Most people have been insulted, hurt or ignored by another person. While it's appropriate and healthy to feel hurt when this happens, some people harbor grudges, unwilling to let go of the wrong done to them. If this persists long enough, it may lead to what people in some faith traditions call a "spirit of offense," which is a constant attitude of resentment and bitterness. However, recognizing this spirit and releasing the anger that fuels it may bring healing.
Recognizing the Spirit of Offense
It's impossible to overcome the spirit of offense if you're unable to recognize it. It's important to distinguish between natural pain at being mistreated, and festering resentment. If you wish harm toward another person, rooting for his failure or destruction and unable to admit to the slightest good in him, it's an indication your feelings of hurt have developed into active hostility. Acknowledge you have these feelings rather than denying or making excuses to avoid dealing with problems.
Recognize Your Own Imperfections
A healthy self-assessment rooted in humility acknowledges that if a person's entire life -- with all its resentments, private grudges and offenses against others -- was made public, that person likely would feel humiliated. Knowing this prevents you from adopting a harsh and unforgiving attitude toward others that amplifies perceived slights and nourishes bitterness. While no one is obligated to reconcile with those who have abused him, viewing yourself as loved in spite of your imperfections frees you to extend grace where it is needed and smooths over the rough patches that emerge in all close relationships.
Recognize How Bitterness Harms You
Writing on the subject of bitterness, ethicist and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand said, "Grudges, which one simply leaves alone instead of dissolving ... continue eating one's heart and destroying one's peace of mind." Often, the resentment one person feels toward another for a wrong inflicts more mental harm than the original wrong. The spirit of offense distorts one's ability to see truth and may lead a person to suspect others are being intentionally malicious when they're not. Seeking to overcome the spirit of offense may benefit relationships, but the person it most benefits is the offended person.
Release the Wrongs Done to You
The concept of "releasing" one's anger toward someone, which is another term for forgiving them, often is misunderstood. To say you release your anger over a wrong done to you doesn't mean you pretend to forget what happened. It means you resolve no longer to be controlled by your anger toward the guilty party, allowing it to govern your life, and consume your time, energy and emotions. Instead, move into the future without being encumbered by the weight of the past.
- Oxford Bible Church: Overcoming in Life -- Overcoming Offense
- ESV Bible: 1 Peter 4:8
- Transformation in Christ; Dietrich von Hildebrand
- Psychology Today: Can You Forgive?
- Photo Credit altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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