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How to get past the anger and forgive

Dr Jacqueline Campbell

Sunday, May 25, 2014    

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"I feel so sick. Sometimes I feel like I want to crawl up into a hole and die. Other times I feel so angry that I want to kill him and that woman. I feel that I have failed," says AB, who attributes her deteriorating health to finding out her husband was having an affair.

Her husband, however, is in good health.

She needs to get past her anger, forgive herself and the parties involved, and move on.

Forgiving allows you to take back control of your life and it delivers some positive pay-offs - less anger, anxiety, depression, and improved self-esteem.

Here are some steps to start you on your way to forgiving someone:

1. Understand forgiveness

Practising forgiveness does not have to mean being a saint or a doormat. Many people don't want to forgive because they feel that by doing so, they are saying that the offender did nothing wrong. Still, others feel that forgiveness implies weakness.

The process of forgiveness is not about the offender. It's about letting go of the anger and resentment that is eating you. It's about accepting that you were wronged but deciding to move away from the hurt and pain.

Forgiveness is an act of profound self-respect that takes courage and commitment.

2. Grieve for what you've lost

MB says that before she could forgive her husband, who would beat her mercilessly, she had to mourn what she had lost - the hopes and dreams of a happy life.

To truly forgive, you need to feel your sorrow. Even after you've decided to let go of your anger, it may reappear from time to time. Be gentle with yourself. Time does heal wounds.

3. Don't wait for an apology

Sometime ago, I went to a store and the manager was having a bad day. She began to pour her venom on me, much to the dismay of her workers. I walked out of the store puzzled and a bit angry, vowing, under my breath, never to return. However, I returned to the store because as Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his book, The Four Agreements, "Don't take it personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you become immune to the opinions and actions of others, you will not be the victim of needless suffering."

At times, the person who hurts you isn't aware of what was done. Maybe he or she is incapable of understanding or even caring. The simple words "I'm sorry" can be comforting and healing, but so is deciding that you no longer need to hear them.

4. Try to understand the offender's behaviour

In general, bad behaviour is the result of emotional immaturity. Studies show a strong relationship between abused and neglected children and subsequent criminal behaviour. If your father neglected, cursed and beat you, ask yourself the question: Did his father or mother show him any love and affection? Empathy can calm angry hearts and minds and transform lives.

When you forgive someone who has done you wrong, you change. Some people report that they became less selfish and angry with themselves and more mature and compassionate. Some discover hidden mental and spiritual strengths.

We can learn a lot from life including some painful lessons. We can decide not to let our hurts and pains overshadow our lives and, as my good friend loves to say, "Life is not for the faint-hearted".

Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a university lecturer and family physician. She is the author of the book A patient's guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

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