In Forgiving Others, You Set Yourself Free


I was interviewed for this article by Melissa Chapman on


Many years ago I remember watching Oprah (or as I like to call her mama O) talking about the power of forgiveness and that when you forgive someone you are not doing it for them, rather you are doing it for you. I recall hearing her recount a story of seeing this person she was mad at walking down the street and when she noticed how happy this person was, just the sight of her in all her glorified happiness made Oprah even more incensed. She thought to herself, how can this person be so happy, when I am so mad at her. Then she had that quintessential light bulb Oprah moment- when she realized... the only person who is suffering from her anger, is her.


That other person could care less and it was then she realized that carrying all that anger around for another person does nothing accept harm the person who is harboring it. And yet, so many of us do just that. We walk around for months and maybe even years bottling up this anger and allowing it to permeate every last one of our vessels and cells. We allow this anger to fester and wreak havoc on us-- while the person this anger is directed at- they suffer none of our anger's ill consequences. At 38 years old I finally get this, and I am trying to absorb it and remember to not just understand it as an abstract concept but to fully integrate it into my life, and in doing so change the trajectory of my relationships with others.


So, I took the plunge and wrote a very long and elaborate letter to several people I had been arguing with and did something that felt both liberating and terrifying. I asked them for their forgiveness. I just put my heart and all my feelings out there-- unsure if they would be reciprocated or even acknowledged. And while not everyone to whom I sent this letter responded, rather than feel slighted by their decision not to make amends I finally feel free. I feel free of the resentment, the anxiety and the pressure to clear this up and I finally figured it out- asking for their forgiveness has nothing to do with them but everything to do with me. Whether or not they accept my apology is inconsequential-- but in taking the first step to apologize- I am clearing my own heart and head and admittedly feeling somewhat lighter and less tied down by all that negative baggage.


Of course forgiving others and/or asking for forgiveness is not always such an easy task so I asked Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., psychologist and author of several books including Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: Four Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want (DaCapo), for her take on the power of forgiveness.  According to Ms. Chansky Conflicts and misunderstandings weigh heavily on us. They make us anxious-- we keep repeating the scene in our minds, convincing ourselves of our right to be angry, or the other person's mistakes, and this rehearsal makes us tense, stressed, irritable, it may interfere with our sleep. We feel on edge wondering: what will we do when we see that person? We feel vulnerable and caught off guard.


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