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Monday
Oct292012

More on Forgiveness

On Sunday afternoon I called a cousin to "check in."  After a bit I asked to speak to his wife, Linda.  When I told her that I'd visited Nessa (another cousin, living in Seal Beach, CA) the previous week, she stated in an indignant tone  "I'm not interested in hearing about her.  When it comes to my daughter, I don't forgive,".  She then abruptly got off the phone, saying she needed to get dressed for a party.  

Here's the back story on this.  A year and a half ago Linda's daughter and only child Sara got married in New York City.  Nessa and her husband were invited but had already planned to attend their fiftieth college reunion in Pennsylvania, which was being held on the same evening.  They had only met Sara three or four times times, and although they very much wanted to attend the wedding, the reunion was a higher priority for them (they had met and fallen in love at that college, so it had some very special memories for them).

Linda simply couldn't understand the choice that they made, and took great offense.  She chose to take Nessa's absence as an affront.  Interestingly, and significantly, Sara wasn’t in the least perturbed, and understood the choice).  Whenever Nessa's name is mentioned, Linda feels anger, bitterness, rejection, and hurt.  Of course Nessa has no idea that Linda feels this way.  So Linda's holding on to being unforgiving is only hurting herself.  It's doing nothing for Sara, nor is it doing anything to Nessa.  So, in my view, it's totally counterproductive.  Granted, it's not a major impediment to Linda's happiness - she probably only thinks a few times a year about the "wrong" that Nessa did.  But why does she need to be troubled at all?  If she’d been able to forgive Nessa’s “transgression” she’d have had a much less disturbing conversation with me, and perhaps even a more enjoyable time at the party she was heading out for (in my experience, once deeply held grievances are triggered they tend to be played over and over again in the mind).

Here are some words of wisdom about forgiveness from one of my favorite bloggers, Rick Hanson (this particular excerpt is from his post of July 11, 2012):

 

Fundamentally, forgiveness frees you from the tangles of anger and retribution, and from preoccupations with the past or with the running story in your mind about the person you're mad at. It shifts your sense of self from a passive one in which bad things happen to you, to one in which you are active in changing your own attitudes: you're a hammer now, no longer a nail. It (potentially) widens your view to see the truth of the many, many things that make people act as they do, placing whatever happened in context, in a larger whole. 

Note from J.W. - A good example - if you’re sick and in the hospital you naturally expect everyone close to you to call, visit, or at least send a card.  But frequently they don’t - a lot of people become very uncomfortable around ideas of sickness and of hospital visits. Does that mean they don’t care about you?  Not at all.  They’re just too upset to take the appropriate action.

Watch out for exaggerating how awful, significant, or unforgivable an incident was. Be careful about assuming intent; with modern life, most of us are pretty stressed and scatterbrained much of the time. Put the event in perspective: was it really that big a deal?  

(Linda would probably say “yes,” but that would be a reflexive answer rather than a truly thoughtful one).

Accept that the past is fixed and will not change; (there’s no way the) bad thing will never not have happened. Disengage your mind from your story, narrative, (or) "case" about the events. Steer clear of people (or situations) that fan the flames of outrage. Focus on the good things in your life, on gratitude. It's bad enough that people have harmed you; don't add insult to injury by getting caught up with them inside your own head.

 

 

Notice that I (Jim ) am not talking here about forgetting that the incident happened.  Take a more serious situation: a friend borrows money and doesn’t pay it back, or a co-worker takes credit for an idea that you came up with.  You don’t need to forget that these things happened - for example, it would probably not be very wise to lend that friend money again, or share a new idea with that co-worker - but that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them. 

The friend may have taken possession of some of your money, the co worker may have stolen an idea, but don't also let them take possession of your mind and rob you of your happiness - even for a minute!

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