How to Become Strong Enough to Forgive
and Smart Enough Not to Get Hooked
William Stone RN MSN CNS
Anger is a completely normal and healthful emotion. It helps
us focus our awareness on situations that require our attention, and helps
us rouse the energy needed to protect ourselves from harm. But when anger
is frozen into cynical hostility or resentment, it robs us of our natural
capacity to give and receive the love and social support that protect
us from the emotional (chemical) surges that can contribute to heart disease.
Hostility can use up a great deal of energy and make us miserable.
Healthful anger is flexible, controlled, and specific. Unhealthful anger is anger that has hardened into rigid patterns, out of conscious control (either suppressed or explosive), and generalized to the point that it becomes a dominant emotional response. With counseling and practice, it is possible to develop a special awareness, one that creates the opportunity to choose a response that is appropriate rather than automatically reacting in ways that sustain antagonisms from the past.
Such practice can bring daily irritations into full awareness. One
reason these irritations bother us is because they are often connected
to lingering pains from our past. Eventually we start to realize that
the anger we feel isn't just the result of current events, but is
an expression of the frustration and pain that we have been saving
for years. It's like we are carrying a burning hot ember, maybe with
the intention of throwing it at someone. But who is getting burned?
We need to find a safe way to drop the pain of the past: the hurt
and anger, fear, guilt or shame that we carry around inside.
Another way to release hardened habitual patterns is with bodywork.
Forgiveness ... is an act of grace, one that frees you from the
burden of the past.
Ignoring or denying this pain doesn't make it go away. When this feeling
arises, it is important to discuss with someone you trust (such as your
therapist), so that you can come up with a plan to get rid of the pain
rather than holding it inside. One of the best ways to get rid of old
hurts is to learn to forgive. This doesn't mean condoning the person who
has done you wrong. It doesn't mean that you have to forget what happened
or lower your guard so that you might get hurt again. It simply means
that you choose not to carry the grudge around any more. It is an act
of grace, one that frees you from the burden of the past. It involves
seeing the humanity of the person who hurt you, the goodness along with
the flaws. You can even forgive yourself for holding onto the pain for
all these years. Learning to forgive is a skill that will take some time
and practice to master. It's a good idea to start with small matters and
work your way up to the big things. Don't force yourself. Forgiveness
doesn't work unless you choose it of your own free will.
We have a choice in every situation to be caught by the forces surrounding
us - to be hooked - or to choose our own response. Sometimes we don't
realize we have a choice, and we just bite at the hook because it
seems to be the only thing to do. We blame other people for dangling
the hook in front of us, but we are the ones who get caught. Even
when other people are in the wrong, we can choose not to be hooked.
We are free to choose the response that makes the most sense to us,
one that is most likely to give us the most benefit in the long run.