Forgiving

There is no way to move through the world, in a healthy way, that can completely avoid hurting others or being hurt by others.  Anything short of becoming a hermit or being completely co-dependent means that we will do or say something which will hurt other people’s feelings, and vice versa.  This isn’t permission to go out and just be nasty with people because huts are going to happen anyways.  This is merely a statement of reality.  Despite your best efforts, you already have and will continue to hurt and offend other people.  And despite your best efforts, you already have been and will continue to be hurt and offended by other people.

That’s why, recently when I attended a conference on forgiveness, I thought of this analogy.  Forgiveness is like our body’s capacity to heal.  For people whose bodies don’t naturally heal, for example people with hemophilia, every little cut and scrape is life threatening.  People with such diseases experiences “minor” hurts as, at worst, life threatening, and at best as ongoing, long-term sources of pain and suffering.  Similarly, if you can’t or won’t forgive others then every “minor” hurt lingers in you as a constant sore.  And these “minor” hurts could even become life threatening to the relationship.  Have you ever been just fuming all day because your boss made one critical comment?  Have you ever given your partner the cold shoulder because they forgot to do some favor you asked of them?  Have you ever tried to “get even” with a friend or a partner in a fight?

And what about “major” hurts?  When a partner lies, or a close friend says something hurtful out of spite, or even someone violates your sense of trust in them?  Without a healthy system of forgiveness, your relationship has no chance of survival.

So we need healthy forgiveness to survive.  Our relationships need healthy forgiveness to survive.  So let me be clear what healthy forgiveness is; it is the replacement of negative emotions like resentment, bitterness, defensiveness, contempt, etc with compassionate emotions like sympathy, empathy, or compassion.  Notice that healthy forgiveness does NOT make the hurt okay, it does not absolve you or the other person for responsibility for serious harm done, and it doesn’t suddenly make you okay with the painful action.  Because forgiveness isn’t actually about an action, it is about a relationship.  You don’t forgive a behavior, you forgive a person.

Now, forgiveness can be simple and sometimes it can be very complicated.  Sometimes it can happen very quickly and sometimes it can take a lifetime of work.  There is no simple, easy solution to forgiveness.  But I want to offer you one key tool to help you work on forgiveness: empathy.  For forgiveness to happen you have to empathize with both yourself and the other person.  And this is true no matter whether you are the one who hurt someone or if someone hurt you.

The place to start is to empathize with whoever is hurt, whether that is you or the other person.  Remember, empathy is not about beefing up our inner judgmental, critical narratives of ourselves or others.  Empathy is about genuinely connecting with the feelings underneath our narratives.  Feelings have no judgment or blame.  If you find yourself rehearsing a script of who’s at fault, then you haven’t started self-empathizing yet.

After you have empathized with the one who is hurting, then you have to empathize with the one who committed the hurt.  Remember, every action someone does is in the pursuit of some vital need.  Underneath every hurtful action is some desire that you can empathize with because we all need the same things.

So begin with this exercise.  Write down a moment when you were hurt, or you hurt someone else.  Write it as objectively as you can, just what a video camera would capture, leave out any projection of motive or blame.  Then empathize with the feelings of the one that was hurt, write down the feelings, and connect with that pain.  Then empathize with the person who committed the harm, write down what their needs might have been, and what they were feeling, and emotionally connect with that.  And notice what has shifted in you.

June 26, 2017Permalink
Free Practice Group

Twice a month I lead a free Compassionate Communication Practice Group. Open to those new and advanced students. We meet on the First and Third Monday of the month at 6 pm. We gather at 640 Hawthorn Lane in classroom 8. Classrooms are behind the church and to the left, next to the parking lot. Practice Group sessions usually run for 2 hours.

The next one will be on July 6th at 6 pm.