When you find yourself feeling irritable all the time and unusually cranky, old grievances could be to blame. Here, how forgiveness can help you heal and move on:
Take a moment: Irritability is a confusing, unfocused emotion that often leads us to snap at others, says expert Suzanne Freedman, PhD. “For example, I can feel irritable when talking with my daughter, but if I don’t stop and think about the cause, I can blame it on her, when in reality, it’s about a past argument with a friend.” In fact, such hidden grudges, large and small, are often at the root of our crankiness, and just taking a moment to sit with our feelings will help us see that the key to soothing a bad mood is often forgiveness.
Acknowledge pain: It’s easy to believe that forgiving someone is an “undeserved gift,” says expert Lysa TerKeurst. “But it’s not about them: It’s about your healing.” Just grab 3″x5″ cards and list how you’ve been hurt on each one, she suggests. “This gives you a visual, ‘marked moment.’” Seeing the cards helps you recognize in black and white who or what is behind your anger or anxiety — irritability is eased when we know what it’s trying to tell us.
Do it for you: “When we overcome the resentment toward someone, not by denying our right to that anger but by trying to offer them compassion, we can come to forgiveness,” says Freedman. Extending this empathy eases the stress that causes irritability. “Forgiveness can just be a change of heart involving a decrease in negative thoughts.” It’s not the same as reconciliation — it’s something you can do by yourself, for yourself.
Take a load off: It’s easier to forgive when we allow a higher power to help. “Whatever my feelings will not allow for, God will surely cover,” says TerKeurst. “Forgiveness is my cooperation with what God is already doing — because it doesn’t start with me, it can flow freely to me.” Another way to allow for this peace of mind is to repeat the serenity prayer, advises expert Fred Luskin, PhD. “This brings awareness to what you can and cannot change. And sometimes that’s the internal action of forgiving yourself for past regrets.”
Send love ahead: Forgiveness shouldn’t be reserved for old grudges; it’s a pattern or intention for daily life, says TerKeurst. When you get up in the morning, consider sending forgiveness ahead of you that day to avoid feeling irritable all the time. “Just tell yourself, I recognize there are people carrying around hurt, but I refuse to participate in that.” This way, when someone is rude or cuts you off in line at the coffee shop, you’ll already have a resilient heart, and their actions won’t weigh on you.
Be patient with yourself: Just remember when you can’t yet forgive, it’s not a failure, it’s a continual process, promises TerKeurst. “It takes a while, and your anger or irritability will sometimes bubble up,” she says. “It’s not that your hurt isn’t real, it’s that you don’t need to hold on to the resentment. You can heal your heart and move on stronger and happier.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.