When my father died, I was 41 years old, and he had never once told me he was proud of me. Not when my football team won the state championship. Not when I got my PhD. Not when I married and not when my children were born. I've forgiven him, though. First of all, he's not with us anymore. But here's the more important thing: Walking around with a chip on my shoulder only hurts me. Of course, I wish my father had appreciated my accomplishments, but instead of being mad about it, I've chosen forgiveness. If I still had open wounds and unfinished emotional business, that burden would prevent me from being the husband and father I am today. For me, that is the ultimate example of the power of forgiveness.

When you believe you've been cheated, offended, betrayed or otherwise treated unfairly, you might understandably feel like a victim. Perhaps you're the kind of person who gets so upset that you just want to sit in the corner and eat some worms. Or your blood might start boiling as you contemplate how you're going to get even. With rage in your heart and clenched fists, you may feel invincible. The truth is that you have never been weaker.

Why? You're letting somebody else dictate your emotions and control you. When you're locked up in an emotional prison, you give away your power.

Let's say, for instance, that a friend gossiped about you, or someone at work took credit for your ideas. You're really pissed off, and the anger and resentment have started to eat away at you. You may be 100 percent justified, but you're the one left paying the price because you've let another person make you miserable. In fact, the negativity stretches beyond your own well-being. Think about what happens when there's a skunk in your backyard: The odor permeates your whole house. Bitterness spreads like that. It can contaminate not only your emotions but also your relationships; the stench in your heart can affect the way you treat your kids or your spouse because it literally changes who you are.

I'm not saying you have to give the other person a pass. As I've often said, it's good to forgive and bad to forget. I may forgive someone, but I sure don't forget what he did because I don't want to be stupid enough to let it happen again. What I am saying is that forgiveness allows you to unlock the bonds of hostility and set yourself free.

Now, if you're thinking you'll just wait until a wave of generosity and grace washes over your soul, you'll be waiting a long time. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It's a choice you consciously make. You have to decide to tell yourself, She is not worthy of one more ounce of my energy or thoughts. I am withdrawing my investment in bitterness and hatred so I can invest more fully in the people I love and care about. She may have had a hold on me, but now I am choosing to shake her loose. I am taking back the ability to decide who I am, what I think, how I feel and whom I focus on. That's where my power comes from. I will not let anyone else turn my heart cold or change who I am.

The other person doesn't need to know about your decision. I've forgiven people who may not have even known they'd transgressed against me. Had I said, "Hey, I just want you to know that I forgive you," they probably wouldn't have had a clue what I was talking about. There's no need to go through any drama because this isn't about the other person. It's all about you casting off the unhappiness and grudges that are weighing you down. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself because you deserve to rise above pain and hurt.

Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 13th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).


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