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How to Forgive Anyone for Anything

How to Forgive Anyone for Anything

Their daughter was brutally murdered on the streets of Cape Town, South Africa while working against Apartheid.

Five years later, Linda and Peter Biehl arrived in South Africa to support her killers’ freedom.

For them, forgiveness didn’t excuse the horrendous crime. They simply let go of any vengeful feelings. They empathized with the feeling of rage that existed in South Africa at the time.

“I don’t see them as evil people,” Linda Biehl said. “They have already taken responsibility for their actions and asked for forgiveness.”

Obviously, this is not easy. But if you practice forgiveness, you’ll feel a lot better. Dr. Maxwell Maltz called it, “the scalpel which removes emotional scars.”

There are three steps to forgiving anyone anything:

  1. Make anger your enemy.
  2. Watch your thoughts carefully
  3. Practice compassion for the person who wronged you

But first, it’s vital we understand what forgiveness is NOT…

Forgiveness is not a weapon

If you feel superior to the person you’ve ‘forgiven,’ you still have work to do.

Forgiveness is not a card to draw during your next argument. As Henry Ward Beecher, the American clergyman said: “Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two and burned up, so that it can never be shown against anyone.”

That doesn’t mean you excuse the person’s actions. You don’t have to stay with a cheating spouse or an thieving business partner.

However, you should aim to walk away from the relationship with a genuine compassion for the person who wronged you.

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Step 1. Make anger your enemy

Just because you have the right to be angry doesn’t mean you should.

Anger and hatred are the most destructive human emotions. You lose sleep, you don’t work effectively and you alienate those around you. Steadily, your situation gets worse. And because you blame someone else for your misfortune, the cycle of hatred never ends.

“By giving in to anger, we are not necessarily harming our enemy, but we are certainly harming ourselves,” said the Dalai Lama.

The person is not your enemy. The anger you feel when you think about that person is your enemy.

The Dalai Lama talked to a monk who spent 25 years in a Chinese labour camp. The monk suffered torture, hunger and indignities beyond imagination. Yet he was calm and serene. The Dalai Lama asked the monk how he held his composure for so long.

“I was often afraid of hating my torturers,” the monk replied, “for in doing so I would have destroyed myself.”

Step 2. Watch your thoughts

Now you’ve decided anger is your enemy, you need a weapon to fight it. The most effective way to fight anger is simply to notice it as a sensation.

We have a really bad habit of labeling ourselves by our emotions. We say “I am angry,” when really we mean “I’m experiencing anger.”

Anger can literally hijack the mind and consume you. It’s a bit like love, only far more devastating.

But when you notice anger as a sensation, you separate yourself from it.

Emotions – especially strong ones – appear most vividly in the body. When you experience anger, your head might tense up. Your chest might start to tighten. You take short, shallow breaths.

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Draw attention to these sensations. Notice where you feel the anger in your body. Rather than feed the emotion or give in to it, simply observe it.

Anger needs fuel.

You keep your anger fueled with stories that replay in your mind over and over again. Chade Meng Tan, who runs Google’s Search Inside Yourself program, calls this ‘feeding your anger monsters.’

The more you feed your anger monsters, the bigger they get and the worse you feel. But when you pay attention to your thoughts, you can decide to cut the food supply.

“Therein lies the source of our power,” says Chade Meng Tan. “If we do not feed them, they will get hungry and maybe they will go away.”

Step 3. Practice compassion

Now you have a way to control your own emotions, it’s time to feel compassion for the person who wronged you.

This is the hard part. Just as we label ourselves by our emotions (“I am angry”), we label others by their wrongdoings: “She is unfaithful.” “He is a bully.”

“Forming the image of the ‘enemy’ as despicable, we generalise it to mean the whole person,” says Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. “We solidify the ‘evil’ or ‘disgusting’ attributes we see as being permanent intrinsic traits.”

We need a fresh perspective. Here are two simple facts:

  1.  Everyone wants to be happy.
  2. The person who harmed you believed their actions would make them happy.

Did it make them happy? Did their actions bring them lasting peace and fulfillment? I can tell you the answer is almost definitely ‘no.’

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Sometimes the person realises what they’ve done and shows remorse. Forgiveness for them is acknowledging of what they’ve become.

Others don’t show any remorse or accept any blame. They need your compassion even more, because their ignorance will always keep them on a cycle of misery.

Martin Luther King didn’t brand Civil Rights opponents as ‘evil racists.’ He said they were ‘damaged human beings.’ Under no circumstances was it acceptable to respond with violence and vengeance.

Buddhist compassion works the same way. This isn’t cheap pity. It’s a wholehearted desire for all living things to be freed from suffering.

If a person can do something so terrible and feel nothing, imagine what mental tortures they must wrestle with.

A technique for practicing compassion

Whenever Chade Meng Tan feels anger towards someone, he practices a simple exercise called ‘Just like me.’

Repeat these words. As you say them, picture the person you’re trying to forgive.

“This person is a human being, just like me.”

“This person has feelings, emotions and thoughts, just like me.”

“This person has experienced pain and suffering, just like me.”

“This person wishes to be free from suffering, just like me.”

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“This person wants to be happy, just like me.”

“This person wants to be loved, just like me.”

Practice this until you feel a genuine compassion for the person who wronged you. Then wish for them to be happy. Wish for them to be loved. Wish for them to be free of suffering.

Kindness is the most sustainable source of happiness there is. Forgiveness is arguably the most powerful act of kindness you can offer.

Sources:

Peter Biehl obituary http://articles.latimes.com/2002/apr/02/local/me-biehl2

Radical Forgiveness, Linda Biehl interview http://moonmagazine.org/linda-biehl-radical-forgiveness-2013-02-14/

A Mother Forgives Her Daughter’s Killers http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20140604,00.html

Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill, by Matthieu Ricard

Search Inside Yourself, by Chade Meng Tan

Psychocybernetics, by Dr. Maxwell Maltz

I Am, documentary by Tom Shadyac

Featured photo credit: diwero via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on January 18, 2019

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

1. Limit the time you spend with them.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

2. Speak up for yourself.

Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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5. Change the subject.

When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

7. Leave them behind.

Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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