When you’ve been badly hurt, opening your heart in forgiveness can be astonishingly hard. But studies show that forgiving is the quickest path to peace, joy and inner freedom so you can both begin to heal. We tapped the expert advice of psychologist and The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook ($14.96, Amazon) co-author Chris Germer, Ph.D, renowned Bible teacher and Enjoying Everyday Life radio host Joyce Meyer, and friendship expert and GirlFriendCircles founder Shasta Nelson, for their best advice on how to move forward after someone has done you wrong. Read on to find out how to let go of a grudge in six steps.
Make a Wish
Proven to melt stress, boost immunity and help us forge healthier bonds, forgiveness doesn’t just feel good —it’s good for us. But it’s unrealistic to think we can just flip a switch and let go of hurt feelings, says Germer. “In fact, trying to do so when we’re not ready can lead to ‘forgiveness bypass’ — a premature, faux forgiveness that leaves us feeling empty.”
So, what’s the first step to true forgiveness?“Express a wish to forgive, out loud,” he says. “Our intentions lead our emotions, so simply saying it sets us on the path.”
Tend Small Hurts
Before we can forgive for the big stuff, it pays to “practice” on smaller offenses with less at stake, reveals Germer. “I ask patients to recall a specific event that was only mildly distressing — say, a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Then I ask them to just ‘touch’ the pain, rather than be overwhelmed by it.”
These baby steps allow you to look at the incident with curiosity rather than sadness or anger and serve as a motivating reminder of how good it feels to forgive.
No matter how warranted our anger may be, holding a grudge can hurt us. “When I forgive, I’m doing myself a favor,” says Meyer.
The straightest shot to finding peace? “Pray for your enemies, even if you can’t stand it,” counsels Meyer. This takes the burden off of you, she says, giving your wounds time to heal.
If you’re ready to meet to discuss reconciliation, Germer suggests taking things slowly to give the other party time to reflect “Before you attempt a conversation, consider texting or emailing the person to gauge if they’re ready,” he recommends. “Emotions are contagious— just knowing you want to reconnect may inspire them, but it can take some time.”
Affirm the Relationship
We tend to think that in order to forgive, we need to rehash every hurt. Instead, spend your time together repairing the relationship. Nelson suggests starting with an affirmation of what you want to have happen, i.e. “I love our friendship and want it to feel better.”
Second, share an example of your hurt feelings and give the person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you tell them, “It upset me that you didn’t take my side, but I doubt you saw the look of hurt on my face.”
Lastly, brainstorm as a team: “How can we see each other more often?” Reveals Nelson: “This progression lets you affirm your needs while inspiring the other person to be your ally in healing the relationship.”
Grudge-Proof the Future
You can’t change the past, but you can make the decision to preempt grudges before they happen in the first place, promises Meyer. “I don’t know what may happen today or who may hurt my feelings, but I already decide ahead of time that if that happens, I will forgive right away. Don’t let what people do to you change you.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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