Do you have a grievance you think about more than the positive things in your life? If so, do you think the same, repetitive thoughts about it? Do you seek out people who will listen to you tell the same painful story many times? Does this story have a villain?
If you recognize these patterns in yourself, maybe it is time to forgive.
When we hold on to hurt, we remain locked in an unhealthy bond that keeps the people in our lives from having all of who we are. Hurt also robs us of our personal strength. Left unresolved long enough, it can even develop into a victim story that becomes part of our identity.
What Is Forgiveness?
Some question what forgiveness is and is not. According to Dr. Frederic Luskin, author of the 2002 book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, forgiveness is:
- Taking back your power
- Taking responsibility for your feelings
- For you and your healing, not the offender
- A choice
Per Luskin, forgiveness is not:
- Excusing bad behavior or unkindness
- Minimizing or denying your pain
- Forgetting a painful event happened
- Reconciling with the offender
Focus on the personal aspect of a hurt often comes from our beliefs and expectations that were not met. Luskin (2002) shares some common beliefs and expectations he refers to as “unenforceable rules”:
- My partner must be faithful.
- No one should ever lie to me.
- People must treat me the way I want to be treated.
- My life should be easier than it is.
- Life should be fair.
- My parents should have done a better job.
Challenge Unenforceable Rules
Forgiveness centers on giving back peace of mind. It prevents a past hurt from determining a negative future. Luskin (2002) offers the following steps to address unenforceable rules:
A big part of forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be anything other than what it was.
- Acknowledge your feelings: confusion, anger, indignation, etc. Ask yourself if you are experiencing feelings in the present over events in the past.
- Concede that you feel bad because your expectations were not met.
- Give yourself the grace to challenge the unenforceable rule underlying your hurt.
- Identify the unenforceable rule. What is the experience in your life that you demanded to be different?
- Change the unenforceable rule you demanded into something you hoped to get. Express it in positive terms. “I wanted a partner who did not cheat on me” is different from “I wanted a monogamous partnership.” The latter is a positive expression.
- Notice what changes for yourself when your demands change to hopes. Do you feel more peaceful?
Luskin (2002) further offers a HEAL (hope, educate, affirm, long-term) method to help forgive:
- Hope: Hope statements remind us of what we wished went our way. They remind us of life’s uncertainty. They are a statement of power when we understand not all our hopes manifest. They declare we will continue to hope for good things to happen.
- Educate: This is to remind us there are limits to what we control and we don’t always get what we want.
- Affirm: Affirm your positive intention. For example: “I want to use my experiences to be a more compassionate person.” This reminds us that we can grow from any hurtful experience. Consider repeating the intention to yourself.
- Long-Term: Make a long-term commitment to healing and well-being. Practice the HEAL steps. Set aside 15 minutes each day to mull over the grievance and write about your feelings for a period of time. Ask someone close to let you know if you slide into old habits and repeat the grievance story. What else could you do to take care of yourself? Would counseling, an exercise program, or parenting classes help?
A big part of forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be anything other than what it was. It is important to acknowledge the feelings that come with an injustice, but also to not remain locked in them. If you have tried to forgive and not been successful, a therapist can help you process a grievance.
Something happened that we did not want to happen, or something did not happen that we wanted to happen. Forgiveness is the power we receive as we assert that we have a well of resilience to draw upon. It gives us the chance to rewrite a story about a victim into a story about a hero (Luskin, 2002).
Luskin, F. (2002). Forgive for Good. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
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