This is a story about 13-14 years ago when my company took over a small division of another MNC and one of their employees (let’s call him Mr. X) became our colleague. As the days went by, he found that the boss of the zone was not supporting him and was biased towards the original employees of the company the boss would try to corner him at the first available opportunity. My colleague was getting demotivated. It was very regular that boss would never give the credit of good work to my colleague and in fact would strive hard to get self in the limelight of the top management if any big order was booked by Mr. X. This went on for a couple of years so was the frustration, anger, and bitterness of Mr. X. The final nail in the coffin was when X was denied any raise in the salary in spite of meeting his sales targets and his promotion was kept on hold. His resentment was growing by the day and the following year he had to leave his job.
Mr. X was totally consumed by hatred, bitterness, and resentment for his boss. This always used to prop up whenever we had time for any official discussions. He was just not able to come to terms with the behavior of the boss and his perceived feeling of being victimized, did not allow him peace of mind.
Then, I know one more lady (let’s call her Mrs. Y) who years after the incident has feelings of bitterness for a person who played dirty office politics with her. It so happened that Mrs. Y and her colleague worked on the same project. There was a monthly review meeting of all projects called by the top management in which these two were to give the presentation about their project and its progress. Mrs. Y was requested by her colleague to make all the detailed PowerPoint presentation and she completed it quite nicely.
The day of the presentation came and both were in front of the top management. Every time Mrs. Y would complete some part of the presentation, her colleague would stop her and stand up from her place and say “Let me explain more clearly and in detail ” as if to create an impression that Y was not able to put forth the point properly and would always say “since I have worked extensively I know all the details of this project”. It was always “I” and never “we” for her, although Mrs. Y was equally working hard on the project. This used to happen in each and every meeting with the top management. Mrs. Y was getting frustrated. She started developing bitterness and hatred towards her colleague. This thought of being bullied or dominated and ignored by her colleague played on to her mind again and again. She was finding it very difficult to come out of it.
There will be more serious stories when people are not able to forgive their spouses for leaving them for their lovers, or a man not able to forgive his father for abusing him in childhood, etc. All these can have a telling effect on the health of the person and in worst cases lead to his/her deaths as well.
Before we get into bitterness and resentment it is important to understand the difference between the two, which is only marginal though.
Bitterness is a feeling generated inside the person who is hurt and perceives himself/herself as the victim. Bitterness reflects pain inflicted with the intention of wrongdoing and causing grief. It always starts with anger. Normally a bitter person repeatedly ruminates about the past injustices which cause the feeling of injustice to remain. If the person experiences more negative incidences such as loss of a job, divorce, infidelity by the partner, abuse (verbal/physical/both), etc. the sense of injustice makes even more firm ground in the person’s mind. Bitterness can then become a part of their personality and could well define them. They end up becoming victims not so much of anyone else, but of themselves. Some of the bitterness statement is “I didn’t deserve to be treated like this” or ‘How can you do this to me’?
Resentment is reflected in the form of anger when the person does not get which he/she thinks was rightfully his/her. It is a feeling that one gets when something was denied, that person feels he/she deserved it. E.g. “I should have got the promotion this year but it was given to my colleague who actually did not perform as well”. Or “But for my boss being a little more supportive, I would have achieved my sales target”. Resentment normally smells some blame game. Blaming others for one’s own mistakes becomes a habit for resentful people. Such people sometimes even blame the almighty for whatever bad that happens to them. They may blame God if their spouse died of cancer (never mind that he was an alcoholic), loss of a good job, accident in which he/she loses an either limb or anything happens to their loved ones. Did you hear someone say “of everybody in this world, why me God”? Some people feel that whatever bad that has happened to them in life is because of god.
Long-standing resentment and a feeling that somebody else got which should have been mine, gives rise to another disruptive emotion-jealousy or in other words envy. Jealousy is a terrible feeling that can take away our joy for the moment. We get an unrequired awareness of the advantage the other person is enjoying, and we also desire to have the same advantage. Jealousy leads to feelings of rivalry or revenge which in turn will lead to anger and hostility. Jealousy can rob us of our inner peace and happiness.
It is very commonly seen or even experienced by us that we may have a long-standing and deep bitterness for a person who caused some harm to us. But there is always a choice available with us on how we would feel about the injustices/atrocities inflicted on us by somebody else. Did you hear someone say “I just cannot forgive him/her for what he/she has done to me?” “I wish he/she also goes through the same ordeal that I am going through” or “I am going through this physical pain because of him. I wish he never gets peace with his new wife for whom he left me”. Many people carry these feelings of grudge and hatred for years and comfort themselves by imagining that something bad like they have met with an accident or their house is burning etc is happening to their predators. Some people may have the only consolation by thinking that their perpetrators will one day rot in hell.
However, these people don’t understand that resentment for the other person will only hurt them. The one who broods, complains, and has all the hatred, may not realize that those who caused them the pain or hurt are unfazed and least bothered about their own behaviours and may, in fact, be enjoying their lives. So, is it really worth for them to think and give so much importance to such people and lose health, peace of mind, and sleep?
Just as love is the most powerful positive emotion, hatred is the most disruptive emotion. The people who have hoarded piles of bitterness, resentment, anger, and hate have very little love left inside of them. Hatred masks or in fact remove all the positive emotions inside the person over a period of time.
It works this way. Say, you have a five-dozen alphonso mango box in which one fruit is rotten and you keep it in the box for many days. Within no time you will find that all the other mangoes kept in the box have also got rotten nor you have the space inside the box to keep any new mangoes. You need to get rid of the rotten mangoes first, cleanse the box, only then you can place some good ripe mangoes in it.
The same is applicable to your emotional well-being especially when it comes to hoarding grudges, complaints, grievances, and offenses. When there are too many disruptive emotions such as anger, bitterness, and hatred, all thoughts will be affected, not only those related to the offense. The mind will be too crowded by these negative thoughts and there will be no space for any positive emotions. The person gets more mistrusting, pessimistic, angry, and hostile, even depressed in some cases as the pain he/she may have experienced.
If the person has a very strong negative experience, which has remained unhealed with the emotions of fear, disgust, and frustration suppressed for a long time, he/she will tend to quickly latch onto the painful memories. Those thoughts just won’t go and the person dwells in those stories again and again so much so that the disruptive emotions of resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness make a very strong footing in their minds. The emotional wound would never heal because even if it tries to get dry, the person keeps on removing the cover of forgiveness that might be forming over it.
People who hold grudges or are not able to forgive are always fuming, irritated, and frustrated. They are always in the fight or flight mode, ready to react at the slightest of provocations. They are completely consumed by negativity as negative thoughts pay repeated visits to their minds.
The only solace to all these disruptive emotions of anger, bitterness, resentment, and jealousy is forgiveness. While it may be quite easy to forgive small reverses in daily life such as someone cuts his car through the petrol queue, or someone who makes some obscene gesture, or a shopkeeper talks to us in a rude manner, there will be some deep-rooted pains/hurts/insults inflicted on us which may not be as easy to forgive. These cases will require some time and the victim has to go through a process before he/she can actually forgive the perpetrator.
But before that, we need to clearly understand what is forgiveness and what it is not? Forgiveness is letting go of the feeling of having to take revenge, resentment, and bitterness. You may not be able to forget the pain of hurtfully, however; it will at least blunt its sharpness to a certain degree. Forgiveness may actually lead you to more insights into your misunderstanding of the other person, empathy, and compassion for the person who hurt you.
Embracing forgiveness is for better mental and emotional peace of oneself than doing it for the offender. By committing to forgiveness, you vow to yourself of changing your life. As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.
To start with we can follow the following ways towards forgiveness:
- Start with small: As discussed above start to walk on the path of forgiveness by forgiving the smallest of offenses against you. E.g. somebody cutting through the queue, a vegetable vendor giving stale stuff, etc.
- Remind yourself that you are not an angel: Think of those times when you knowingly or unknowingly hurt someone and you did ask for forgiveness and received it from the other person. You too are not an angel.
- Remind yourself that someone was an angel: Think of an incident when in spite of you being angry, rude, and disrespectful how the other person treated you with kindness, respect, and love. Think about our parents who in spite of, we had all the limitations, weaknesses, and shortcomings, continue to shower their unconditional love and kindness on us. Have the attitude of gratitude for those such people in your life who are just as imperfect as you are, however, are still able to let go of their anger and resentment and move on in life. Print on a paper these words in big and bold fonts: LET GO or MOVE ON and stick on your working desk in your office and home to serve as a reminder of your vulnerability.
- Remember when you forgave: do we not forgive our very close family members such as a spouse, children, and very close friends for even the grave offenses committed by them? e.g. do you hit your wife back if by mistake she doesn’t see your leg and the chair she pushes, hurts you? Never right? Or are we not forgiving our teenage son for back answering us or being rude with us occasionally when he goes mad? Think if we can extend the same leniency for others outside our homes?
- Can you face death in peace: Each one of us will die one day, however, nobody knows when that moment might come? Many people with terminal illnesses think that each extra minute of life they have got is a bonus. Yet, we waste days, months, and years complaining about the small irritations of life. Just imagine you are counting the last few moments of your life. You would surely like to look back at your life without regrets and that you lived it with a lot of grace and to the fullest. As you think of death, think: a. Can you let go of old grudges and tell people that you forgive them? b. Do you need to say something to someone in particular? c. Can you tell important people in your life, whatever happened, happened, but you still love them? d. Do you want to experience that feeling of lightness, free from all the emotional loans that you have been carrying all through your life, or something specific before you die?
- Use the Three-position (perceptual) exercise: This is a powerful NLP technique which is actually used for better understanding and relationships. This technique helps you to deal with your feelings and also consider others. The same can be used for forgiving others. The principle is that the more perspectives we take on a situation, the more we have the choice and understanding. And hence the more likely we will be able to think rationally and correctly which is beneficial to all concerned.
There are three primary positions:
1st Position: We see, we hear, think, and feel from our own perspectives. By putting ourselves in this position, we are able to connect with what is important to us personally. We only see the other person and we experience them from our perspective only. Excessive use of this position can lead to a lack of understanding and subsequent dismissal of other’s people’s feelings and ideas. We tend to get more self-centered, more absorbed by our own circumstances at that time, and our own thought alone.
2nd Position: This is a very important position from the forgiveness point of view. In this position, we put ourselves in the 2nd position to understand where the other person is coming from. By putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we experience the situation as if we were them. We try to understand why the other person said those offensive words or did what he/she did or inflict physical pain on us. Was he/she going through any pain/overwhelming situation/challenging circumstances himself/herself and the heat of the moment got the better of him/her? We are able to imagine how it is to look out of their eyes and hear out of their ears and to be in their body such that we see and feel the situation as if we are them. This is empathy in pure terms. When we are able to put ourselves in the person whom we want to forgive, it becomes easier to go through the process. Once we are in this position, we are able to understand and tap into the emotions behind what they said and what and why did they do to you, what they did.
3rd Position: In 3rd position, you have the ability to stand back from the situation and experience it as if you are a detached observer. You try not to have any emotions in this situation and think from an unbiased perspective. Think as if what a third person will advise you in the situation: whether you should forgive the other person or try to take revenge or brood inside self and suppress your emotions of anger, bitterness, and resentment, which will only be harmful for your health in the long run.
7. Loving Kindness meditation: Think of loving-kindness as friendliness towards yourself and others. In this meditation, we let in the feelings of love, kindness, and compassion for the other person whom we want to forgive. Do the following steps:
a. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Take three slow and deep breaths. Focus on your breath. Keep your eyes closed.
b. Now, think of a person whom you respect or admire. This can be someone you know or someone in public or spiritual life whom you revere. Notice how you feel as you think about this person and identify the qualities that you admire about that person. You are connecting with qualities you personally care about and you can yourself get aware of. c. Then, think of someone who is not your spouse or partner but who had treated you with lots of love, unconditional support, kindness, and care in the past. Remember those days/incidents and how you felt in the loving presence of this person and notice how you are feeling now as you think about that person again. Bring this sense of love into your heart, with quite breathing, so that you develop a general feeling of kindness within you.
d. In this step, shift your thoughts to a neutral person for whom you have no feelings either of love or hate. Say, your daily vegetable vendor or local newspaper delivery boy. Reconnect the feelings of love you remembered in steps in b and c above. Now direct those feelings of love for this neutral person. You may feel lots of love, kindness, and compassion flow out from you.
e. Now the very important step: direct those thoughts gathered in step d to the person you are having an old grudge or finding them difficult to forgive. Hold onto the feeling of loving-kindness as you continue to think about this person. Direct this energy to this person through your heart with normal breathing and presence of mind. This practice will consciously create a feeling of loving-kindness about the person whom you have grudge/find difficult to forgive. If you happen to meet that person, you can acknowledge him with compassion and without any negativity. If that person refuses to accept your forgiveness, wish him all the very best and just move on. If the person is already dead, you can pray for his soul and wish its liberation.
8. Join some social club: Involve yourself with like-minded people, get social with them, find time for doing some social service ( like Rotary club/any spiritual gatherings) which will give you the satisfaction of helping people, go on a vacation with your family/friends and just live in the present moment to enjoy life to the fullest. Yoga and pranayama on a regular basis with slow and deep belly breathing, holding on the breath for a count of five, and observing/focusing on the breath also helps in calming down your emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness, and revenge.
Conclusion: Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are trying to change the other person, rather you are trying to change yourself to attain some peace of mind. To forgive means to accept, acknowledge, and let go of the injury to your feelings and physical body. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you trust that person and doesn’t also make what wrong had happened, to be right. Forgiveness may bring reconciliation if the concerned person is very close to you and willing to maintain the relationship. However, it is impossible to reconcile if that person has died. You may still forgive them. You need to be aware that forgiveness is a process and you may have to revisit it again and again till you fully get over your anger and grudges against that person.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. You cannot let go of your past. But you can let go of the negative emotions connected to the past. These emotions can hurt you more than they hurt the other person.