I have a wonderful memory of my older brother who helped me profoundly many years ago when I was a
teen. I was feeling powerfully angry holding a grudge with one of my teachers in high school. My brother,
seeing the scowl on my face, uttered a statement I have never forgotten. “You’ll never be free of him if you
don’t forgive him.” I have been applying that pearl of wisdom ever since. Most of the time I live in
freedom. I would hate to think of all the life energy I would have wasted if I had held on to my anger
against that man. Life is short. I do not want to waste life with bitterness.
Try taking an internal inventory right now of what hurt or anger you may be holding against others in your
life. How far back does it go? Do you think of yourself as one who holds grudges or are you good at
letting go? Becoming a person who can let go of wounds is important for your health and effectiveness
as a person.
My brother’s statement is amazing really. By holding on to one’s anger against a person, we are in
captivity to that person even though the person probably does not even know it. This is probably the one
person we don’t want to be connected to at all. How ironic for us to be emotionally connected to a person
from whom we want to be distanced.
How is your internal inventory coming? If you find yourself becoming aware of unresolved hurts or anger,
why don’t you free yourself or at least begin freeing yourself today?
Years ago, my family was traumatized when an intruder entered our house and robbed us while we were
there. Most of us have stories where we’ve been hurt or traumatized in some profound way. Thankfully in
that past situation, none of my family was hurt physically, but you know it took some time to work through
the trauma and let go of unforgiveness.
Truly, in writing this article I run the risk of trivializing monumental pain. No doubt some losses and
traumas are so profound, they take years to work through. Other hurts are small yet persist stubbornly.
Regardless of the magnitude of hurt you experienced, the truth of my brother’s statement remains: If you
hang on to your anger and hurt against that person, you will never be free. How badly do you want to be
free? For me, freedom is more important than hanging on to unforgiveness.
So how does one forgive and let go and move into freedom from the bitterness of unforgiveness? One
key to forgiving is realizing our own ability to hurt others. When we know that we are capable of hurting
others in ways similar to the way we were hurt, it makes it easier to release the other. We would want to
be forgiven if we had been in the wrong, thus we can empathize with the wrongdoer.
This might be fine for ordinary hurts, but what about the extraordinary wounds that we cannot imagine
ourselves perpetrating on another? I haven’t invaded someone else’s house lately and robbed them.
These are harder to forgive because it is harder for us to empathize with the wrongdoer. Some find it
helpful to let go of the need to punish the wrongdoer knowing that the wrongdoer faces a higher level of
punishment. Surrendering your need to punish the wrongdoer is a major sign of forgiveness. Others are
able to imagine the negative formative family experiences of the wrongdoer, and on some level, feel for
that person. Imagine what the intruder’s life must have been like to give him the idea that robbery is
conceivable. So the truth remains, if we want to be free, it is necessary to forgive.
Many find the capacity to forgive linked to their faith in God. Others find it hard to forgive God for allowing
bad things that happen to them. Understanding why bad things happen is beyond the scope of this
article, but finding peace with God is also crucial in learning to live in freedom from bitterness.
Do realize, as almost any good counselor will tell you, that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation.
Just because you give up your need to punish a person does not mean that you have to want to be in
relationship with that person. Often in situations where you have been seriously wounded, you will want
distance from that person. That is perfectly normal. On the other hand, you may want to reconcile and
renew relationship with someone who has hurt you. That is a judgement call that only you can make.
This is common and necessary in marriage relationships.
So, in summary, the following are lists of signs of unforgiveness and signs of forgiveness. If you find
yourself carrying the signs of unforgiveness, I encourage you to make time to work through your hurt and
to forgive. If you find that you are blocked in this effort, I encourage you to seek help from a trusted friend,
pastor, or professional counselor. Clearing unforgiveness from your mind is like clearing viruses from
your computer. It works better and so will you. Enjoy your increased freedom and pursue life.
Signs of Unforgiveness:
Signs of Forgiveness:
- Memory of the hurt surfacing frequently
- Desire to punish the person or make him or her pay
- Feelings of bitterness
- Anger with God
- Chronic irritability or negativity
- Disturbed sleep
- Positive life goals Interrupted by negative thoughts
- Signs of traumatic stress (flashbacks, anxiety, disturbing dreams, etc.
- Hurt memories rarely surface
- Lack of desire to punish the person
- Peace with God
- Neutral to positive reaction when seeing the person
- More peaceful, loving, and less stressed interactions
- Greater ability to focus on positive life goals