It may seem natural to not want to let someone off the hook for what they have done, but be warned – these bitter feelings can hurt you too
You may have heard stories about people forgiving others for the most heinous of crimes, things that seem unimaginable to you – betrayal, lies, scandals, and even felonies. You may have wondered how on earth could they do that? Many of us hold grudges from the past, or feel that to let go and forgive may send the message that we condone wrongful behaviour. So, why is it that some people find it easy to forgive, and others seem to struggle?
When comedian Chris McGlade heard from police that his father had been murdered, he forgave his killer in an instant. To help me understand why, Chris told me of his upbringing with a father who had an irreverent sense of humour, and didn’t take life too seriously.
“He was the most outrageous man, with the most outrageous sense of humour, but a massive heart. There was never any malice in him, and he always forgave, and that left an indelible mark on my life.”
Chris says that at the moment the police told him the news, an “irreverence came over me”. At this darkest of moments, he made a joke. When the police looked surprised, his wife said: “Oh, it’s just his way.’’
He reflected: “It was my way, but more importantly it was my family’s way, it was my dad’s way.’’ Chris felt the presence of his father in that moment. He says: “I could see him in my mind’s eye saying ‘Go on, that’s what you do. You laugh, you don’t get angry – protect yourself with a laugh,’ and at that moment, I felt this love. It wasn’t something I had to think about, it was just instinctive.’’
Chris is now touring with a comedy show, Forgiveness, about life growing up with his dad, and his decision to forgive his father’s killer. His story is an extremely unusual case.
Most of us go through life, carrying resentments and grievances from various experiences. It may seem natural to not want to let someone off the hook for what they have done to us, but the problem is that these feelings hurt us, too.
In her book, Forgiveness Made Easy, life coach Barbara J Hunt explains how the word ‘resentment’ comes from the Latin, ‘sentire’ to feel. ‘Re-sent’ literally means, ‘to feel again’. When we hold on to feelings of resentment, we are stuck in a ‘pain loop’, feeling all of the old emotions, again and again, like a wound that never heals. One study published in the journal Aging and Mental Health found that unforgiveness can cause depressive symptoms later in life.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, has a wealth of physical and emotional health benefits, including reducing levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and improving sleep. First and foremost, forgiveness is for you.
One major stumbling block Barbara J Hunt explains in her book is our ego. In order to protect ourselves, we keep our emotions of hurt hidden under the shell of our ego. Feeling resentment allows us to focus on what the other person did wrong, rather than fully feeling our own pain and grief.