Figuring out how to forgive someone who has hurt us is a difficult puzzle to solve. Forgiveness means letting go. It is an intentional act of moving past an offense and of choosing to hold no ill will toward the offender.
Forgiveness is an important love habit, because, as the popular saying goes, holding on to anger is a lot like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. Lingering feelings of anger and sadness ultimately harm the person who harbors them. And if you’re married, failing to overcome anger is guaranteed to damage your relationship. Anger can be frustrating because:
- We want to forgive.
- We know we should forgive.
- And we keep trying harder.
However, overcoming anger is not as simple as it sounds because our feelings seem to have a mind of their own. You can’t merely tell anger to go away. Sadness doesn’t disappear by clinching our fists, gritting our teeth, and trying harder. I know, we think to ourselves. I’ll simply will that anger and sadness away by thinking happy thoughts!
This idea is born out of the positive psychology moment. It’s build upon the idea that people can become better by thinking better. There’s just one problem. Overcoming feelings of anger and sadness through positive thinking alone rarely works.
How to Forgive without Positive Thinking Alone
Feelings are fickle. They come, they go, and they change over time. On the bright side, forcing ourselves to think more positively sometimes works for a moment. It is possible to take unwanted feelings and push them down. The only problem is they typically pop back up again.
If we’re not careful, we may create a cycle of pushing down our emotions, having them pop back up, and pushing them down again. It’s like a lot like that old arcade game, whack-a-mole. Some people play long, drawn-out games of whack-a-mole with their emotions.
A favorite college professor used to say, “That which we suppress, we magnify.” His favorite metaphor was that of a child attempting to push a fully inflated beachball to the bottom of a swimming pool. Holding a beachball underwater is tough. And the further down it’s pushed, the higher it will shoot out of the water once it’s released.
Emotions such as anger and sadness work in much the same way. Suppressing them with positive feelings is not enough. Sure, this may be a quick fix in the moment. But ultimately these feelings need to be addressed. Attempting to cover up negative emotions with extreme positivity is not a healthy, long-term solution.
How to Forgive by Feeling Your Feelings
To understand how to forgive, it’s crucial to know a few things about feelings. First, emotions are not good or bad. They are morally neutral and all of them have a purpose.
Anger, for example, is a lot like a warning light on the dashboard of a car—it lets us know there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Sadness, on the other hand, often indicates there is a loss to be grieved. Suppressing anger and sadness rarely work. However, moving through these emotions does.
Feelings are just that, feelings, and they won’t kill you. If we uncork the dam, eventually, the water will stop flowing. Similarly, if we sit with a feeling for long enough, it will dissipate. Forgiving, by moving through our feelings, involves leaning into the emotion.
How to Forgive with the Five-Minute Rule
I first heard of the five-minute rule in Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Equation. The process starts by allowing ourselves permission to feel our emotions. Are you angry? Great! Then give your self permission to be angry.
Are you sad? Fantastic! Allow yourself time to grieve.
The one caveat is that after five minutes, the time is up. The next step is to repeat the words “Can’t change it!”—preferably out loud. Then move on. This was Hal’s strategy for moving past difficult sales calls. And ultimately, it was his way of moving past a potentially life-altering road collision.
How to Forgive and Keep it Off
The five-minute rule won’t work like magic for everyone. Overcoming anger and sadness is a different journey for everyone. Hal’s experience of being able to put a potentially life-altering collision behind him quickly is an example of a forgiveness outlier. Maybe Hal has a unique forgiveness superpower. Perhaps he is hardwired a little differently than the rest of us. Or, maybe his years of experience practicing the five-minute rule during sales calls allowed him to hone his ability to forgive.
Here’s a great thing. It’s perfectly acceptable to play with this forgiveness strategy. Try it out next time you are sad or mad. Give yourself permission to lean into the emotion for five full minutes. Then, say the words “Can’t change it,” and move on.
If the feelings come back later, then try this forgiveness exercise again. Forgiveness is often a process and not a one-time event. You don’t have to become a forgiveness master on your first attempt. If the feelings persist, there’s another strategy called The Total Truth Letter, that you can try. But that’s a subject for another post.
Next Steps in Overcomeing Anger
There are a few great ways to overcome anger and sadness and to dive into forgiveness. The first is to test-drive the five-minute rule and see how this works for you.
A second way to lean into forgiveness is to dive deeper, with personalized coaching. If you’d like to see if this is a good fit for you, set up a free coaching call here.
Continue the Conversation
Let’s continue the conversation. If you’ve used the five-minute rule before, how did this work for you? Can you relate to pushing anger and sadness down, only to have them pop back up again? Do you have a forgiveness strategy that works well for you?
I’d love to hear your thought on how to forgive in the comments below!