Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Problem of Not Forgiving

I struggled with whether or not to write this post because it goes far deeper than I normally go when writing, but I feel it's an important subject that many wrestle with. Hopefully by sharing my own personal struggle, it will help others who also struggle with forgiveness.
I would say that in general, I am a very forgiving person and I don't normally have a problem with forgiveness. I do have a problem with forgiving myself, and I know that it's related to me being a perfectionist....but forgiving other people is fairly easy for me to do.

There is, however, a person whom I have been trying (quite unsuccessfully I might add) to forgive for many years now. At times, I feel like I am there and have managed to forgive this individual....but to be honest, a lot of the time I allow the anger, betrayal, and hurt to fill my heart and I know I have not truly forgiven.

Clearly, it would be much easier to forgive this individual if they disappeared out of my life. Not an option...and unfortunately I must encounter this person frequently. What complicates my ability to forgive this person is that this individual continues to seek out ways to hurt me, hurt my children, hurt my husband, and hurt my family. This person also continues to be vengeful and manipulative, and while I know intellectually this person has a mental illness and can't stop their behavior, emotionally I continue to feel consumed, at times, by anger and frustration.
I MUST learn how to forgive this person if I am going to remove the stress and negativity I allow this individual to create in my life.

I have prayed about this, read books about this, gone to therapy about this, talked to friends about this, spoken to my pastor about this, and still I feel this inability to forgive is eating up positive energy and taking away from the joy in my life. At times, I can feel the stress consume me, and I hate that I feel no control over these feelings.

Recently, I picked up an old issue of Guideposts Magazine, which is a great little spiritual magazine full of inspirational stories. I noticed it had an article about forgiveness, which was written by Dr. Fred Luskin. He wrote a book about forgiveness called Forgive For Good, which I had purchased a few years ago but have not gotten around to reading. I decided to dig it out and give it a whirl.
Well, I can't say that I have miraculously figured out how to forgive this individual, but I feel much more confident that I have the tools I need to continue to work through it. Dr. Luskin validates your right to feel hurt, which is big for a social worker, I am all about validation of feelings...LOL.  Dr. Luskin is not in anyway saying to ignore the hurt. What he says is that dwelling on the hurt is taking away from your quality of life and damaging your health, which I find to be particularly true in my situation.

Here are the Nine Steps to Forgiveness that Dr. Luskin created:
  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.
If you have someone in your life that you are having difficulty forgiving, then I highly suggest reading this book. Dr. Luskin also has a website  titled "Forgive For Good" with lots of great resources. We are all going to experience being hurt by others, whether it's intentional or unintentional, and I believe one of the keys to happiness is learning how to let that pain go.
 I can't change this person, I can only change me and how I react to this situation.
I am claiming my personal power.
I am choosing to focus on the many, many blessings I have in my life.
So I pray that over time, I will be able to achieve peace in my heart about this situation. I also pray that the mind and soul of this individual who is hurting my family will be healed, and that they too will find peace in their heart.

Peace be with you, my blog friends.

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Nancy said...

beautiful post! just remember that forgiveness doesn't excuse their bad actions, it just prevents their actions from destroying your heart. I think what you're doing is working because you wish this person well. keep praying for that person, let go, and let God. :)

Simply LKJ said...

I can so relate to this post. And agree, 100%. The turn around for me in my situation was the realization that I was hurting myself more by not forgiving fully (it is still hard, but better). I also realized it was not MY job to deal with this person's illness, behavior (or lack of), etc...but GOD'S. Handing over the pain to someone who is far more capable of dealing with it than I was life changing. Kudos for writing such a beautiful and heartfelt post.

Katie Clooney said...

Christine... this is such a good post. I tend to have the uncontrollable urge to hold a grudge. I try not to and do try to forgive but it is the most difficult thing for me. I printed the 9 steps and put them on my bulleting board over my desk. I get Guideposts every month. Love it.

Sheryl said...

A great post! Thank you for sharing.

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