Disclaimer: Coaching is not therapy. This article suggests methods to practice forgiveness for minor life and interpersonal situations. This in no way replaces professional counseling for major life traumas (e.g. abuse). If you are in need of support, please seek a licensed counseling professional or call 800.656.HOPE.
A few weeks ago, my mom was in a car accident which left her car totaled, her back fractured and fractured fingers on both hands. My sisters and I were very upset about the situation, because we all realized that if she had a different car, things could have been much worse.
We were all so angry when we heard about the accident. There was a terrible snowstorm that day, and another driver was driving too fast and lost control of his truck. He left the scene without a scratch on him, and my mom was rushed to the hospital in a neck brace.
We were angry at the other driver because he almost took away our only living parent. We were angry that she was the one who was hurt and would be out of work for 4 weeks. We were angry that he was driving so fast during a snowstorm, that he was even on the road at all.
But all that anger left us feeling helpless, depressed, frustrated. We were powerless to change the circumstances. Meanwhile, the man driving the truck doesn’t even know we exist.
When I realized that, everything changed. I started looking at the accident from a different perspective. Eventually, I was able to forgive this man for what happened, and I started to feel better.
Here are the steps I took to move from anger to forgiveness:
1. Realize it’s not about them
This was a major game-changer for me. When I realized that this man doesn’t even know that my mom has three adult daughters, let alone that we’re all mad at him, my anger felt in vain. Because it was.
Think about it: even if you know the person who hurt you, do they know you’re angry at them? Perhaps they apologized for hurting you and you still resent them. Perhaps they didn’t realize that they did something to hurt or offend you. Perhaps they do know and they just aren’t taking responsibility for it. Either way, your anger is not affecting them; you are the only one feeling that pain.
What is your anger saying about yourself? Many times our anger is telling us that someone doesn’t match up to our idea of how they are “supposed” to behave. In our scenario, my sisters and I believed that this man should have slowed down while driving in the snow. But we can only control our own actions; he has his own set of rules and beliefs. And maybe one of those beliefs was that he was driving a safe speed.
Next time you feel angry at someone, try this: think about what you believe and value that is causing you to react with anger. Use this free BE Free Forgiveness Workbook to help you. See if you can look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. If you can, you’re a step closer to forgiveness.
2. Remove the person from the situation
Next, I took a page from Jen Sincero. In You Are a Badass, she suggests trying to remove the other person from the scenario in order to move from anger to forgiveness.
Instead of thinking about the man who caused the accident, I imagined that a driverless truck hit my mom. There was no one to blame, no one to point fingers at, because no one was driving the truck. If that was really the case, I wouldn’t be angry at the truck; I would be shocked (where the hell did that truck come from!?) and concerned for my mom. I would chalk it up to a freak accident and think about what needed to happen next.
So why do we put so much energy into blame and finger-pointing when a human does something to hurt us? By blaming the other person, we feel justified. They did something wrong or bad to us. We trick ourselves into thinking that if we are angry at the other person, they will feel just as badly as we do. But that’s a lie we can’t afford to believe.
Imagine if a book flew off the shelf and hit you in the eye. Would you be mad at the book? Maybe at first, but that would be pointless because you can’t transfer your emotion to the book. What if your best friend hit you in the eye? Doesn’t the same logic apply here? We can’t transfer our anger to another person; it doesn’t work that way.
Think about someone who hurt you or use the prompts in this workbook. Picture the scenario – where you were, if anyone else was around, the time of year. Now, picture that person as an inanimate object – a box, a water bottle, a motorcycle. Imagine the scenario again. Can you come up with a different reaction, a different emotion?
3. Take inventory of your response
Once you remove the other person from the situation, it becomes much easier to take understand our own response to the event and move from anger to forgiveness.
In my case, I took an inventory how I was feeling. I was angry, upset, frustrated. And I realized that those feelings really translated to fearful, helpless, powerless. It didn’t feel good to be angry at this man because the angrier I felt, the more helpless I felt. Why? Because I couldn’t change what happened.
This is really the bottom line. We’re so consumed with trying to change the past, even though we all “know” we can’t. We still think about what the other person should or shouldn’t have done, how things could have been different, or if only we would have…
We can start to take control of our reactions and feelings by being present to the situation and taking inventory of our emotions. Acknowledge that it happened, you can’t change it, and no amount of shoulda, woulda, coulda will make you feel better.
What is the anger really telling you? Are you afraid, lonely, tired, helpless, worried? Start by removing the anger and dealing with the root emotions. What are you afraid of? What makes you feel helpless? How might you address those feelings? What do you need to move forward?
4. Be kind, not right
I truly believe everything happens for a reason, so instead of being angry at the man who caused the accident, I decided to consider a different alternative. Perhaps this accident taught him a lesson about driving too fast in the snow. Perhaps he hit my mom, who drove a large SUV, to stop him from hitting someone in a smaller car. Perhaps he needed this as a wake-up call to slow down in other areas of his life. Instead of feeling that he was wrong and I was right, I used compassion to equalize both of us. This made it easier to move from anger to forgiveness. This important step has two components:
First, be kind to yourself. By taking inventory of your emotional wellbeing, removing the person from the situation and looking at the event from another perspective, you’ve probably realized that in the end, forgiveness is about you. It took a lot of courage to get to this place, and you need to take time to be gentle with yourself. If you feel like a jerk for getting angry, don’t. We’re all human; emotions are part of our journey. Congratulate yourself for taking back the control of the situation and of your life.
Second, have compassion for the other person. What battle are they fighting? What emotions are they having trouble controlling? How can we be sure that if we were in their shoes, we wouldn’t have made the same choices? Compassion goes a long way in healing old wounds. Having compassion for the other person doesn’t mean we’re justifying their behavior or actions; it simply means we aren’t attaching our reactions onto someone else. Like Pema Chödrön says:
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
I know, it’s easier said than done. But I challenge you to practice compassion, not just for the person who hurt you, but for all of mankind. When compassion is part of your daily life, it makes the process of moving from anger to forgiveness feel effortless. Try these affirmations if you get stuck.
Forgiving someone doesn’t give them the power; it’s the opposite! By forgiving someone who’s wronged you, you take power and control of your life and emotions. You decide when you want to feel better and can release the negative thoughts about the person and situation. Forgiveness takes time, courage and determination. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
If you’re ready to forgive someone, start with this free BE Free Forgiveness Workbook. It’s packed with questions and affirmations to help you work through your emotions and free yourself from the past.
If you have a powerful story of forgiveness, please share it in the comments below! You never know who you will help.