Book Review

Dare to Forgive: The Power of Letting Go and Moving On by Edward M. Hallowell, MD. Health Comunications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL, 2004; 258 pages, ISBN 0-7573-0293-9, paperback, $12.95.

How difficult it can be to let go of injuries, slights, and insults, whether large or small.  Dr. Hallowell, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, not only sets out the concrete benefits of forgiveness for oneself and others, but also presents many practical suggestions that can help in letting go of hurts and grievances.  He doesn't minimize the difficulties, fully recognizing how very hard it can be to even want to let go of our anger and hurt. Nor does he adopt a holier-than-thou attitude or sermonize.  This is a deeply felt book that draws on the author's life experiences as well as those of others.  He points out that forgiveness is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that often anger and resentment hide sadness and grief that can seem too painful to confront -- yet we need to confront these feelings if we are to move on with our own lives in a healthy way.  We are the ones who are damaged by resentment and hatred, not the object of our negative feelings.  Such feelings can undermine our health and cripple our lives if we continue to feed them or revel in them. 

The most crucial step is getting to the initial point where we want to forgive, where we're willing to try; it's so easy to hang onto anger, a very energizing and strangely "feel good" emotion.  To let go also means accepting the reality of the past, that what has happened cannot be as it was before, and if necessary to grieve that loss and feel the sadness that so often is shielded under more aggressive emotions.  Dr. Hallowell outlines several possible strategies, but recognizes that what triggers forgiveness will vary from person to person and situation to situation.  Imaginative empathy for others is a key concept, also understanding why something is hard to let go -- what in ourselves gives this grievance such strength and tenacity, what meaning or message it holds for us.  In the last chapter he writes about the importance of forgiveness for improving the human condition and in the evolution of human nature.

This is a very helpful, positive book, optimistic without being facile, normative, judgmental, or unrealistic. – Sally Dougherty (March 2009)