The process of forgiving is an active act of self-preservation, just like eating and sleeping and exercise, and just as vital to our survival. The DOCC model places “forgiveness” at the end of Stage 2, although the work continues long after. Fred Luskin does a good job at explaining why, which I know because I watched his DVD on forgiveness and read his book Forgive for Good. Holding onto grievances threatens our mental and physical health.
I don’t have a lot of resentments I hold onto, but they do erupt, and in a boringly predictable way. A larger-than-I’d-like part of me is invested in justice, and in thinking not only that if something unfair happens it can be rectified (when did I become wed to vengeance? I often think of it as restitution but that’s just semantics). I’ll also argue that something is unfair long after most people stare at me with concern.
This began when I was a kid and perceived that my brother got something I didn’t (which I’m sure he did but that’s life, which I didn’t realize) and lasted well into adulthood. I remember mistakenly leaving about 30 pounds on the table in Scotland during tea and expecting someone to compensate me for the error when I rushed back an hour later. Then I was ashamed of the little scene I caused and had to forgive myself for getting upset. This kind of stuff continues to happen, unfortunately. I get riled up when something happens that “shouldn’t,” or doesn’t happen that “should.”
· My daughter shouldn’t criticize me for not giving her enough attention when she knows I’m trying my hardest and have a lot of kid bases to cover
· My boss should have given me the promotion because I was a better psychologist than the person he chose
· My doctor shouldn’t give me treatment advice before reading the relevant parts of my chart (or asking me for the info)
Fred would remind me that such expectations are set-ups for feeling unhappy and exploited. None of these “facts” are true. Everyone makes their own choices for their own reasons, and whether the hurt I feel is personal or not, there’s always another side where they’re suffering from my behavior too.
I moved from Rhode Island to get my family closer to relatives but in the process left a mentor who had invested huge amounts of trust and time in me without a replacement. Was she hurt? I don’t know. I didn’t ask. If she was, I hope she forgave me, not because I deserved it but because she did. She was a great person with a good understanding of how people worked. We’re not always logical or considerate, and can often be cruel. Not me—I hope—but you never know how it felt to have someone she depended on leave with little notice.
Or none, which happened after this third concussion at work. Despite multiple efforts to get back to work, I never did, and my position was left vacant for all the time I was on medical leave so no one else could do my work either.
This is how I really learned about forgiveness, when I realized how many things I’d done that hurt others. The shame I feel at making mistakes—forgetting something important, or is softened by the main “victims” being family who understand but they’re not the only ones, and they’re not always capable of letting go of whatever I’ve messed up. We’re all in our own “bubbles,” as I tell my husband about our kids. It’s not that they want to be angry or difficult, but unless they’ve popped their bubble and slid into ours (or vice versa) they have no idea how differently we see things.
Instead they feel we’re unfair. I totally empathize.
Forgiving others is natural and has gotten more routine for me. I sure get plenty of practice at forgiving myself for doing things that would upset me in anyone:
· Losing track of money and putting something important at risk
· Losing track of time and forgetting to pick up one of my kids
· Not following through on a promise, or forgetting I made it in the first place
The Forgive for Good book has a structured way to build a myelin-lined pathway J down the forgiveness road, first evaluating if there’s something to forgive, how you feel about it and what you want to do. If it’s forgive and wish the person well, then doing it over and over will bring a centered peace that’s well worth the cost of giving up a grievance.
What I’m not good yet at is apologizing, though I get a lot of practice there too. I’d say I’m notably horrible at apologizing. Saying “you’re right, that’s on me and I’m sorry” is much, much harder than forgiving, to me. But I’m getting better. I’ll even write it down in order to say it right.
Then the next step is accepting that I’ll have to keep genuinely apologizing half a dozen times a day, or fix my error rate.
Fixing is definitely better. The Mind Change project continues…