What do you usually do when you have something that keeps coming up in a particular relationship? You know, that same fight you have with your partner over and over or that bad feeling you get in the pit of your stomach every time your boss calls you into her office. What do you do when that thing your father did just stays in your mind and you find yourself playing it like a bad movie over and over again?
There are three main approaches you likely have when you’re so angry with someone that you feel like you can’t forgive them. And you’ve likely found that none of them work.
First: Direct Talk
Maybe you talked to the other person about what’s bothering you but it didn’t resolve the issue, ended up making you angrier, or is just so “big” that it’s taking multiple conversations. The bottom line here: speaking directly to the person you need to forgive isn’t changing your feelings for the better. So direct talk didn’t work.
Second: Sharing Squared
Another strategy you might have used in the past when you were upset with someone was to call your best friend, speak to co-workers or basically pin down anyone who would listen, and tell them about the situation you can’t forgive. You repeated the story over, and over, and over again. But talking about something over and over again just gets you more upset. You start re-living whatever bad thing happened or was said and you just end up more sad or angry. To make matters worse, you got 10 different opinions about what you “should” do and that made you even more despondent. Reviewing old hurts, in our traditional ways, doesn’t help in the long-term. So sharing squared didn’t work.
Third: Brushing It Under the Rug
Lastly, maybe you tried brushing it under the rug. You just tried to “forgive and forget”. The problem is that you can’t muscle your way to forgiveness. The feelings don’t magically go away because you said that you were going to forgive. The bad thing isn’t forgotten and the thoughts just keep sneaking in to your head. Naturally, you then push those feelings underground and they come out in unhealthy ways (rage, overeating, physical pain, alcohol or drug use, increased blood pressure, etc.). So brushing it under the rug didn’t work.
So Why Don’t These Things Work?
These approaches don’t work because when you’re doing any of them, what essentially happens is that you create (more) Resentment. The word “resentment” breaks down as “re” which means again and “sense”, which means “to feel”. So, resentment is really feeling something again. This situation is reminding you of something that’s happened to you before. It’s something that’s upset you before and now it’s upsetting you again, but it’s compounded! You find yourself saying things like “he always does this to me” or “she never does X”.
As soon as you hear yourself using these kinds of generalized words, I want you to stop and notice your language. “Always” and “never” are not true words. Saying, “he/she never listens to me” doesn’t work because there has certainly been at least one time that he or she did. It also doesn’t work because the person you’re angry with hears this and immediately dismisses it because they feel like they have listened to you at one point. Now they really aren’t listening to what you say because they think there’s no winning with you. Even though they have “listened” they get no credit, so why bother? It’s a nasty cycle.
The question to ask yourself when you’re feeling resentful is, “what does this remind me of?” It must remind you of something, because that’s the “always” or “never” feeling.
I recently met with a couple who’d had a big fight about groceries. She had come in the house with the groceries on a Saturday morning and her husband started asking her questions about when the gardener was last at the house immediately when she walked in. The wife here was super pissed because he hadn’t offered to help with the groceries and she’d told him earlier that the gardener wasn’t coming that week.
All day long she seethed about what a thoughtless jerk her husband was and how he never listened to her and always forgot to ask to help with the groceries or other household chores. She ended up blowing up at him and he, of course, got defensive. “I just asked a simple question about the the gardener and you’re blowing this WAY out of proportion!” He saw this as a “her” problem while she was seeing this all as a “him” problem. The resentments continue to build on both sides now and nothing is resolved. Now there’s so much to forgive on both sides.
Whenever you start using words like “always” and “never”, you’re in a resentment . This reminds you of all the times before that you’ve felt ignored, criticized, betrayed, or whatever is hurting you. This isn’t about this one time, it’s about all the times you feel like they’ve screwed up with you before.
Start your forgiveness process with watching your language and rid your vocabulary of “always” and “never”.