Do you struggle with forgiveness when someone has wronged you? Especially if it’s a snarky remark from your partner’s children or a hateful action directed at you from their former spouse?
I know I have a hard time with it, like, on a daily basis.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of holding on to anger.
Or maybe we are forgiving too quickly without fully processing our emotions or resolving the situation, guaranteeing it will arise again.
Or just stuffing it deep inside until it resurfaces in an outburst.
When was the last time you forgave someone? I mean, like true forgiveness. Were you able to actually let go of your anger?
Forgiveness has actual health benefits, but it’s hard. When you can forgive, it benefits you in many ways.
Frederic Luskin, a senior consultant at Stanford University and director of the forgiveness project, wrote that people who learn to forgive also “become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate. … People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches, and upset stomachs. In addition, people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy, and general well-being.”
That all sounds great, so why is it that we find it so hard to forgive and forget? Because it’s not easy!
So let’s break it down and talk about what forgiveness is (or isn’t), why you need to practice it, and how you can start.
What IS (and ISN’T) Forgiveness?
Before we get to what forgiveness is, let’s talk about what it’s not. Forgiving someone is not about forgetting what the other person’s action or perceived wrong. It’s not even about making up with them or reconnecting with them, or even liking them.
Forgiveness isn’t actually about the other person at all.
It’s about YOU.
It’s about setting yourself free. It’s about being able to let go of the anger, resentment, and hurt you feel when someone has wronged you.
Those feelings can actually have some pretty bad physical impacts on you.
Holding onto negative emotions and feelings can:
- Lead you to transfer anger and bitterness into other relationships
- Keep you so wrapped up in the anger that you can’t enjoy the present
- Make you depressed or anxious
- Keep you from connecting with others in meaningful ways
Karen Swartz, M.D., practicing psychiatrist and clinical programs director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says, “[i] f someone is stuck in an angry state, what they’re essentially doing is being in a state of adrenaline. And some of the negative health consequences of not forgiving or being stuck there are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, not having a good immune response. You’re constantly putting your energy somewhere else.”
Yikes! And let’s be real here, as stepmoms, we are, more than many, subject to being the targets of others’ potential misdeeds. Perhaps your partner’s ex is intentionally hostile or nasty towards you? Maybe your stepchildren use you as a figurative punching bag for their complex emotions? It can be easy to get overwhelmed with negativity when family members or others are aiming their hostilities your way.
Why should you practice forgiveness?
We discussed some of the health benefits of forgiveness, but I want to underscore that forgiveness, freeing yourself of all that negativity and stress, really does have benefits for your body. The Mayo Clinic reports that “letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self-esteem
There’s no question that letting go of negativity will have positive impacts on you, but only you can take the first step to do it.
How To Start Forgiving
So what does that forgiveness in action look like? It’s making a conscious decision to let go of your hurt and pain. To move forward. To allow yourself the peace to move on.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do in blended family life, but when you can successfully and intentionally forgive someone, it’s liberating. You can open your heart again. You feel lighter, and as stepmoms, it’s especially important. We are all-too-often the easiest targets for others to take out their anger; the bio mom’s, the kids, even our spouse sometimes, right? So it becomes even more important for us to be able to forgive. I know, it can feel like we always have to be the bigger person. We have to constantly restrain ourselves from responding to the sharp barbs and wrongs directed our way.
I can’t fix that dynamic for you. In the same way, you can’t control what actions or language others will direct your way, but we can all control our reactions.
Forgiveness is a choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! If you try but still find yourself holding on to hostilities, think about talking to a therapist or a coach, sometimes the simple act of talking it out will help you get there.
And as you’re making the choice to forgive, keep in mind that:
- Forgiveness can be a process. Even small hurts, or perceived hurts, may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over
- Forgiveness may not result in the person changing, but remember – that’s not that point
- If you get frustrated that the person who wronged you hasn’t changed their behavior, reset your thinking
- Remember, forgiveness is more about how it can change your life by bringing you peace and emotional healing
- Forgiveness will take away the power the other person wields over you, which means you can regain control and move on to a more positive stepmom existence
If you choose to forgive your high-conflict ex or your angry stepchild, it doesn’t mean they “won” or that you’ve somehow let them get away with their actions. Remember, they have to live with themselves. This is about you. You don’t have to tell them you’ve forgiven them. Forgiving them can bring you peace of mind that will be unbreakable.
Give yourself that grace. Showing yourself that kindness, dear stepmom, you deserve it.
Cameron Normand is the host of The Stepmom Diaries podcast and owner of This Custom Life, where she provides stepmoms with tools and advice to help them embrace their blended family lives. She is a Certified Stepparent Coach and is “bonus mom” to four stepchildren who give her all the feels. By day, she is a corporate politico in the Washington, D.C. area and was named one of the Washington Business Journal’s, “Women Who Mean Business.”
In her spare time, she loves pop culture, good coffee, and trying to achieve that elusive concept of “balance.” Follow Cameron via social media at Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.