Monday, December 31, 2012
6 Steps to Forgiveness
As you usher in the new year with an orderly house, fresh mileage calendar, new calorie counter and commitment to save more money, I want you to consider doing something far more challenging this year.
I want you to forgive.
Forgiveness does not come easy. We all encountered people who hurt us ... boyfriends, parents, bosses, co-workers, best friends. Some are strangers we never see again, but most are people we once held close.
Chronic unforgiveness may make for great television dramas and novels, but in real life it is closely linked to numerous health issues like obesity, substance abuse, depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to learn to forgive, not for the people who hurt or offended you but for yourself.
I recently attended a mental health conference session on this topic. “Forgiveness is a choice. It’s an act of your own free will,” the speaker told an overcrowded room. “It is an act of emotional release that brings some level of closure and peace. It also is a process – it doesn’t happen right away. People who have a hard time forgiving others have a hard time forgiving themselves."
One reason most of us fail to forgive is because we think we are condoning bad, sometimes horrific, behaviors. But that's not what it means to forgive. Nor does forgiving bring instant relief. It takes time, sometimes a very long time to decide once and for all you are not going to spend any more energy on that person.
You'll know you've reached a state of foregiveness when you no longer wish that person harm. And although reconciliations are sometimes possible, most of the time we just don't want to renew a relationship with someone that dug so deep into our psyche. That's fine too.
Here are six steps that speaker, Dr. Sharon Adams, outlined to reach a full state of foregiveness. I borrowed them from my work blog, and eliminated the last step since someone took great umbrage with it. Dr. Adams studies forgiveness on a much larger scale, examining how entire societies and cultures forgive those who commit atrocities and years of enslavement.
1. Acknowledge that forgiveness is a choice. The single most important issue we will settle in our lives is whether or not we will choose to forgive.
2. Be willing to embrace a new normal. Some of us become consumed with revenge and reshape our lives and goals because of it; letting it go can open up other opportunities.
3. Empathize with your offender. Many of us are capable of the same kind of cruelty on a different scale. (I recently learned 2% of the population are psychopaths?!) Understanding where someone’s anger or hate may come from is important. For instance, people who bully do so because they themselves are bullied.
4. Forgive yourself, if necessary.Self-blame, especially when it comes to chronic abuse, is common.
5. Chose not to keep a record of wrongs. Oh, this is a hard one. But if you constantly catalog and resurrect all of the insults, slights or assaults, you will never lead a full life.
6. See the offense as an opportunity for personal growth. Your creativity will improve, as will your mental health.
I thought this was an appropriate post to end the year and the Life of the Mind series. I wish everyone well in the new, grudge-free year.