The Power of Forgiveness

I recently read a quote that gave me pause to reflect: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I have a long road to walk before I could consider myself “enlightened,” and I’ve been known to hold on to a grudge or two. Being unwilling to forgive someone can feel like standing up for oneself in response to be taken advantage of or mistreated. Somehow it feels like I’m protecting myself in armor by holding onto anger, when in actuality, I’m suffocating inside this metal suit. It’s true that nursing anger is far more harmful to ourselves than it is to the person we’re angry with, even though the urge to indulge in vindictive thoughts can be powerful and intoxicating.

Letting go of negativity

Recognizing that holding onto grudges has a negative impact on my happiness, over the past few months I’ve been working on letting old hurts go. When I think of a past injustice and feel the swell of negativity that accompanies the memory, I try to catch myself and repeat over and over that I forgive the perpetrator. In this sense, I am not condoning the harmful act that was committed, but rather am trying to release my attachment to it. This practice is not an attempt at kindness toward the other person, but rather as an act of generosity toward myself. It’s therefore ironic that since I’ve begun working to forgive others, I’ve realized that the person I have the hardest time forgiving is myself.

I have many flaws, and these are sometimes at the root of the anger I direct toward myself. However, all too often I have caught myself being hard on myself for something I cannot control: having rheumatoid arthritis. This chronic condition has impacted my life in ways great and small. Although the logical part of my brain reasons that I did not ask for this disease and that I’m doing all I know to do to combat it, there’s another part that is constantly criticizing myself for the impact this disease has on my productivity and relationships. I frequently catch myself condemning myself for the messy state of my home and for the projects that are half-complete or not yet started. I find myself feeling guilty for the plans I’ve canceled, the activities I never signed up for, and the events I missed out on. My life is a sea of unfulfilled best intentions.

These thoughts are powerful, and that critical voice that can misinterpret my limitations as laziness or self-indulgence (that same voice that sometimes says, “Is it really that bad, or are you just making too much of it?”) can speak with an ear-splitting volume. It seems silly that I should have to forgive myself for circumstances I would change in an instant if I could, yet this dynamic is present and very real.

Acceptance of my RA

Therefore, I am working to forgive myself for the unintentional crime of not being the healthy person I wish I was. Forgiving myself means that when I hear that negative voice begin spouting poisonous messages in my ear, rather than feeling angry at myself, I nurture myself instead. I tell myself a stream of positive messages, including permission to give my body the rest and relaxation it needs. I try to congratulate myself for honoring my body’s needs, and for doing my very best in spite of the challenges of living with this disease. I remind myself of all I do accomplish, instead of focusing solely on the work I lack.

I have found the more I am able to forgive others, the less negativity, stress, vulnerability, and resentment I experience. The more I am able to forgive myself, the more I am able to see myself for the strong, courageous, dedicated, determined person I am, one who never gives up in spite of RA’s challenges.

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