Those individuals who feel full of resentment and bitterness about the past can struggle to find happiness in life. They may well have been wronged badly in the past but to continue to hold a grudge can become detrimental to the individual. In order to heal the individual will need to let go of their grudge and offer forgiveness. This is particularly important for those people who are recovering from an alcohol or drug addiction. Their grudges and resentments can pull them back to substance abuse if they are not careful.
One way of defining forgiveness would be to say that it occurs when people cease to feel resentment against an offender. It is all about getting rid of bitterness and letting go of grudges. When people decide to forgive it means that they stop feeling angry and resentful about things that they perceive have been done wrong to them. It also means that they are no longer seeking retribution or punishment for the wrongdoer. The actress Suzanne Somers once defined forgiveness as a gift you give yourself.
When people are unable to offer forgiveness for past wrongdoings it is often only them who suffers. This is because by holding a grudge and feeling bitter and resentful the individual is negatively impacting their own life. It is like there has been two wrong done instead of one – not only was the person hurt by the initial wrongdoing, but now they are doing wrong to themselves by holding on to negativity. The person who was responsible for causing the original hurt may be completely oblivious to this resentment so it really is a waste of time. Offering forgiveness is not just about giving the other person a second chance – it is more about letting go of emotions that are causing the individual pain. When the individual lets go of their grudges they lighten their own load.
Addicts tend to be full of resentment. They will have a list of grudges that they can rely on to justify their bad behavior. So long as the alcohol or drug user is able to blame other people they can use this as an excuse to keep doing what they are doing. Their rationalizations may sound bizarre to other people, but to the addict they will make perfect sense. Instead of seeing how alcohol or drugs is destroying their life they will still be blaming those who hurt them in the past. The individual may take their grudges with them all the way to the grave. It is only when they are able to see beyond their resentments and lame justifications that they become willing to enter recovery. The most common grudges that addicts will tend to hold onto include:
* Failure of other people to live up to their standards. The substance abuser can have unrealistically high expectations for other people and incredibly low expectations for themselves.
* They feel resentful because other people have tried to tell them what to do. Many addicts are demand resistant and they feel discomfort when authority figures try to tell them what to do.
* A significant number of addicts have been seriously traumatized by other people – some will have been sexually or physically abused as children. Their anger here will be fully justified but they way they are managing it with alcohol and drugs is not because they are only adding to their own suffering.
* Another cause of resentment is when other people have let them down or behaved in an unpredictable manner.
* Friends or family have lied to them or they have acted hypocritically.
* The individual has been subject to some type of injustice – either real or imagined.
* Superiors have abused their power.
* They have been the victim of manipulation.
* Somebody they thought they were in love with did not feel the same way.
Those individuals who are in recovery but continue to hold grudges about things that happened in the past may be putting their sobriety in danger. This is because negative thinking is a luxury that those who are trying to give up alcohol or drugs cannot afford. The danger of holding grudges in recovery includes:
* It provides the individual with an excuse to not put the necessary work into making their life better. The person can instead blame their failures on those who hurt them in the past.
* It gives the individual a justification to relapse. As soon as life in recovery gets hard the person can use this excuse to explain why they have returned to alcohol or drugs.
* Resentment and bitterness are a drain on motivation. It causes people to fall into a negativity trap that is sometimes referred to as stinking thinking.
* So long as the individual holds onto these grudges it will prevent them from developing emotional sobriety. This inner peace is one of the key rewards of staying sober so it is a real shame to miss out on it.
* Holding grudges will impact the way the individual thinks and behaves. It may mean that they are guarded emotionally, and this can make it difficult for them to develop loving relationships.
Not only is it important to be able to forgive other people, but it is also vital that the individual learns to forgive themselves in recovery. Guilt can prevent people from finding comfort in sobriety. This is a type of anger that the individual directs at themselves for perceived wrongdoing of the past – unlike resentment which is anger directed at other people. Those individuals who feel unable to forgive themselves will struggle to find comfort in recovery, and they can use this as an excuse to relapse. The usual reasons for why people feel unable to offer self forgiveness include:
* They have low self esteem – this means that they do not value themselves highly enough to feel worthy of forgiveness.
* If the individual feels unable to forgive other people they may also find it difficult to forgive themselves.
* Some people have an internal code of conduct that is unrealistically high and uncompromising. This can come about if the individual grew up in a household that was extremely strict.
* The individual fails to understand that feeling guilty benefits nobody. A healthier approach is remorse because this involves trying to make up for past mistakes.
* Some people in recovery will be looking for an excuse to relapse. Their own feelings of guilt can provide them with this excuse.
The Irish writer Oscar Wilde once advised:
> Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.
There are a number of real benefits associated with offering forgiveness including:
* By letting go of a grudge the individual is improving their own life because they are letting go of negativity that has probably been holding them back.
* It reduces levels of stress. This may even mean that the person lives longer because they will be less likely to suffer from stress related illness.
* Some studies have shown that offering forgiveness is good for cardiovascular health. It may help to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
* It leads to improved mental health. Resentment and anger can push people towards mental illness. Those who let go of bitterness about the past will be less likely to suffer from depression.
* Practicing forgiveness in addiction recovery can allow the individual to develop emotional sobriety.
* It will make it easier for the individual to offer themselves forgiveness and let go of guilt.
* It can lead to improved interpersonal relationships because the individual will be more open. Once forgiveness has been offered it can mean the rekindling of old friendships.
In order to forgive it helps if the individual:
* Develops an understanding of how offering forgiveness benefits their life.
* Understanding that by feeling like a victim of past wrongs it means that their suffering is being extended.
* It is important to understand that offering forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook. It can just be a case of the individual deciding that they no longer want to carry that weight with them.
* The individual needs to accept that all humans are fallible. If the person can forgive themselves for committing a similar wrongdoing they need to be able to offer the same to other people.
* It is not always necessary to directly offer forgiveness to the other person and sometimes this will not be appropriate. Just offering forgiveness internally may be enough.
* One of the most effective tools for developing the willingness to forgive is loving kindness meditation.
Loving kindness meditation refers is a technique where the individual develops a feeling of love for all sentient beings. It is a deliberate attempt by the individual to become more compassionate. The individual starts off by picturing someone they care for deeply and they send thoughts of loving kindness to that person – they may think something like may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffering. The meditator next directs this message to three other people – themselves, a stranger, and somebody they don’t like. It takes time but eventually the individual learns to see their enemy in a different way, and they become willing to offer forgiveness to these people.