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The Business of Forgiveness

This originally appeared here in July, 2008. Since the human condition hasn’t changed since then, I thought it might prompt some much-needed and quiet reflection at a time of year that epitomizes the hopefulness of reconciliation.

Downsizing. Corruption. Bullying. Harassment. ‘Do more with less.’ Reduced benefits. Add to that list some of the people with whom you have to work every day. There’s a lot of opportunity for anger and hurt on the job.

Where you find anger, you find the need for forgiveness. Why?

It’s good for you. For your physical and mental health. For your relationships. For your ability to move on peacefully and productively.


Why forgiveness instead of revenge?

Christina M. Puchalski, M.D. is the Founder and Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She says:

On a personal level, forgiveness of self can help us achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God. Wrongdoing against others and ourselves can result in guilt and resentment.  This can thenlead to self-recrimination and self-loathing; it also can create a distance or disconnect from self and others. Resentment can give away to hate and intolerance. Forgiveness is the first stage of self-love and acceptance. It is also the basic building block of loving relationships with others.’

It’s not the offense. It’s your response to it.

I confess, I’m not always a quick-to-forgive person once I’ve felt ‘wronged’. I give people a very long leash and a long time to ‘get their act together’ if things aren’t going well. But there is some point at which I just say ‘that’s it’ and cut them off from my life. It is very infrequent, but the pattern is always the same. I decide that the differences are irreconcilable. So, the relationship in its present form is finished.

Does that serve me well?

Only if I genuinely forgive. It is both possible and imperative to do that and, at the same time, acknowledge that the nature of the relationship may not be productive. This is the harder part, I think. It begs the nagging question, ‘If I can forgive, why can’t I just continue?’

Sometimes it’s possible. More often, it becomes apparent that I wasn’t seeing clearly to begin with and that continuing the relationship–without changing expectations–would not be peaceful or productive for either of us.

Dr. Frederic Luskin specializes in Learning to Forgive. He explains that:

‘The practice of forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health.’

Dr. Luskin’s 9 Steps to Forgiveness

1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.

2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.

3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the ‘peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.’

4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes–or ten years ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.

5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s fight or flight response.

6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize that ‘unenforceable rules’ you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.

8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.

9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

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