Excerpt from Dare to Forgive
Now, return to what I asked before: If you know why you want to forgive, then how do you do it? How do you stop feeling what you are feeling? It is often not enough just to want to. How do you stop your anger from ruling you?
The definitions point the way. You do not have to stop feeling what you are feeling. That's impossible. However, you can refuse to act on those feelings by hurling hand grenades or insults, and you can refuse to welcome those feelings when they hungrily come to your door, hoping to feed on your fantasies of revenge.
Renouncing certain feelings is something we've all learned how to do. For example, we renounce our aggressive feelings when we are stopped by a traffic cop for speeding. We might feel like punching the cop's lights out, but we renounce those feelings, we do not act on them, we disown them, we repudiate them, we do not let ourselves live under their rule. We continue to feel them; the feelings are still very much with us. We simply renounce their control over us.
I shouldn't say "simply" because such renunciation requires strength, patience and skill. But we manage to do it, every day, not only with our aggressive feelings, but also with our sexual feelings, and even our feelings of hunger and thirst or the need to use the bathroom.
When we forgive, we may continue to feel anger and resentment, just as we may continue to feel anger and resentment at the traffic cop who stopped us. But, if we are wise, we put those feelings aside. We do not let them rule our actions.
Furthermore, we try not to welcome the feelings when they skulk back, looking to be nursed. That means when we think of the person who hurt us, we do not give in for very long to the temptation to dream up scenes of revenge or revel in methods of torture. You can luxuriate in imagined scenes of revenge, you can cuddle and nurse your angry feelings, but after a while you risk nursing those feelings into a monster that ends up destroying you, not your enemy.
Let's say you've been betrayed by a coworker, which led to your getting fired from your job. Do you really want to spend parts of the next five or ten years contemplating scenes of this person being humiliated, fired, rejected or in other ways hurt? For a little while, yes, you do. You should; you need to. But for months and years? Wouldn't that mean you gave that person more power over you than was good for you? Wouldn't that mean that the person had achieved a double victory: first by getting you fired, then second by infecting your free time with fantasies of revenge?