I had the opportunity last month to attend a medical summit on resolving chronic pain. The underlying message from all of the doctors, neurosurgeons, and psychologists was this: chronic pain (and chronic illnesses in general) are resolvable. And the key component in resolving these issues is regulation of the nervous system. We need to eliminate the perceived threats that keep our stress response engaged as best we can. Holding grudges and being unable to let go of the past is a threat to nervous system. So is being hard on ourselves. Today's post is about learning to forgive.
According to Dr. Fred Luskin, director and co-founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, forgiveness is a skill. One that many of us have never learned. Dr. Luskin defines forgiveness as finding peace within ourselves. Forgiveness does not condone anybody's behaviour, and it is not for anybody else. It is for you. It is the recognition that the emotions you still harbour over a past experience are affecting your health and wellbeing. It is the understanding that while you cannot change the past you can change your experience in the present, and moving forward. It is about taking back your power and turning yourself into the hero of your story rather than the victim.
If you're like me, you might think, "That's all well and dandy but it's easier said than done." And that is true, right now, because we haven't yet learned how.
What Dr. Luskin says in his book, Forgive for Good (I highly recommend it!) is that grievances are formed when something happens in our lives that we didn't want to happen, & we deal with this problem by thinking about it too much (or what he calls renting out too much space in our minds to it). We form a grievance when we take an offence too personally, we blame the offender for how we feel and we create a grievance story around it. The bottom line is painful experiences and being hurt are common. When we can accept the impersonal nature of the hurt along with our personal experience of pain, it helps us become less stuck and move toward healing. Blaming another person for how we feel suggests that the cause of the hurt lies outside of us, and therefore so does the solution. When people are hurt by a past experience and they still feel pain in the present, they look for reasons to explain their pain. They commonly choose what he calls the "blame hypothesis". We're guessing that the person who hurt us is the reason we still feel pain, so we blame that person. We assume that the person meant to hurt us. While in some cases that may be true, most of the time it isn't that personal. In truth, there are many factors that influence why we may still feel hurt. The best thing we can do for ourselves in that case is to learn how to hurt less.
We often have what Dr. Luskin calls "unenforceable rules" - expectations we have for how something should turn out or how others should think or behave. These rules are unenforceable, meaning we have no control over how things turn out or what others do. When we try to enforce an unenforceable rule, we may become bitter & angry, or feel helpless. Trying to enforce something we cannot control is an exercise is frustration, and the stronger we try to enforce it, the worse we will feel. The more unenforceable rules we have, the more agitated, resentful or disappointed we become. Reorienting away from holding expectations and demands, and instead seeing them as things we wish or hope(d) for can help us to let go of trying that control that which we cannot.
Three pre-conditions are required for forgiveness: 1) clearly knowing what our feelings are about what happened, 2) being clear about the specific action that wronged us, & 3) sharing our experience with one or two trusted people. Being clear about how you feel and sharing that pain with a few trusted individuals (or writing it out) allows you to put your feelings into words and make them clearer. It offers perspective in a different way than just thinking about it.
Once we have met those preconditions we can begin to create the space within ourselves to let it go. The next step is bringing in enough good to help us overcome the bad. More will be said about this next week.
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at email@example.com
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com