A client was recently referred to me because he was often angry and bitter. He frequently spoke to employees in a gruff manner. Apparently, his subordinates put up with his rudeness. I asked one such employee why he was so courteous and gracious when this leader insisted on insulting him. He claimed that he refused to let this man dictate how he was going to act. He decided not to be led by his supervisor’s negative behavior. He chose not to respond in kind but to act differently. He said, “Although I forgave him, I didn’t forget. Nor did I let his negative behavior direct my life and stand in the way of other relationships.” Maintaining an attitude of forgiveness is a healthy step toward actually forgiving.
When someone refuses to praise you for a job well done or a co-worker shows up late (or not at all) to an important meeting, refuse to act in a similar way. Don’t be tempted to pay them back by being late for the next appointment or by taking what is theirs if they have taken what is yours. Here are some more guidelines for maintaining an attitude of forgiveness:
•Remember that forgiveness isn’t easy. Being a martyr by saying, “It’s OK,” or “It doesn’t bother me a bit,” may look like forgiveness. It may look easy, but real forgiveness is definitely not easy. It doesn’t come naturally; it must be learned.
•Forgive yourself. Don’t have a double standard where you treat others more compassionately by forgiving them for things you would never forgive yourself. Whatever you did, whatever your mistake or failure, it is only a part of who you are. You need to see that. Separate yourself from your failure and approve yourself while disapproving whatever you did. You need to forgive yourself because you will never be able to receive another’s forgiveness, even God’s, unless you do.
•Try to see the person who hurt you in a new light. Look at him or her as acting the way he/she did because of fear, prejudice, lack of education, isolation, insecurity, ignorance, unhealed hurts of the past.
•Remember when you were forgiven. Recall those times with gratitude when someone could have held something against you and did not. Did someone forgive you when you were little? Did someone forgive you for something you said in school? Did someone show you love in spite of something you said that was hurtful. Remember how good you felt, how affirming it was.
• Consider the positive consequences (rewards) of forgiveness and the negative consequences of non-forgiveness. We all need motivation to do difficult, unpleasant things. Posting a picture of a physically fit person on the fridge may encourage you to pass up extra snacks. Likewise, you need motivation to forgive. This is especially true when the alternatives (withholding forgiveness, keeping score of wrongs, resenting, or worse yet, seeking revenge) are tempting. Forgiveness has the following rewards:
oIt turns around negative events, freeing the person who forgives as well as the one who is forgiven
oMakes hope, peace, harmony, and new experiences possible
A lack of forgiveness has the following negative consequences:
omakes you a less pleasant person to be with & consumes your thoughts
orather than bringing out the best in you, brings out your worst (hatred)
oleaves you preoccupied with hurt so you enjoy your time with others less
odecreases your self-esteem, depletes your energy, & affects your sleep
ocauses you to lose perspective & allows the negative event control you
ocauses you to manipulate others into “taking your side”
orenders you unwilling or unable to let go of the past and start over
otraps you in a vicious cycle of vengeance capable of destruction
Obstacles to forgiveness that you must overcome:
• Thinking that people who forgive are suckers, doormats, waiting to be stepped on by someone with more knowledge, experience, cleverness
• Avoidance of the painful memories and powerlessness, and reliving it again
• Not wanting to admit wrong or confess guilt
• Fear that the person from whom you ask forgiveness will say, “No, I won’t forgive you. You’re an awful person who did an awful thing. You don’t deserve forgiveness.”
• Thinking, “If I forgive, I may look weak, spineless. I may be letting someone off the hook. I should teach them a lesson—no one hurts me and gets away with it”.
Consider all of these guidelines, rewards, consequences, and obstacles. You may want to “turn the other cheek”, be firm in asking someone to put an end to the offensive behavior, or distance yourself from the offender altogether. Mending a relationship with a spouse or an employer pivotal to your career demands your efforts at forgiveness because these relationships represent a significant part of your present life and future. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be mutual or reciprocal. Even a sincere gesture on your part can be a breakthrough. To show that you’re ready to make peace, throw the ball into someone else’s court. It will free your energy from holding grudges or carrying resentments.
Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to www.AdvantEdgeSuccessCoaching.com.