Some verbs are easily defined or pictured in the mind. For example: to speak, to walk or to paint all seem fairly straightforward. However, what comes to mind when you think of “to forgive?”
High school chemistry teachers spend a lot of time teaching the differences among elements, compounds and mixtures. Perhaps “to run,” and “to jump” seem easy to define because they are elements, so to speak – pure, easily defined and unambiguous. Perhaps, then, “to forgive” seems more difficult to define because it’s a mixture – of various actions and emotions, no particular one blended into the other, but stuck together in a rather uncomfortable state.
Why is it so hard for us to forgive? The answer could lie in the complicated mixture of emotions and actions that forgiving requires. The act of forgiving brings up powerful emotions in many of us: pride, power, self-esteem, shame and guilt, to name a few. Numerous times, individuals have told me that they refuse to forgive someone because they fear their act of kindness will be mistaken for weakness. These emotions may have various meanings across different cultures, but each one tends to elicit some level of vulnerability within us. Even some actions that are often connected to forgiveness can leave many of us feeling vulnerable – a one-on-one conversation, a handshake or a hug.
Holding on to anger or a grudge has often been described as feeling “heavy.” This feeling of “heaviness” most likely comes from the amount of emotional and psychic energy that the retention requires. Someone once told me that his refusal to give up a grudge resulted in anger and the grudge “taking up more and more room in my head.” Often forgiveness comes about when the feeling of “heaviness” is outweighed by the feeling of vulnerability. If that is the case, then perhaps we can hasten the act of forgiveness by increasing our tolerance for feeling vulnerable and decrease our tolerance for feeling “heavy.”