Monday, October 22, 2007

How to Forgive

After years of discussing hurt and forgiveness, some things have come into focus. There are four elements necessary for healthy forgiveness:

1. Express the Emotion - Whatever the crime/injustice/violation/slight, the forgiver needs to fully express how it made him feel. Anger, sadness and fear are common responses. By the way, it is ideal if the victim is able to express her emotions to her perpetrator, but not essential.

2. Rebuild Security - In order to forgive, the forgiver needs to feel a reasonable amount of assurance that the violation won't recur. Let's say you step on my toe. In order for me to rebuild security, I'm going to need some verbal commitment from you that you'll try not to step on my toe again, or I need to decide to keep my feet away from yours, etc. Some mechanism needs to be in place to let me know I'm safe again.

3. Understand - The forgiver needs to develop some framework to understand why the violation happened in the first place. Why was my toe stepped on? We're on a crowded train? You're a clumsy dancer? You hate me? Oh, you're drunk, I understand. The brain will search for this reason and can't stop (or forgive) until it has one.

4. Let Go - This is making a conscious decision to drop the grudge and resentment. It's the hardest step for most people. Holding a grudge is a powerful thing - you can get someone to suck up to you for years by lording his misbehavior over him. Letting go means stepping down from the nobility of victimhood, becoming an equal again, and promising not to point back to her infraction every time you're losing an argument. Letting go is not forgetting - most of us can't choose what we remember. It's choosing to return to a place of equal power.

Research shows forgiveness greatly benefits the physical health of the forgiver. Seems that holding a grudge is bad for you.


therapydoc said...

Inciter! I mean, Insider, No, make that Insighter. GREAT BLOG. You're now on my blog roll. Welcome to this world. You're gonna' like it here. (I hope)

linrob63 said...

Thank you for the post...any ideas about achieving step 3 when the task is trying to find a way to forgive random interpersonal violence?

It is a challenge.

The Insighter said...

Great question, linrob - The challenge here is accepting the randomness of the violence, rather than endlessly searching for a meaning that may never arise. I think of the people who lost homes in the California wildfires - whether caused by arson or accident, the victims will have difficulty understanding why the fires happened to them. In this case, the best we can do is truly understand how randomness works - without bias or discrimination. It may be tempting for some to personalize the injury, asking "what did I do to deserve this?" But that doesn't apply when it comes to randomness. Step 3 here would be understanding that random injury happens, and that people can't cause or prevent that unfortunate fact.

finn said...

re your remarks to linrob63: How randomness works? How do you know there isn't a reason? It doesn't have to mean it was someone's fault or they deserved it. Because we can't understand or find a reason doesn't mean there isn't one.
I don't find that a particularly comforting philosophy. It sounds a little like "it is what it is". I think that everything life hands me has benefit for me even though it seems like a bad thing.

linrob63 said...

Of course there is a reason...but only s/he who commits the violent act can articulate the reason. And I venture to guess that more often than not even the perpetrator cannot answer the 'why' question. For those who have been hurt, maybe the most difficult concept to grasp is that a defining moment of his or her life had nothing to do with them. From my perspective, Insighter is correct in that the quest to answer the 'why' question in relation to random interpersonal violence likely converts 'a' defining moment of one's life into 'the' defining moment of one's life; it keeps an old wound forever fresh.