Friday, February 3, 2012

We forgive for ourselves...

I was originally inspired to write by Raptitude. Here's something David Cane wrote that I want to share. It's from his post 7 High-leverage life skills they should teach in grade school.

3) Forgiving

"After all this time, all its coverage on Oprah and in religious texts, forgiveness is almost uniformly misunderstood. It does not mean you are okay with what has been done. It doesn’t even mean it doesn’t bother you any more. Forgiving is deciding you will no longer attempt to justify hate or anger, because you know they are damaging to you and your life.

Those feelings will still appear now and then, maybe always, but to forgive is to decide you are done indulging in them. That means no more revenge fantasies, no more nasty remarks. Finally it can begin to recede in your mind.

I’ve experienced a lot of resentment in my life. I’ve mulled it over, wished, fantasized, rehearsed confrontations and diatribes in my head, but I have never once found any true benefit to justifying resentment. All of it is out of control, all of it is painful, all of it is addictive.

There is a comforting feeling in hatred. We imagine it protects us from getting hurt again. This fantasy gives us a spike of relief when we feel powerless, but there is no real power in it. It’s as helpful as thinking about food when you’re stranded on a remote island. Resentment feels good in a bad sort of way. It’s pure mental junk food, only it makes you powerless instead of fat."

He does a great job of pointing out just why resentment and anger are damaging to us. It's clear when you read this that forgiving is not something you do for other people, but something that you do for yourself. If you think withholding forgiveness in some way punishes the person, think again. Whether or not you still hold onto the pain and the anger, they have the power to forgive themselves and move on. Do it for yourself. The pain may come now and then, but don't indulge in fantasies. Don't think about revenge. Make the decision to move on. No one expects you to think it's okay, or to never feel hurt again, but continuing to act on the pain, and to occupy your mind with resentment will only hold you back. More importantly, it doesn't lead you away from your suffering but towards it.

For me this is key. My partner had multiple affairs and that betrayal will always be with me. For months while we were together I had angry fantasies and diatribes as David describes them. I'd see myself arguing and yelling, I'd have the conversation over and over again in my mind. It became so exhausting that I had to take hold of myself, reach down deep for will power and say every time it came to mind "I've thought about this a thousand times already and these thoughts alone are powerless". Eventually the anger and resentment had faded. Though the pain never left me until I left him. Forgiveness isn't about looking the other way, being passive and accepting 'injustice'. It's about doing what you need to do, to no longer indulge in the pain and the anger. Sometimes it takes a life changing decision. Do what you need to do to be happy.

Next time you're in this situation make sure to ask yourself if the decisions you're making or considering are leading toward or away from suffering, toward or away from revenge. Feeling bad about yourself can feel like revenge, giving yourself permission to feel bad and blame the world is just another way of indulging in resentment. If you want to feel any better, you need to take responsibility for how you feel and continually make choices that lead away from negative emotions. Though avoidance isn't the key. Acceptance of the negative thoughts and feelings will help you dismiss them. Acknowledge them but let them go as best you can. If it can't be over come by mind alone, then look for a decision you can make that will change things for the better.

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