Moving On


"What are you talking about? ME, forgive HIM? Are you kidding? Oh no! For goodness sake, not HER too!"

Even though we have been taught about forgiveness since we were toddlers, it has suddenly become a buzzword in mental health circles and is a popular focus of self-help workshops, books, and articles.

The Online Free Dictionary defines the word forgive as "to renounce anger or resentment against; excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon." Forgive is fairly easy to define, but to actually do it is not so easy. Diana Robinson, PhD, wrote in her article "The Top Ten Steps of Forgiveness", "As long as we are unable to forgive, we keep ourselves chained to the unforgiven . . . and give them the right to torment us in the small hours of the night."

The benefits of forgiving have been the focus of research as noted in Dr. Fred Luskin's Stanford University Forgiveness Projects. Dr. Luskin's studies led him to declare, "Forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression, and stress and led to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence." These positive feelings are wonderful gifts to give yourself.

As you consider starting the New Year with forgiveness, the following thoughts may be helpful:

- Forgiving does not mean you condone the offensive behavior. Nor is it okay for the hurt to be repeated. If it was not acceptable then, it still is not acceptable now.

- Forgiving does not automatically restore the offender to their previous preferred status. That is a decision you carefully make.

- Informing the other person that you have forgiven them may not always be appropriate. If you do inform them, they may think you are arrogant and wonder "who are you to forgive me -- God?" It is often better to keep your forgiveness private unless you have been apologized to or you positively know that your forgiveness will be treasured.

- Who has a burning stomach? Who loses sleep at night? Who re-lives the hurt? Who is still angry? You? The offender? You are the one who continues to feel, relive, carry, and maybe even deepen your hurt by not extending forgiveness.

- When you forgive someone, it should be final. Do not allow resentment to start building again. If that happens, actively redirect your thoughts. Try singing, reading, or other pleasurable activity.

- Decide how long the grudge should be carried. How long is long enough? You cannot change the past, but you can change how long you allow the hurt to continue.

- Forgiving and forgetting do not go hand-in-hand. If the incident upsets you enough to require forgiveness, you will probably always remember some of it. Forgiving just changes how you remember it.

- Extending forgiveness is not easy; considerable thought and effort are often required. It might be easier to start by forgiving small hurts first.

Lighten your burden; brighten your day by discarding anger and resentment. Poet Edwin Markham found himself becoming more angry and bitter as he dwelt upon the loss of his retirement funds due to his financial advisor's unwise investments. Markham became so embittered that he decided he really had to forgive this man and wrote: "He drew a circle to shut me out, heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; But love and I had the wit to win, we drew a circle to take him in."

May you find increased optimism, compassion, selfconfidence, and hope through forgiving others in 2008.