Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Forgiveness, Part II

 

Forgiveness Part II.   Letting Go of Grievances and Grudges

 

You may have experienced inadequate or abusive parenting, your lover or marriage partner may have violated your relationship, you may have encountered workplace discrimination; there are many ways in which you may have been mistreated and left with disappointment, hurt and anger. What should you do with these difficult and painful emotions? The point of my articles on "forgiveness" is to introduce you to ways to free your self from the tyranny of past injustice and suffering.  The real goal of the forgiveness is for you, not for the offender.

 

Psychologists studying forgiveness found that women sign up for seminars on "forgiveness" but not men. When retitled with the word "grudge," men signed up also. Interesting isn't it?  So, males and females, listen up. This is an important life skill.

 

The previous article (available on my website) described what "forgiveness" is and is not and outlined a compelling rationale for using this skill. This article provides "how-to" information. Even when you want to forgive a grievance you may feel the task is very difficult or impossible. To the contrary, forgiveness is do-able and is the key to improving your present and future life.  This article will outline some of the choices and decision points you will face in developing your forgiveness life skills.

 

You should not start your work on forgiveness until you have completely processed and grieved your loss. It's important to realize that maltreatment and injustice have occurred and that you have lost something of value. Friends, therapists or grief support groups are helpful in this process, supporting you in moving through and away from this place of bitterness and sorrow.

 

The next steps in this process are to clearly identify the offender as the person who is guilty/responsible for hurting you and identify yourself as the victim/survivor. Many offenders are good at intimidation or even brainwashing, sidestepping responsibility and blaming you for the mistreatment you endured. You must affirm that you did not ask for or deserve the maltreatment.  You will begin your journey out of hurt and anger when you understand that you are a survivor/hero rather than a passive victim.  You do not want to remain stuck in a "grievance story" in which you constantly replay your role as a hurt victim, reinforcing your feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.  It is important to see yourself gaining strength and resiliency by enduring and surviving maltreatment. You need to be the hero of your story as you learn to cope successfully with adversity.

 

Your feelings of hurt and anger about the unjust treatment were meant to be temporary, not permanent emotional burdens, not long-term grudges that prolong your suffering and depress the joy and spontaneity of your life. The next step in developing the forgiveness life skill is to realize the difference between the offender's actions and your emotional response. It's important to realize that you do have choices in your emotional response to the problem. Yes, the offender must be held accountable, but you are accountable for your own feelings. It is your decision to remain stuck in negative emotions or to choose a more constructive forgiveness response. Research has clearly established the negative health consequences of continued anger and bitterness versus the positive physical and emotional effects when forgiveness is practiced and you are able to move on with your life.

 

As you read this you will probably keep coming back to the thought that the offender must be punished and that forgiveness is unfair. If so, review the points mentioned in the first article. Forgiveness is a choice you are making for your own personal growth and development, not to excuse or exonerate the offender. Life does not always appear "fair," and offenders may not appear to receive negative consequences for maltreatment. Interestingly enough, offenders ultimately do experience punishing consequences, if not by society, then in personal negative consequences such as poor physical or mental health.

 

Once you have made the choices as described, you will be able to move beyond painful thoughts, bitterness and complaining and open your heart to kindness and beauty in life. You'll be able to practice kindness, compassion and empathy for yourself and others, finally realizing the goodness of life.  I have written articles on happiness, positive thinking and optimism, and you will be open to such concepts once you are able to let go of your response to past maltreatment.

 

You may work on these issues yourself but experience difficulty in moving toward a forgiveness lifestyle. If you are interested in further self-help, I recommend two books by Dr. Fred Luskin, the foremost expert on forgiveness: Forgive for Good (Harper, 2002) and his book on relationships, Forgive for Love (Harper, 2007.)  Some kinds of abuse, such as sexual abuse, are especially problematic, and assistance from a trained therapist is recommended.

 

The forgiveness life skill is less complicated when the maltreatment has concluded and you have no ongoing relationship with the offender. If the offender continues in a position to influence you, your choices will include cutting off contact, negotiating a new relationship, working with a therapist or attorney to alter the relationship or developing effective boundaries against further maltreatment. You must take strong decisive action and never allow maltreatment to continue.  I plan to write about boundaries in my next column as this is another important life skill.

 

I’ll conclude my article with humor, or at least a humorous/thoughtful quotation about life.

 

           The trouble with life is,,,there’s no background music!