Dr. Wendy Walsh: There's no way around it, when someone has wronged us, it hurts. It often
hurts a lot for a very long time. The injury could be minor, though profound, like a betrayal by a friend, or it could be major, like a physical assault. The point of the saying is that, no matter the injury, we can't truly move on until we learn to forgive. And that's a very tough walk. Here are a few thoughts on the art of forgiveness and how we can all learn to cultivate it.
First of all, think of forgiveness as a gift to yourself, not a gift to your offender. When a deep injury is done to us, we'll never recover until we forgive. It is a way to clear a blockage in our minds and move forward with new knowledge and new growth. We are a more evolved person after we forgive, and that's our gift to ourselves.
Forgiveness requires empathy. It is essential that you begin the forgiveness process by putting yourself in the shoes of your offender. Imagine that pain and fear are behind his or her anger. Imagine a small child inside your enemy who is as confused as you are about the injury. Imagine what it must feel like to walk with the guilt of having hurt someone. It doesn't matter if your offender will ever actually get to the conscious place of feeling guilt and remorse. He or she need not seek your forgiveness in order for you to have a transformation. This process is about you. But it is helpful to come up with some explanation for your offender's heinous action that feels rational to you. This is your mental journey. So, whether you imagine their bad childhood, their feelings of racial or gender persecution, or their feelings of envy toward you, find a reason for their bad behavior.
Now, from that place of understanding, make a conscious decision to forgive that person. Create a private action that supports your decision. Write an unsent letter to them, light a candle and say a prayer in their name, or simply stick a Post-it on your bathroom mirror that says "I forgive (insert name) I have feelings of love for (insert name)." This is a secret act but it's a powerful action for brain change. For a few weeks, return daily to these private actions of forgiveness. Reread that letter. Relight that candle. Say the words on the post-it out loud. This is a way to rewire your brain.
The biggest step toward forgiveness is to express it to your offender. Whether you do it in an email (easiest) on the phone or in person (best, if possible) it must be done so that you can move on. And the tricky part of forgiveness is this: to express forgiveness without expressing blame. Your words should focus on your own feelings of hurt rather than the act that caused the injury. So, instead of saying, "I forgive you for stealing from me, you jerk," you might say something like, "I felt so betrayed when I lost that money. But now I am letting go of those feelings. I want the best for you." This is your journey and this higher level communication will speak to the highest level of your offender's personality.
And, be reminded that forgiveness in not a magic trick to change someone else. Even if you change, the other person may not. And that's OK. And finally, know that forgiveness takes maintenance. During future life stresses, old feelings about this injury may bubble up again. Each time they do, quietly walk those feelings back to bed with the same techniques. Eventually enough time will pass that those memories will lose their emotional punch. Forgiveness is the most mentally freeing experience. I encourage you to try it.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression.|