In this column, I’d like to talk about the men and women who’ve hurt us, broke our hearts or “done us wrong” and offer you some ideas on how to forgive those who have hurt you. I was inspired to write this after reading Colin Tipping’s terrific book, “Radical Forgiveness”.
I would like to share with you my version of forgiveness, which is inspired by Mr. Tipping’s but diverges from it in several important ways. Mr. Tipping places a strong focus on spirituality, my focus is more on making forgiving as easy and practical as possible. Here is my version of Mr. Tipping’s five steps of forgiveness:
Step 1. Tell your story: have someone – friend, therapist or whomever – willingly and compassionately listen to you tell your story without trying to problem-solve or interpret it.
Step 2. Feel your feelings: this is the step that many people want to skip, thinking that the feelings may overwhelm them or that it’s not necessary to go back there and feel all those negative emotions again. Sorry about that, but you gotta “walk through the fire” to come out the other side.
Step 3. Examine your story: look at how your story began and how your interpretation of events led to certain (false) beliefs that determined how you feel about yourself and how you’ve lived your life. Most of our stories have their genesis in early childhood, when we imagined that the whole world revolved around us and that everything was our fault. Now, we can bring our adult perspective to an old situation and begin to release our attachment to the story.
Step 4. Reframe your story: start to shift your perspective from seeing the situation as dramatic and victimizing. Instead, be willing to see that what happened was essential to your growth and that, even if it was horrible, you don’t need to keep seeing yourself as a victim.
See what you can learn from the experience. Be aware that everyone in the story was doing the best that they could at the time, even if it was totally lame. Shift your point-of-view from “they did it to me” to “this happened to me”.
See that what happened really wasn’t about you, it was about them and how wounded and messed up they were/are. This isn’t about absolving them of the responsibility for what they did. It’s about seeing that we are all imperfect, flawed people who act out our internal problems on the people around us.
Step 5. Integration: this is the most difficult-to-understand of the steps. It’s about how we (gradually) change our experience of the past hurt – the “story” – and those who hurt us.
Many people try and rush this part. I’ve had clients who have said to me, “How long will it take before I can put this behind me?” While I respect the desire to be free from pain, integrating a new way of experiencing a long-held hurt usually takes time. The good news, however, is that there are many ways we can help the integration process along.
One technique I use with my clients is the “Two Chair Technique”. Set up two chairs opposite each other. When you sit in one chair, you are “you” and you tell the person who hurt you just what they did and how it affected you. When you sit in the second chair, you are “them”, the person who hurt you. You respond as you would from their point-of-view. Usually, the outcome of this exercise is that both of you have a greater understanding of where the other was coming from and you get some insight into why the person who hurt you did what they did. It is surprising how much peace and resolution can come from using this technique.
February is often advertised as a month of love and happiness. If you are stuck in anger and a desire for revenge, it won’t be a very good month. Instead, please consider some of the above ideas for forgiveness and see if you don’t feel better. Forgiveness is, bottom line, an act of self-love. Give it a try: you deserve it.