At a recent study group somebody objected to the notion of dwelling on the negative. My opinion is that some things require dwelling. But dwell on it for the purpose of resolving. Talk about it until a harmonious solution is found. Otherwise, if you sweep it under the carpet, one day your carpet is going to be too small to tuck all these things under it. Unresolved issues come back with sharper teeth to bite you.
I have learned in my life to address issues when they need to be addressed, and not wait, delay, obfuscate or deny. Part of the work I do is to teach clients how to speak their truth; to do it easily and naturally out of personal love and respect. If something needs to be resolved, it does no good to wait until his funeral to spit in his face. That is rather cowardly.
Buddha said, "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. Whereas you are the one getting burnt." Senseless anger keeps the burning coal in your hand, hoping to harm your enemy, yet ignorant of the harm you inflict on yourself.
Anger burns the person holding it more so than the person to whom it is directed. In my understanding, forgiveness involves a conscious choice to let go of the anger and pain; to detach from the negative emotional energy to which you so dearly cling at your own detriment.
David Kessler has written that grief is as unique as your fingerprint. I say the same of forgiveness. You cannot simply SAY ‘I forgive you’ and consider it over and done. It doesn't work that way.
One of my clients lost 50 pounds. She was about to ditch husband number five when she came to me. As we began she said, “I've been in therapy all of my life; and I have to forgive this and forgive that. My therapists tell me that I have to do all this forgiveness.”
While seeing me she was still seeing her regular therapist. I said, “No, no, no, no, no, it doesn't work that way. You can't come here, let me expand your mind, and then go see a shrink; it is counterproductive. It's like playing the accordion.”
I asked if she would be willing to see only me for two weeks; telling the other therapist she wanted a short break. If nothing changed within that time I would release her. But over those two weeks miracles happened. She continued to work with me and lost the unwanted 50 pounds. And there were no more husbands after that. She learned to love herself.
In our last session together, I asked what she lost in the 50 pounds. She answered, “All the therapists told me that I must do forgiveness; but nobody taught me how to do forgiveness. You taught me how to do forgiveness, all 50 pounds of it. I've been fat, I've been thin, but I know this time I will not gain back the weight.”
I saw her three years later and she still maintained her new self; two sizes of clothes smaller than when she started. She realized after she was done the forgiveness was not to forgive the husbands, it was to forgive herself.
She had put her ‘self’ through cycle after cycle of dysfunctional marriage. If you lined them up, it was only a different face; they were identical husbands in terms of behavior. She kept choosing the same kind of relationship. Until she changed that model, she continued to suffer.
Wikipedia says forgiveness means “to give up resentment of or claim
requital; or to forgive, to grant relief, to cease to feel resentment against.” That is interesting when you understand that nobody can make you feel. Yes, people are prone to saying, “You make
me so mad.” How is it that you; the individual actually suffering the anger and resentment; somehow have no responsibility in the matter?
To angry people, it never hurts to exercise a bit of self-righteousness to justify their anger. “I am so mad because she stole my pencil.” “I am so angry” might be translated as “I have convinced myself I have a good reason to be angry.” If you have to rationalize a negative emotion, that means you have no control over it; meaning that it is causing you harm.
While there are many cognitive strategies to keep anger at bay, logical solutions do not resolve emotional problems. It's just the wrong tool. It may help you feel better in the short term; but is little better than putting a mask on a pig.
No matter how self-righteous or justified you feel your anger is, it does not make you feel any better. In fact, it leads to exhaustion. The more you scream the worse you feel. Yet people do that.
In order to let go of a wrong, of a loss, you have to first grieve that loss. Fred Luskin, PhD, is a Stanford scholar who writes about forgiveness and teaches forgiveness workshops. Once, as he was teaching the workshop, a woman came to him and asked for help. “How do I do this? My son was murdered. I need to forgive the person who killed him.” He asked how long ago it happened and she said last week. So Dr. Luskin replied, “You can go home now. Go home. And take at least six months before you come back. You need to go home and grieve the loss of your son before you can even begin to entertain the idea of forgiveness.”
It is an interesting concept; the idea of grieving a loss before you can do forgiveness.
To forgive, the verb, takes a lot of energy to act upon. And as noted earlier, forgiveness is as unique as your fingerprint. In fact, each issue you forgive is unique; just as forgiving yourself is very different from forgiving someone else. It is ultimately you who needs to make a choice in how you feel. Therefore, forgiveness only works when you forgive yourself for having allowed yourself to suffer. That's a very big deal to consider, the notion that you allow yourself to suffer.
In The Painted Veil, the 2002 movie based on the 1925 novel by W. Somerset Maugham; one of the main characters is a young man, a doctor and bacteriologist. He falls in love with a beautiful woman, marries her, and they immediately leave cosmopolitan England for the wilds of China. The wife adapts to China poorly and soon falls into an affair with the local viceroy. The husband uncovers the betrayal and is understandably upset and angry; to the point that he just cannot forgive her. Later in the story she attempts to reconcile but he will have nothing to do with her. Both suffer greatly; isolated from each other, but still living together in the middle of nowhere. The turning point is a scene that serves as a prime example of forgiveness in action.
The wife asks the husband, “Do you despise me this much? How much longer do you want to punish me?” The husband looks at her and replies, “No, I do not despise you. I despise me for loving you. I despise me for loving you so much that your betrayal has destroyed me.”
The scene is so powerful because he knows exactly the root of his suffering. It is not her he despises; it is himself. Predictably, his heart eventually softens and they reconnect. There is a moment of forgiveness as they accept each other and share the fault for their circumstance.
In the movie it is done so beautifully; no words need be spoken. Forgiveness is not about words; how or what you say. It is in knowing, in allowing your heart to open.
In Buddhist terms, the heart chakra opens and blossoms like a lotus of 1000 petals. Light shines through. You feel love again.
Some call that an act of God; based on the belief that only God can forgive. The assumption is it takes an act of divinity to open the heart, to allow Grace to flow in. I say you can do it yourself by allowing yourself to say (and believe) “It's okay. I'm okay. I can live with this. I can move on. I am making a conscious choice today that I will suffer no more.”
To forgive is to first dwell on it. You must know and understand exactly what you are suffering. Only then can you make a conscious decision to let it go.
So my formula is to dwell and release. If you can't talk about it, that means you are ashamed of it. That is another form of suffering; to feel shame is to suffer.
“I am not going to tell anybody” and “This is going to be my secret” is a weak strategy. Research substantiates that people who can talk about a loss or hurt; articulate the anger and pain; heal better. People were interviewed after 9/11; significantly after, when the initial trauma had somewhat dissipated. Those who could feel compassion for themselves, for the victims, and also for those who committed the act, moved on with their lives faster. They suffered less depression and anxiety because they were in a state of forgiveness.
Names and specific circumstances have been revised to protect the confidentiality of the clients.