“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi
Never. The word is thrown around a lot when it comes to forgiveness. “I will never understand why she did that.” “We will never be friends again.” “I will never get over this.” Never, never, never. We’ve been beaten over the head with the idea of forgiving and forgetting, but it seems more likely we’ll tap dance on the moon with a bear. “Ok, I get it. To err is human and to forgive is divine. But I’m only human – and a mad one at that.”
What is it about forgiveness that makes the process so hard? We know it is something to strive for, an action that will benefit our health and happiness — but it evades us. The “Nevers” just seem so much easier, so much more automatic.
Visit the local library and you’ll find scores of road maps to the magical land of Forgiveness. No matter the steps proposed, these plans are destined to fail. Why? Because every hurt is different. The given circumstances (the where, when, how, who, why) are never exactly alike – what works for one person on one day has no guarantee of ever working again. There are, however, three universal factors that may be hindering your progress and keeping you focused on the “Nevers”: your pride, your offender, and your timeline.
Never Perpetuator #1 – Your Pride.
“Ouch.” Perhaps the reason forgiveness is pushed to the back burner is in order to achieve it, one must be wiling to address the pain. The first step to authentic forgiveness is admitting you’ve been hurt. In order to move forward, it’s important to know why something affected you, which is impossible if you don’t fully and honestly address the hurt itself. You’ll get nowhere grinning and bearing it, putting on your poker face, or ranting and raving. Resist the urge to soothe your pride by playing the victim. A pity party accomplishes nothing. On the flipside, pretending to be unaffected solves even less. Without getting to the root of the matter, neither the hurt nor the hurtful can learn from the experience and are more likely to repeat the past.
Never Perpetuator #2 – Your Offender“
It’s not me, it’s them.”But who are they? When gearing up to fight or to forgive your offender, it’s important to decide if it’s even a battle worth pursuing. Often, it’s not. Being mad at people and things outside your immediate sphere of influence is pointless. For example, cursing the dead and the Dow are equally futile. Neither showers of expletives nor buckets of tears will change Wall Street. Angry letters to a deceased love one will go unanswered. Most commonly, when we’re laying the blame on someone out of our reach it’s because a larger issue is closer to home and too sensitive to address. According to the bestseller, Forgive For Good, by Fredric Luskin, PhD, the pains of today may actually be remnants of yesterday’s issues. Are you angry about the financial state of the Union? Are you actually feeling a little too trusting overall or angry at your spouse’s spending? Angry at the world? Maybe you are really disappointed by your role in it. This self-loathing aspect of pain is a loaded issue. As Real Simple magazine’s Sheila Heen put it, “The anger, disappointment, and shame we feel toward ourselves sometimes eats away at our ability to love and accept ourselves. And while it can be easy to cut someone else out of your life, you can never walk away from you.” Like in any war, the key to winning is to know and understand your foe – even if it’s only you.
Never Perpetuator #3 – Your Timeline“
Are we there yet?” Hardly. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about forgiveness is that it usually takes a long time. Hurts take time to heal. Bridges don’t mend overnight. And just as there is no definitive path to follow to “Forgiveness Land,” no one can guarantee when you will arrive. Sheila Heen offers the analogy of driving at night, “Sure, it’s dark, you can’t see your destination, and your headlights illuminate only the next few yards ahead. Yet you take the leap of faith and embark on that journey, knowing that you’ll eventually find your way, one mile at a time.” The first mile is even more important than the last. Baby steps in the right direction will get you to a better place much faster than brooding or sulking, which advance nothing.
Enough with “The Nevers”
Need another reason to ditch the “Nevers?” Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that stewing on anger weakens the body over all – especially the immune system— and can lead to cardiovascular issues and depression. This is because anger floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline. Yikes! On the other hand, according to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, forgiveness and other anger-abating practices, have been proven to lower stress and blood pressure, and to alleviate chronic pain. Those benefits outweigh most wrongs the world can throw your way. Why not make it a win-win situation? In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”
© 2010 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted provided the author is notified and the following bio information is included:
Kathleen Passanisi, PT, CSP, CPAE is an internationally recognized professional speaker, therapeutic humor expert, healthcare professional, and author. A proud member of the NSA Speaker Hall of Fame, she has spoken to bazillions of people about life balance, wellness, the power of perception, women’s issues, and the link that exists between humor and health. For more information on Kathleen’s presentations, books, SPARK magazine and products, please visit the New Perspectives website at www.kathleenpassanisi.com.
Annie Passanisi, co-creator of SPARK magazine, is a Chicago-based actor, singer, writer, marketer, and polka dot enthusiast. Her passion for applied positive psychology has led her to join her award-winning professional speaking mother on the platform. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.
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