When people first become sober they may have a long list of grudges against those who have hurt them in the past. In order for these people to be able to get on with their life it will usually be necessary for them to be able to let go of these grudges and offer forgiveness. If people are unwilling to forget about past wrongs it may hold them back in recovery or even lead to relapse. Those who do manage to get beyond their past will usually find that it greatly benefits their new life.
Forgiveness can be defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation, or anger as a result of a perceived offence. It means that the individual no longer holds a grudge against a person who has hurt them in the past. Not only is it possible for an individual to offer forgiveness to other people, but it is also possible for them to forgive themselves for past bad behavior.
Holding a grudge can be dangerous for people in recovery for a number of reasons:
* It can lead to stinking thinking. If people get caught up in negativity it can prevent them from making progress in sobriety.
* The individual can use their grudge as justification to relapse back to addiction.
* The person who is most likely to be negatively impacted by a grudge is the person holding it. The target of the grudge may be blissfully unaware and so they only person suffering is the one who is unable to forgive.
* Addicts tend to blame other people for the mess they are in and refuse to take responsibility for their situation. If the individual continues to blame other people for all that is wrong in their life it will prevent them taking charge and turning their life around.
* If people hold a grudge it will be difficult for them to develop serenity and emotional sobriety.
* Holding a grudge can lead to a great deal of bitterness about life in general. This type of mental state can drive people into dry drunk syndrome.
There are some important reasons for why people should learn to forgive once they become sober such as:
* When people escape their addiction they are given a second chance in life. It seems fair that they give other people a second chance as well.
* Most addicts will do a great deal of harm to other people. If they hope to be forgiven for their bad behavior they will need to be willing to do the same for those who have hurt them.
* By forgiving other people the individual is letting go of something that may be interfering with their ability to enjoy sobriety. Forgiveness usually benefits the person doing the forgiving much more than the person on the receiving end.
* One of the wonderful benefits of sobriety is the development of compassion for other people. Inability to forgive will prevent people from developing such positive feelings.
* Recovery means a new start in life so it is best to make a clean break from the past.
If people are full of grudges it can lead to increasing negativity in recovery – this is because such grudges will usually involve feelings of bitterness, anger, and resentment. Negativity is a drain on motivation, and one type of negativity tends to lead to other types of negativity. Before people know it they are dealing with stinking thinking, and this puts their sobriety at real risk. The symptoms of sinking thinking include:
* Bitterness about the past.
* Resenting other people.
* The individual will have a tendency to blow things out of proportion and overact –they make mountains out of molehills.
* They can feel ill will towards compete strangers.
* They will have a tendency to blame other people when things go wrong – even when it is clearly their fault.
* Pessimism about their future.
* Stinking thinking means that the individual can fluctuate between believing they are better than everyone else to believing they are worse than everyone else.
* They will usually attribute negative motivations to anyone who is trying to help them.
* They may engage in grandiose behavior at times. It is also likely that they are self-centered and self-absorbed.
* When people are caught up in stinking thinking they will tend to view the world in black or white – right or wrong. This is not such a healthy way to view the world because there are so many grey areas.
* They will be overly focused on the faults of other people.
* Those who engage in stinking thinking tend to expect too much from other people but not enough from themselves.
* The individual may get enjoyment from watching other people fail – this unattractive habit is sometimes referred to as Schadenfruede.
The dangers of stinking thinking in recovery include:
* If people think so negatively they will tend to have a great deal more stress in their life. Building a life away from addiction is stressful enough without adding further strain.
* If people are like this all the time it is going to make their new life away from addiction a bit miserable. They will have the perfect justification to relapse back to their addiction.
* Stinking thinking is likely to bring the individual in conflict with other people.
* Negativity isolates people and this can mean that they become lonely. This is dangerous because loneliness is a common relapse trigger.
* Stinking thinking means that the individual is always focused away from themselves when dealing with problems. They never consider the possibility that they might be responsible for their own suffering.
Not only does the individual need to be able to forgive other people, but they will also need to be able to forgive themselves. There is likely to be many things in the individual’s past that fills them with shame and leaves them feeling guilty. It can be a good idea to try to make amends for such harm, but there comes a time when people need to move on. Some people find it easier to forgive their enemies than to forgive themselves, but this is something that they need to do.
There are a number of things that people can do to increase their ability to forgive in recovery such as:
* Loving kindness (metta) meditation is a powerful technique that encourages the individual to develop compassion for every sentient being – including their enemies. Over time this form of mediation can give the individual the ability to forgive almost anything.
* Common advice given to people in recovery is that they fake it to make it. This means that by initially inwardly faking their forgiveness it will eventually lead to the real thing.
* Those individuals who are following a 12 Step program may find that this helps them let go of their grudges. This process not only allows the individual to make amends for their own bad behavior but also teaches them how to let go of any grievances.
* Keeping a journal can be highly beneficial for people in recovery. It allows them to put their grievances into perspective, and just writing about these things can produce healing.
* Once the individual understands that offering forgiveness will be of great benefit to their own life it can be easier to do.
* Spending time with people who have a strong sobriety can be inspiring for those in early recovery. They can learn about the importance of forgiveness and other lessons that will strengthen their sobriety.
* A therapist is skilled at helping their clients face things that are causing discomfort and offer encouragement for how to overcome such obstacles.
* Those individuals who decide to follow some type of spiritual path in recovery are likely to find that this teaches them how to forgive.