution, a magical formula or, at the very least, a pill we can pop?
We’ve all met with people we trusted with all our hearts, every bone in our bodies and yet, these people have betrayed or misunderstood us. We’ve met people who thought had your back but turned out to be just a common traitor.
Similarly, we’ve also met people who actually meant well but had chosen to turn away from us simply because we were deemed (comparatively), the worse of two evils.
We’ll probably never come to fully understand why, how, when, who and what.
But does it matter?
All we need to remember is that carrying around the resentment, hurt, pain, and the need for revenge adds to our pain and science shows that forgiving is good for our health.
Holding onto all that need for vengeance and hatred actually, and this is backed by science, releases stress responses in our bodies.
Don’t believe it?
Try thinking about someone you really dislike right now. Chances are, you’re thinking some pretty uncharacteristically malicious, nasty thoughts in your head right now, aren’t you?
Forgiving is NOT forgetting
Organizations of scientists have done exceptionally in-depth studies on how our bodies react to the feelings of sadness, anger…and, in particular, the feeling of being either abandoned or betrayed.
Empirical studies were done throughout 1998 to 2005 alone, which was an increase from merely 58 studies at that time (I think they’re talking about studies done within the United States alone) to 950 studies!
It is through these studies that we have come to understand the correlation between the negative impact of our relationships with our brethren earth brothers now than ever before.
Here, I’ll relate a personal experience.
Many years ago, a distant relative who was known throughout the family to be one of the kindest, nicest, and most self-sacrificing member of the family, was senselessly murdered during a house break-in. We got even angrier when we found out that her granddaughter was also in the house during the break-in and the elderly grandmother who was facing the attacker alone distracted the robbers to the other end of the house so that her granddaughter could hide and lock herself in the room to keep herself unseen and safe from the perpetrators.
At the end of the tormenting time, the illegal foreign criminals were found, brought to court, and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Was justice served? I initially thought it was.
A couple of years later, I discovered that, to the immediate family of the victim, the decade-long sentence was not enough. It occurred to me that no matter what the sentence was, it could probably never be enough.
A family member lamented, ’10 years can’t bring her back. He’ll serve less than 10 years….6 years maybe….and then get out and do the same damn thing again’. It was the expression on his face that brought tears to my eyes because, in its ripple effect, it made me angry too. Why? Because what he just said could very well be true.
That robber may get another chance at life, change over a new leaf, go back home and continue living his life as if it never happened, but to the family, none of our family reunions from then onwards will be the same again.
He’ll never know the feeling of missing someone so deeply that you can hear your heart splinter into a million pieces every time you think of her. He’ll never know how it feels like to live with the persistent question of ‘why?!’ and never get your answer.
The thing with situations like this is, experts advise, it is better to practice rising above it every day. Holding onto such anger rattles us, raises our blood pressure and increases our chances of suffering a heart attack. In fact, it also tangles us in a web of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
I understand. The need to take revenge (I am not an angel) is hardwired into our brain, our response system, and our emotional ecosystem.
What if We Get Revenge
I’ve seen countless movies with similar plot lines — a guy’s girlfriend dies during a battle she shouldn’t be in. The guy goes absolutely berserk with sadness and bellows out his grief at the sky and promises to avenge the untimely departure from his life.
Towards the end of the movie, he gets his revenge and yet his eyes are filled with tears. He’s finally done it. He’s got the revenge he so needed. Logically, he found closure. He can now move on to greener pastures, be a better person and stop being a bitter, rage-filled person.
But more often than not, we’ll see the antagonist continue to reminisce about his lost love. Despite having succeeded in avenging his lover’s lost life, thereupon sits on his shoulders many other things — shame, guilt, anger, sadness, hostility, and forever-attachment.
It brings us back to the point of — did revenge do any good at all?
The anger, some would argue, has made him a prisoner in his mind and life.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you — Lewis B. Smedes:
Lewis B. Smedes is a renowned author, ethicist, and theologian with 15 books to his name which includes Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve.
Real People Moving On
While surfing the internet looking up the lives of people who were handed a rough hand of cards, I found stories about how people went about moving on after:
- a tragic death of a family
- the countless gun violence in the United States
- refugees caught in war zones
- an Auschwitz survivor
- and also the somber life of former Korean comfort women who suffered so much during the inhumane Japanese intrusions.
None of those topics and stories were comfortable subjects to look into.
I’ve also chanced upon an article about the death of Singaporean actor, Aloysius Pang, who died while he was enlisted in military training in New Zealand. His death could have been prevented. He was only 28 when the freak accident took place during a live-firing exercise as an Operationally-Ready National Serviceman for his country, Singapore.
Pang was survived by his parents and 2 brothers. What stood out for me was that the Pang family issued a statement to the press and pleaded leniency with the judge who was presiding the case saying simply: ‘One loss is enough. Other parents’ sons have a life ahead of them’.
Like my extended family who angrily mourned the death of their beloved mother/sister/cousin/in-law for three whole years, refusing to celebrate anything of any sort before the perpetrator was finally sentenced, the Pang family must have gone through the same disorientating emotional roller coaster of pain, sadness, blame, and grief.
There’s only one thing I can conclude when trying to step into their shoes and that is to see the bigger picture and acknowledging the fact that this sadness, need for vengeance, and hate can only drag on, if not for years to come, for a lifetime. If they don’t let go of the incident, they would be caught in a series of hashing out and then rehashing out of the incident over and over.
The Two-Part Forgiveness Process
I’ll admit that I have quite a few people in mind of whom I don’t have pleasant thoughts. And that is why I’ve pondered and researched how to best forgive the people and move on. I don’t think holding onto those grudges was going to get me anywhere. In fact, it will only anchor me to the horrifying painful times.
I am writing this because I KNOW I am not alone.
In an article written by Gusttavo Razetti who is a Change Leadership Consultant, Speaker and the Author of a book entitled ‘Forgiving is Hard, but Not Forgiving Hurts More’, he outlined two parts of the forgiveness process.
One: Decisional Forgiveness. It’s about making the decision to release that person from the social debt incurred by his/her wrongdoing.
Two: Emotional Forgiveness. This could be harder and might take a little longer but it is learning how to replace those negative emotions associated with unforgiveness. The author contends that it might even help us develop a more healthy regard towards the perpetrators.
‘We can see that the person we are blaming needs help, and so we help him. Helping him reduce our desire to blame, and increases our desire to be of benefit’ — Razetti quoting a Buddhist saying
I ain’t no Saint but the second part really gets to me.
Help him? It felt it ridiculous.
How do I overcome those naturally unwelcomed, ill, unbefitting thoughts to wanting to help him?
I argued, what does that make of our loved ones who died or suffered for no apparent reason? Are we not making light of their suffering?
But that is why experts like Dr. Frederick Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project contends that we need to first tear apart the feeling of victimhood. We then move on to helping ourselves depersonalize the experience and detach from it.
Understanding the Perpetrator
Throughout the research, there was one important takeway from these ‘programs’ and ‘studies’, is this — empathy and understanding.
‘I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice’ — Abraham Lincoln
The context of his quote may be different but there’s truth in it. Understanding the situation and the perpetrator helps you repair the relationship between you and THE EVENT. It has nothing to do with the person nor will it bring your loved ones back.
Because of the event, the relationship between you and the world (and those around you) may have been damaged. And if we want to move on in life, that damage needs to be fixed.
It doesn’t mean you’d have to be best friends with the perpetrator after forgiving him/her, but it means you’re letting it go and moving on. You’ll also be respecting the life lived by and restoring the dignity of your lost loved ones.
Your memory of them when they were with you should be almost-singularly focused on the positive.
And only in that release, would there be peace.
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Happy New Year, everyone!