Category Archives: Forgiveness

How To Forgive Someone

As a relationship therapist I work with the rifts and bruises that occur between parents and children; friends; dating couples; married couples and even co-workers.

Relationships are tough. They can squeeze you for all you’re worth demanding more patience, perspective, strength and courage than most other human undertakings. But they’ve got one huge thing going for them as well: they are uniquely potent arenas for personal and spiritual growth.

If you’d rather not be challenged into becoming a bigger, more compassionate person, don’t get into any meaningful relationships!

Since it’s inevitable that you and someone you love or work closely with will stomp on one another’s hot spots at some point, it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself wondering whether to forgive. If you decide to try this, now what?

Today I’m returning to the work of Fred Luskin. His nine steps make the path more transparent and give you a feel for how to make progress.

I’m trying these steps out. Several of my clients are. Let me know if there is someone in your life whom you’ve had a hard time forgiving and see if these steps help.

The Nine Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a couple of trusted people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and no one else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upset you or condoning the action. In forgiveness you seek the peace and understanding that come from blaming people less after they offend you and taking those offenses less personally.

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical upset you are suffering now, not from what offended you or hurt you two minutes—or 10 years—ago.

5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from your life or from other people that they do not choose to give you. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, friendship, and prosperity, and work hard to get them. However, these are “unenforceable rules:” You will suffer when you demand that these things occur, since you do not have the power to make them happen.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving power over you to the person who caused you pain, learn to look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Put more energy into appreciating what you have rather than attending to what you do not have.

9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.

For more on Forgiveness, see Fred Luskin’s new book Forgive For Good.

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FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

Why Forgive?

Why forgive someone?

It’s equally in our natures to harbor revenge as it is to nurture forgiveness. In fact, last week I explored how forgiveness and revenge are evolutionary bedfellows.

So why does a person choose one of these over another?

Why might you?

For this month’s exploration of forgiveness I am hugely indebted to, and thrilled to have discovered, the scholars of forgiveness at  The Greater Good Science Center, at the University of California, Berkeley. In their own words, the center is ~

unique in its commitment to both science and practice: not only do we sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, we help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.

So, for the “Why?” of forgiveness, here are five good reasons, compiled by Fred Luskin, Ph.D.

  1. Forgiveness makes us happier: Research suggests not only that happy people are more likely to forgive but that forgiving others can make people feel happy, especially when they forgive someone to whom they feel close.
  2. Forgiveness improves our health: When we dwell on grudges, our blood pressure and heart rate spike—signs of stress which damage the body; when we forgive, our stress levels drop, and people who are more forgiving are protected from the negative health effects of stress. Studies also suggest that holding grudges might compromise our immune system, making us less resistant to illness.
  3. Forgiveness sustains relationships: When our friends inevitably hurt or disappoint us, holding a grudge makes us less likely to sacrifice or cooperate with them, which undermines feelings of trust and commitment, driving us further apart. Studies suggest that forgiveness can stop this downward spiral and repair our relationship before it dissolves.
  4. Forgiveness is good for marriages (most of the time): Spouses who are more forgiving and less vindictive are better at resolving conflicts effectively in their marriage. A long-term study of newlyweds found that more forgiving spouses had stronger, more satisfying relationships. However, when more forgiving spouses were frequently mistreated by their husband or wife, they became less satisfied with their marriage.
  5. Forgiveness boosts kindness and connectedness: People who feel forgiving don’t only feel more positive toward someone who hurt them. They are also more likely to want to volunteer and donate money to charity, and they feel more connected to other people in general.

And, anticipating the coming together of families that takes place each year in the United States on the last Thursday of November every year, and how fraught these times can be as relatives long on sanguinary but short on compassion rub egos and elbows at the dinner table, I thought this wee video by Fred Luskin might provide some interesting fodder for a transformed experience of one another.

Here is the full article, and below are some highlights of this video.

I’ve been teaching forgiveness for more than a decade, and the simple definition of forgiveness that I work with now is that it’s the ability to make peace with the word “no.”

People have come to me with a whole host of problems, and the essence of all of them is: I didn’t get something I wanted. I got “no.” I wanted my partner to be faithful; they weren’t faithful. I got “no.” I wanted somebody to tell the truth; they told a lie. I got “no.” I wanted to be loved as a child; I wasn‘t loved in a way that I felt good about. I got “no.”

It’s so important to be able to understand the universal experience of this—of objecting to the way life is and trying to substitute the way you want it to be, then getting upset when your substitution doesn’t take.

The essence of forgiveness is being resilient when things don’t go the way you want—to be at peace with “no,” be at peace with what is, be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life. Then you have to move forward and live your life without prejudice.

It’s the absence of prejudice that informs forgiveness. You realize that nobody owes you, that you don’t have to take the hurt you suffered and pay it forward to someone else. Just because your last partner was unkind to you doesn’t mean you always have to give your new partner the third degree. With an open heart, you move forward and accept what is, without prejudice.

You don’t just accept it because life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it—though that may be true—but you accept it in a way that leaves you willing to give the next moment a chance.

Come back next week for some more good stuff about forgiveness.

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows

Cake and forgiveness?

or

Death and revenge?

What will it be and how do I choose and, by the way, why are these two such intimate strangers?

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As someone dedicated to researching and studying what makes for great relationships, I’ve come up with a list of 12 skills that are key. The first ten I’ve already written about and while they may be tough to explain and tougher to embody – I’ve captured more or less what I wanted to say. However, I’m really struggling with Number 11.

So, here’s a summary of the twelve skills. I maintain that you’ll enjoy great relationships to the extent you  ~

    1. Recognize and get curious about the fact there’s not just one “you;”
    2. Get some self-mastery going so you can choose which “you” shows up; i.e, respond, don’t react;
    3. Appreciate your partner is on this same journey of self discovery and self mastery – in other words, you are both “works-in-progress” so lighten up already;
    4. Work on your conversational chops and speak from your heart when possible;
    5. Really listen and get curious about what your partner is trying to tell you;
    6. Show up with empathy;
    7. Practice kindness – a lot;
    8. Negotiate how to get your needs met without selling yourself or your partner short;
    9. Become trusting and trustworthy;
    10. Use times of friction between you to grow closer – not father apart;
    11. Transform forgiveness into gratitude;
    12. Know when and how to let go.

Maybe you’re already thinking “Duh – what does she mean by “transform forgiveness into gratitude… no wonder she’s stuck!” And you have a point. So – being honest here –  the three essays I’m posting on forgiveness will be very much works-in-progress.

Here’s the general flow:

  • November 4th – Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows
  • November 11th – Choosing Forgiveness Today.
  • November 18th – The forgiveness challenge.
  • November 25th – Something different for Thanksgiving.

So onward – Cake or Death!

If this is your first introduction to Eddie Izzard you may be scratching your head. Finding it works better for me to seek forgiveness than permission (to coin another phrase I love) I went with his metaphor for this article.

I’m indebted to Michael McCullough, Ph.D whose work informed this blog post. You’ll find more in his book Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. Published in 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

OK – revenge!

Ever felt it? Not the noblest experience is it and it sure can consume one.

Fortunately for me I’m blessed by two things which make my experience of revenge rather lackluster.

First I’ve a dreadful memory and while I’m sure I’ve hatched all sorts of evil painful plans to take revenge on nasty people in my life, I can think of only one.

Second, this one person was neither my relative nor spouse. In fact he was very little in my life, so the impact of his unkindness didn’t touch me nearly as viscerally as the wounds I witness in my therapy office as warring divorced or divorcing partners wrestle with enormous feelings of revenge and rage at the injustices they’ve endured.

However, while this one person in my life was in the midst of being a total toad I found myself sinking into all sorts of vengeful fantasies having to do with hoping he’d choke on his food, crash his car, lose his fortune, and other ignoble nastinesses of which I’m not at all proud.

The redeeming news for me in the face of my base fantasies of “Death!” (and for anyone else who has felt that hot knife of vengeance) rests in the first of McCullough’s three truths.

Truth #1: The desire for revenge is a built-in feature of human nature

“ the desire for revenge is normal—normal in the sense that every neurologically intact human being on the planet has the biological hardware for it.

The evidence McCullough cites to support this claim is compelling.

When evolutionary biologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson looked at data on 60 different societies from around the world, they tried to determine how many of those societies showed evidence of blood feuds, capital punishment, or the desire for blood revenge. They found that 57 of the 60 societies they examined—95 percent—had “some reference to blood feud or capital punishment as an institutionalized practice, or specific accounts of particular cases or, at the least, some articulate expression of the desire for blood revenge.”

And he concludes, “When a behavior is this universal, that suggests it’s not just the product of particular cultures or social factors. Instead, it’s essential to what it means to be human.

So I’m a low life, but a very human low life.

Since Michael McCullough is Director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami, he asks himself why this particular trait has survived the evolutionary journey.

Three reasons:

  1. Revenge as deterrent. Remember, early humans were tribal so usually in the company of one another. If Og thwacked Zog and Zog took forceful revenge, folks might remember his fierce response and for sure Zog would not look like a coward. Even today studies have shown that “when two men have an argument on the street, the mere presence of a third person doubles the likelihood that the encounter will escalate from an exchange of words to an exchange of blows.”
  1. Revenge as punishment. If a member of the group behaved badly the worst thing would be to ostracize him or her. Just shy of that is to make bullying unprofitable so a good walloping back served to keep the member in the group but teach them – essentially – that crime does not pay.
  1. Revenge as “free-rider” prevention. Every group runs the risk of having free-loaders who want the benefits of the group without the effort. Knowing there would be dire consequences for non-cooperation may have served this purpose.

So, what about forgiveness?

Ever felt it? How did you feel?

Much better I expect. There’s a largess, a spaciousness and an inner freedom that flows when we forgive someone.

Often people who have been hurt by the person they love most in the world are anxious to move quickly to forgiveness. They hate sitting in judgment or revenge. It feels dreadful.

Nice of them?

Yes – but also hardwired into their biology as identified by the second of McCullough’s three truths.

Truth #2: The capacity for forgiveness is a built-in feature of human nature

According to McCullough, there is evidence that forgiveness is just as universal among humans as is revenge. His analysis of the same societies that reportedly had 95% blood revenge shows evidence of forgiveness and reconciliation 93 percent of the time. And that remaining 7%? I quote:

“Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has observed that “it is actually difficult to find descriptions of forgiveness in hunter-gatherer societies, not because forgiveness is absent but because it happens so naturally that it often goes unnoticed.” I think Wilson may be correct, and not just about hunter-gatherers but about all societies. Forgiveness and reconciliation may be so common and so taken for granted by anthropologists as to be regarded, quite literally, as nothing to write home about.”

Plus – animals forgive.

Researchers studying patterns of aggression and friendliness in chimps noted that of 350 aggressive encounters, only 14% were preceded by friendly contact, whereas 51% were followed by friendly contact.

The bonobo, mountain gorilla, goats, sheep, dolphins, hyenas and some non-mammalian species all have conciliatory behaviors.

Maybe the Ronettes were right and for all of us critters, “the best part of breaking up is when you’re making up.”

Screen shot 2015-11-02 at 5.15.48 PMWhat about my cat?” You wonder.

No deal.

I quote: “Of the half-dozen or so non-primates that have been studied, only domestic cats have failed to demonstrate a conciliatory tendency.”

So, cats aside, why do we creatures forgive if there’s a danger we’ll look weak or encourage crime or free-riders?

Why offer “Cake?” when some other part of you is (or recently was) thinking “Death!”

Having sifted through the theories of several evolutionary biologists McCullough puts his money on the “valuable relationship” hypothesis.

I quote again:

It goes like this: Animals reconcile because it repairs important relationships that have been damaged by aggression. By forgiving and repairing relationships, our ancestors were in a better position to glean the benefits of cooperation between group members—which, in turn, increased their evolutionary fitness.”

There’s more and I’d invite you to enjoy this longer article . But – this gives you the idea.

OK – it doesn’t take a professor to step back for a moment and observe something along the lines of; Well – if we’ve all got the genetic software for both revenge and forgiveness how come societies look so different? How come we have ardent fundamentalists lopping off hands and heads and people holding onto grudges and feuds for generations, while others of our human cousins seek to forgive extraordinary acts of cruelty like the Holocaust or Apartheid?

What are the social conditions that give rise to Cake thinking versus Death thinking?

Or, to bring it into the personal, how does this play out with Og and Zog’s descendants in the  intimate battle ground of the modern family? Is our rage against our partner, as well as our capacity to forgive, still about discouraging hostility, bad behavior and free-riding while encouraging the conditions for peaceful cooperation?

Come back next week!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FIRST TIME HERE?

This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.

OVERVIEW

SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING

SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity

SKILLS FOR CONNECTING

SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

SKILLS FOR RE-CONNECTING

SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

 SKILL TEN ~ Apologize & “Do Over” When You’ve Blown It

SKILL ELEVEN ~ Forgive and Move On When They’ve Blown It

  • Cake or Death? Forgiveness & Revenge as Evolutionary Bedfellows