I’ll share a little story. As you know, my work is clinical hypnotherapy. I help alleviate clients’ suffering. They come to see me because something in their life isn't working right for them and they don't know how to fix it.
Like the flavor of the month, suddenly I'll have a slew of clients who want to work on the same issue; let's say weight loss. Suddenly a wave of energy brings in a particular form of suffering that people need help with. So during one period of time, one after another client came to me suffering from incest.
It is assumed to be sexual molestation of a daughter by her father, but it can just as easily be father to son, or any other combination of sexual conduct between blood relations.
When it occurs between parent and child the long term consequences are particular horrible. Having worked with many such clients, I am convinced that conventional therapy does little to help victims of sexual assault heal or move on with their lives.
One client explained, “You know, I've seen therapists for years as an adult. I was a victim of incest. My own father repeatedly raped me for a period of years. I can't remember exactly how long; but from 5 to 14; something like that.”
She was very angry, having seen many therapists to no avail. I asked what brought her to me.
“Well, I have heard that the things you do are rather unconventional and different from therapy. At this point in my life I'll try anything because nothing has helped me heal.”
She continued, “My therapists have told me I must forgive my father. If I don't forgive my father I will never heal from this suffering.”
Sudden she looked at me with a very angry expression, “There is absolutely no way I'm going to forgive that SOB." Yet, as the anger faded and tears started to flow, she whimpered, “I am so sad because if that were true, what these therapists say, it means I would never heal from this. Tell me, am I doomed to suffer this for the rest of my life? Because I cannot find it in me to forgive my father for the horrible things he did to me. I was just a child and he the adult. There is just no excuse. I cannot forgive him. So, if what my therapists tell me is true, I cannot heal.”
How horrible is that! Imagine going to a therapist and being told there is no hope for you?
My training and practice had not prepared me to respond to this poor woman. Yet I was adapting to hypnotherapy as sacred work. Out of concern for her well-being, I closed my eyes, went inside myself, and asked God to give me a hand. As I opened my eyes I had no idea what I was going to say, yet words came out of my mouth.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well then, in my office nobody needs to do anything against her will. If you don't feel like forgiving your father, you don't have to.” After letting that sink in a bit, I followed with, “But would you be willing to let God do it for you?”
In a moment a different set of tears ran down her face and she replied with a smile of relief, “Yes, I can hand it over to God.”
I extended an open palm and said, “Put it here.” As she reached over and grasped my hand, I exclaimed, “Wonderful! Now we can get to work.”
Do you consider that to be forgiveness? I believe that forgiveness is as unique as your fingerprint. Everybody finds unique ways to forgive.
The need for forgiveness arises when you hold something inside, a painful emotion; of suffering, anger, anxiety; something that doesn't feel good. It may be the result of a wrong done to you.
A common phenomenon of suffering is that you take ownership of it and hold it tightly, “This is MY suffering. Don't you be talking about MY suffering! Get your own.”
For instance, I was working with a woman with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a lot of anger that you hang on to. You can't let it go. Eventually it becomes somatic; that is, physical.
I am not a medical doctor, so do not take this as a scientific explanation. I work with energies. From an energy perspective, fibromyalgia can best be understood as if all the fascia and connective tissue in your body has become angry. It flares up in parallel with episodes of stress (anger).
My client had much drama in her life; but she rationalized it away as, “That is my fibromyalgia.”
She hung tightly to it, even as I joked, “Nobody is going to steal it from you.” On the contrary, she could not be relieved of her suffering unless she chose to give it up. Initially, she was too wrapped up in her drama to understand what I was suggesting. She wasn't willing (or ready) to let it go.
By the time it becomes apparent in the hypnotherapy chair that forgiveness is a necessary remedy, the client has become attached to the suffering. Something bad happened; a relationship was thwarted; a lifelong grudge emerged. It may have occurred in small doses or a single crisis.
The connection between suffering and forgiveness seems obvious when a middle-age woman cannot get past having been raped by her own father. But forgiveness is just as important to a middle age man whose mother criticized him daily throughout childhood. The nature and frequency of either real or perceived abuse doesn't matter. What is relevant is the emotional energy an individual attaches to it that emerges as anger and hatred.
What is it that creates a need to forgive or be forgiven? It begins with an act, something that occurs between two parties. There is a doer and someone else who is done to. The act leads, either immediately or eventually, to suffering.
That is pretty obvious in the case of an adult abusing a child. But, throughout life, there are many ways to be hurt. You might lose face, as in guilt or embarrassment. You might lose property, as in theft. You lose status, as in downsizing. You lose something (and blame someone else).
Whatever it is, there is a sense of loss that causes you to feel ‘less than’ as a result. Once it has happened; you have a choice. You can let it go; say life's too short to worry about it and carry on. Or you can state ‘life's too short to be mad’ while plotting your revenge. Or you can move directly to making threats of reprisal.
Whether or not actual revenge is forthcoming; for the rest of your life, every time somebody mentions the offender’s name, you will suffer anger all over again. It affects your life, subconsciously triggering a recurring movie in which you play the victim over and over again.
It's amazing how many people go through such a degree of suffering for years and years until finally reaching a point in their life that they can say, “Okay, I have suffered enough. Something's got to give. I need to do something else. I'm sick and tired of being the victim.” Then, and only then, are they ready to do something drastically different; when they apply the old bromide to themselves, “To do the same thing over and over and over again and expect something new to happen is called insanity.”
The notion of forgiveness requires that you actually acknowledge that a wrong has been done to you; or that you have done something wrong to somebody else that caused them to suffer. That is, only if you have a moral compass can you feel guilty and wish you could take it back.
Everyone does a few things they are not proud of, particularly when it has hurt someone else. Even if it was unintentional, it cannot be changed now; so what do you do. You could spend the rest of your life beating yourself up over it. Or, you can acknowledge ‘these things happen’, and forgive yourself for being imperfect.
That way you can talk about it later without suffering. Forgiveness becomes an act of letting go any attachment to the original event. That is, emotional attachment, spiritual attachment. Releasing such attachments prevent them from becoming a hindrance to your life progress, your evolution.
The Dalai Lama once said, “The purpose in life is to grow and evolve, to learn.” If you can't move on, you cannot evolve. If you become so stuck in revenge; or so stuck in replaying an old script over and over, there is no space for change. In Chinese, we say you cannot fill a teacup that is full. To embrace learning and change, you have to empty your teacup, detach from suffering, make space for new joy. Forgiveness is a way to empty your cup.
Suffering happens when you feel you have been wronged. You hang on to the memory, the hurt feelings and the pain. Every time you think about it or talk about it, the emotions come right back as if it was happening all over again. In hypnotherapy that is called abreaction. You hear a comment that triggers an emotional reaction and suddenly you find yourself in that emotional space; a flashback.
I had a client long ago who was an opera singer. As a music student she had spent a summer in Italy studying voice. She returned home, graduated and began a career.
Once while I was working with her she arrived shaking. I asked if she was alright. She responded calmly but I could see she was clearly in a state of terror, “Well, something happened this morning. I had some time to kill before my appointment so I went to Barnes & Noble. I sat near the cafe and was browsing a magazine. A man stood by the magazine section, browsing as well. The smell of his cologne triggered a panic attack.”
It turns out that while in Italy she went out with some local boys and was gang raped. She told no one because she was so ashamed; a feeling shared by most rape victims. She knew she should not have gone out with these boys in the first place; so she didn't tell her instructors. She didn't tell her mother. She told no one. She buried it in her subconscious.
Yet the smell of that cologne brought the whole memory back, as if she was right there, experiencing it all over again. She was still shaking hours later.
How do you get past something so removed by time and distance from the original event? It is commonplace to put such things aside and hope to simply forget. Don't talk about it. Don't dwell on it. But for most people forgetting is not as effective as forgiving.
Names and specific circumstances have been revised to protect the confidentiality of the clients.