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Hiroshi was in business with two co-owners who reneged on their promises, took advantage of her trusting nature, and legally cornered her. Until she could exit the business, however, she had to deal with them or lose everything. In desperation, she forgave them even though they had
not changed their behavior or apologized for it. She no longer trusted them or liked them, but she could now deal with them in order to protect her own financial interests.
Forgiveness Isnít Valid Unless It Is Accepted by the Other Party
This myth is reinforced by the common phrase, ďto offer our forgiveness,Ē as if forgiveness had to be accepted to be valid. Forgiveness is not offered. Itís granted. It is our gift to ourselves. It doesnít matter whether the other party accepts the gift. It is the giving that counts. If acceptance of forgiveness were a criterion for its validity, other people could keep us from forgiving. They canít. Forgiveness is never conditional. Forgiveness cannot be conditional and be forgiveness.
Once we get beyond these myths, we realize how important forgiveness is, even when itís very difficult. Our goal should be to forgive dangerously, as Mariah Burton Nelson has written in her splendid book The Unburdened Heart.
Letting Go of Resentments
In Step Two, you listed the people you still blame for your regrets. These are the people against whom you hold resentments because of those regrets. Resentments are a form of hatred. They are characterized by continuing anger at somebody or something for real or imagined offenses. Unfortunately, hatred in whatever form is binding, which means that you are inevitably tied to that which you hate. You are never free in hating but always trapped.
A simple test will prove it. Think of something someone did to you that you didnít like. Perhaps she slighted you, threatened you, or humiliated you. Notice how quickly your state of mind changes: from happy, serene, or satisfied to unhappy, disturbed, or angry. In the moment you returned to the resentment and felt its anger, your mood changed. Ironically, you just turned your emotional state over to the very person who harmed you. It was the thought of that personís action that took charge of your emo-
STEP EIGHT: FORGIVING OTHERS 161
tions and altered your mood. The person you despise just took control of your feelings.
With every resentment, we are victimized again by the person we loathe. Except that we are no longer the victim. We are the perpetrator. We have invited that person back from the past to inhabit our present, and once again we have given him or her control over our emotions and, thus, over the quality of our life. We have created a ghost and invited it back to hurt us again, asking the offending person to join us in the present to do one more time what he or she did to us in the past. There is a difference, however. This time, we are responsible for the pain the offender inflicts.
Resentments create a pool of anger in our lives that we can tap at will to distract us from other emotions, such as fear or pain, or to give us strength and energy when we want it. We summon that anger and fuel our resentments by returning repeatedly to the regrets that spawned those resentments, thinking about them, and getting angry all over again. In some cases, resentments born of regrets are so intense that they turn into thoughts of revenge or plans for revenge, whether or not we act on them. The desire for reprisals, paybacks, and vengeance against those who have hurt us is a tasty sweet. But it has a bitter aftertaste and destructive side effects. When revenge steals our mind, it drains energy from productive purposes and distracts us with counterproductive fantasies. When revenge becomes a preoccupation, it throws us into a constant state of turmoil, derails our lives, and excludes us from the pleasures of the present. In its extreme form, revenge becomes an obsession that sentences us to a desperate life of plotting and rage, exposing us to serious, even life-threatening consequences.
Resentments and thoughts of revenge are sustained by our refusal to forgive. They are deeply corrosive and preclude a rich and happy life. They also bind us to our regrets. To let go of a regret, we have to let go of the resentments that help maintain it.
Working the Step
Over the previous seven steps, you have examined your regrets, grieved your losses, acknowledged responsibility for your actions, and made
amends. You have identified the lessons and gifts of your regrets, explored and neutralized the toxic thought patterns that have tied you to them, and developed compassion for yourself, recognizing that your past behavior was the best you could manage at the time. All that remains in the process of letting go of your regrets is forgiveness.
In Step Eight, you will forgive those who have harmed you. If your regrets do not involve being hurt by someone, and you hold no resentments against anyone or anything in connection with your regrets, this step is not necessary. But if there are other parties to your regrets whom you blame for at least some of what happened, this step is critical.