Scarlett Lewis lost her five-year-old son, Jesse, at the Sandy Hook massacre by Adam Lanza in 2012. Later she said, “Afterwards I felt I was attached, like an umbilical cord, to the shooter. All my personal power drained out of me in the form of anger and through this cord into the shooter. I was dragging him around with me everywhere. For me, forgiveness was like a big set of scissors that I used to cut this cord that attached me to the thing that was hurting me.”
‘Forgiveness’ is a word that gets bandied around in self-help circles with little understanding of what it means, let alone how to actually forgive. We also confuse forgiving with condoningwhatever has happened to us, which is enough for it never to leave the starting gates.
Forgiveness does not make what happened ok. It is the absolute refusal to hold resentment towards someone (or something) for what they did or didn’t do – for your own sake and, frankly, for the world’s sake.
We need to be awake to even admit our resentments, let alone let them go. Writing about ‘how to forgive in 700 words’ is a tall order if I am to add something applicable and healing to the concept. No steps I suggest will work if we haven’t grasped the power of resentment, which is ill will held over time.
Nothing slams the heart more tightly shut than resentment. Nothing asserts or defends its power more obdurately than resentment. In my view, it is the most insidious and destructive force on the planet.
But oh, how we glorify and collude in it. We base entire friendships on it. We jump on its bandwagon. We seek revenge for wrongs. We cry ‘foul’. We build walls. We go to war.
Nothing makes us ‘feel’ more right, more vindicated, more elevated to the moral high ground or more martyred to a cause than resentment. It permits us to wallow in self-pity and indulge in revenge. It anaesthetises our pain (which anyone or anything but us is to blame for). In the absence of true power, true love and trueself-regard, resentment is what we settle for in minute and massive ways. It is as addictive to the psyche as heroin is to the body, and as poisonous to the soul. And it is as invisible and inflammable as methane.
You see, resentment is insidious and elusive, the snake in the grass. This is largely because it is loaded with these apparent benefits. It gets in without us noticing. It binds itself to the petty as well as the significant: to the loo seat left up, the lid not put back on the toothpaste, my husband’s back-seat driving. Seriously.
The moment we acknowledge our resentment is the moment we unlock the cage we have been unwittingly living in. And the moment we realise that the costs outweigh the benefits is the moment we fly free.
The price is so very high. Resentment costs us energy, health, vitality and emotional freedom. It costs us connection, love, intimacy, empathy and compassion. It stifles our creativity and stunts our productivity.
It denies us access to our full potential and bars the gates to our destiny. It prevents us from feeling, being and becoming. It strangles self-expression, muffling our ability to say what we want, care about and need. It spits on grief, which is the one emotional force that can bring resentment to its knees. Resentment sacrifices our self-esteem to self-justification and self-righteousness. It turns our values into empty shells washed up on abandoned beaches. It bows our spirits and banishes peace. It is the “umbilical cord” that attaches us to who or what we resent.
But the object of our resentment does not suffer for it. Not. One. Jot. Only the person walking around with it pays the price. As the Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
When we open our eyes and hearts to the cost of holding resentment, forgiveness becomes the hand reaching down to pull us out of the quicksand. We will grab it like Jesse’s mother. We will choose to lay it down like a heavy burden we can no longer bear to carry. Resentment is what we need to let go of in order to move forwards.
This is forgiveness. It is not a feeling or a decision or even a prayer. It is in an act of pure will.
Adapted from ‘Lifeshocks – and how to love them” by Sophie Sabbage. Published by Coronet. Out now.
This work on resentment comes from the More To Life programme, where Sophie teaches courses. To find out when she is teaching, go to: sophiesabbage.com/events.
Featured photo credit: Tanya Lloyd