Let’s focus on forgiveness. No one can go through life without getting some emotional scars. Most of us recall, perhaps obsess over, past hurts and grievances which we suffered at the hands of someone else. Research in the fields of health and psychology has found that people who cannot forgive suffer broadly–not just from the emotional pain of the event itself, but they suffer from higher rates of depression, health consequences such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, and a more pessimistic outlook on life. Even moreso, they suffer a narrowing of perspective that keeps them tied to the original hurt and unable to move on to new experiences. The focus on the past betrayal takes up space in our mental life and sends out feelings of increased tension and irritability. It becomes like an unwanted popup message on our computer screen, or like a virus periodically worming it’s way across the screen, eating up useful and important files.
A first step in learning to forgive is to take a larger perspective on the event that happened. Your husband had an affair; your boyfriend dumped you; a co-worker got credit for your work and unfairly received a promotion; you have never felt that your father (or mother) showed you the love you wanted and deserved, but loved your sister (or brother) better. One way to take a larger perspective is not to take things personally. These people most likely did not do what they did out of a conscious intent to cause as much emotional harm to you as possible. As we learned in #45, they most likely did what they did out of some human frailty–ignorance, fear, emotional distress, self-absorption, even thoughtlessness, carelessness, an impulse–that the flesh is heir to.
Psychologist Fred Luskin points out that one way to not take things personally is to consider the whole population of people this has happened to. Affairs occur in at least half of all marriages.. Most of us have to kiss a bevy of frogs before we find our prince, and the corporations of America are filled with people who stepped on others on their way up the ladder. Few homes are blessed with two perfect parents.
- Consider for a moment the person whom you have difficulty forgiving. Most likely you make statements to yourself like, “How could she do that to me?” or “What she did to me was terrible. I am her only daughter.” or “After all I did for him, the way he treated me was cruel.” Write down your statement in which you personalize what happened to you.
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- Now, rewrite the statement in an impersonal way. Here are some examples:
“I know my mother wasn’t very loving. She was unhappy and preoccupied. Her life was disappointing. I guess she did the best she could.” “I don’t think he meant to hurt me. In a weak moment, he must have followed an impulse and did what he did without thinking of me at all, most likely.” “He took credit for my work, but then he took credit for a lot of people’s work. He got the promotion and alienated several people in the process. I’m not alone.”