“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
-Lewis B. Smedes
Have you ever been so angry with someone that you felt physically sick? Or you couldn’t sleep very well because you kept thinking about the way someone hurt you? Have you ever had a tension headache or felt nauseous from the stress of dealing with that person?
It’s not a good feeling – right? And it’s probably a feeling that you want to get rid of. But how do you do that? How do you get rid of those feelings and forgive that person?
This is a common issue that comes up in my work with stepmoms, especially those who are dealing with high-conflict or difficult people, such as their stepchildren’s mom, their stepchildren, or in-laws. As stepmoms, we may become involved in issues that quickly become overheated, especially with those high-conflict people. Lines are crossed, hurtful words are exchanged, and the other person might not appear sorry about it at all. So, how do we forgive someone who does not express regret or apologize to us?
Forgive For Yourself
This is definitely not easy to do! Dr. Eger, author and psychologist, explores the idea of forgiveness in her books – first in The Choice and then in The Gift. As a Holocaust survivor, Dr. Eger suffered unimaginable losses. How could she ever let go of her anger towards Hitler and forgive him for what he did to her and her family? In The Gift, Dr. Eger explains, “Forgiveness isn’t something we do for the person who has hurt us. It’s something we do for ourselves, so we’re no longer victims or prisoners of the past, so we can stop carrying a burden that harbors nothing but pain.”
Even though someone has hurt us, we need to remember that when we are carrying around that anger, we’re only hurting ourselves. Studies show that chronic anger can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response. The act of forgiveness, on the other hand, has numerous health benefits, such as lowering stress levels and reducing blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to forgive for our own well-being.
Make a Rage Date
The other important part of forgiveness is releasing our rage or our anger. If we bottle that anger up, it is destructive to our mental and physical well-being. As Dr. Edith asserts in The Gift, “There’s no forgiveness without rage.” She explains that the best thing we can do with our rage is learn how to channel it, whether that’s breaking dishes, screaming in the car, or using a punching bag. Or maybe you’re channeling that anger through transactional writing or writing letters to help you heal. You’ll need to find which method works best for you so you can dissolve that anger. You may want to work under the guidance of a therapist.
This is critical for us as stepmoms because it is easy to be caught in an unhealthy cycle of anger towards those high-conflict people in our lives. If you’re getting tension headaches or missing out on sleep because you’re holding onto rage or a grudge, take the first steps towards forgiveness. For yourself.