By Traci Moreno, PsyD – – –
Forgiveness doesn’t have to be the goal of therapy. I can’t even count how many clients come in and assume forgiveness is their goal. They are then shocked, and pleasantly surprised, when I tell them it doesn’t have to be. Forgiveness doesn’t always have to be the goal. Forgiveness is a difficult and sometimes impossible task.
Your therapy goal should always be something realistic and attainable and it should help you decrease your symptoms and help you feel better. Usually the mere thought of forgiving someone who hurt us instantly brings about feelings of anger, resentment, or fear. So why would this be the goal? Realistically, we can forgive but we can never forget.
There’s something about letting go of the pain that isn’t as emotionally challenging as having to forgive someone that hurt us. So is there a difference between letting go and forgiving? Only a slight one… we can let go without having to forgive but we can’t forgive without letting go. I think if we can get ourselves to let go of the pain… forgiveness will not seem so impossible and will soon follow along with your progress. Letting go makes it easier to trick our mind to begin the journey of forgiveness.
So let’s start with letting go. It’s important to understand that we can’t let it go without first feeling it, addressing it, and confronting it. Then, and only then, can we truly let it go. If we don’t do this then we are merely repressing and denying the pain. You’re basically building a house of cards. You’re not on solid foundation and you’ll be blown over by the slightest problem you have next in your life.
You must rebuild on solid ground and to do that you have to get all that pain inside of you out- all the anger, fear, sadness, guilt, rejection, shame… all of it.
To do that means you have to stop and allow yourself to feel it so you can process what you feel and why you feel it. You can do this through talking about it with someone you trust or a therapist or you can write about it. There’s journaling, writing what’s called a therapy letter (which is a letter only used for the purposes of therapy and will never actually be given to anybody). You would address the letter to the person who has caused you pain and tell them everything you wish you could tell them. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to be grammatically correct. It doesn’t even have to be full sentences. Just get it out.
You’ve got to channel the pain and get it all out on the paper. When you’re done, destroy it, rip it up or burn it, whichever you prefer. But whatever you do just don’t reread it. Just like you wouldn’t eat what you just threw up you don’t want to put all this pain back in your mind and body.
Other forms of processing your pain can be through poetry, music, writing song, or anything similar. After you do this you want to use some healthy, appropriate coping skills such as working out, taking a long hot shower or bubble bath, playing with a pet, doing something fun with friends or anything that helps calm you down and recover from the emotions you just experienced. Repeat this process as often as necessary.
The intensity of the emotions will eventually decrease gradually. The more you process your emotions you will begin to become more desensitized to them and eventually come to a place of indifference and just be able to make peace with your past. This is the goal! Once you’re able to get to a place of indifference forgiveness won’t seem like an impossible, unattainable challenge anymore. Although I did run into some minor hiccups on my own journey of forgiveness that I thought would be helpful to share.
I recently did a few different meditation on forgiveness. On a personal level it was a bit shocking and upsetting to hear. I was looking for the strength and the courage to let go of my own pain and forgive someone who had deeply hurt me but this is not what I found in these meditations. Instead, I found the instructors asking me to look within myself. Look how I have hurt others throughout my life. This pissed me off to say the least but I kept listening. Next, they talked about how I have undoubtedly hurt myself throughout my life. Then the talk finally turned to focusing on how others have hurt me. I was confused and angry. The last thing I wanted to hear was what I may have done wrong. I thought, “how is this supposed to help me? I haven’t done anything wrong!” I guess I was too busy turning blame outward on to others to look within or get the big picture.
One meditation I even shut off halfway through out of anger and tossed my phone across the bed. I tried a few more meditations and they all had the same general message. So I had no choice but to try and step back from my own blinders of emotion and try to think as a psychologist. So I started again and analyzed it on a psychological level to determine how I would explain the reasoning behind this concept to a client and then I would be able to apply it to myself.
The challenge of looking within and how you have hurt others throughout your life forces you to realize that you are not an innocent victim in all of this. We will inevitably hurt others and they will hurt us either intentionally or unintentionally. This is all part of the human experience. So what makes another person’s actions unforgivable when I expect mine to be forgivable? Next, we look at how we hurt ourselves. We can hurt ourselves by not having the compassion and understanding for others and even ourselves. By not forgiving we are holding on to anger, resentment, sadness, and even hate. We are destroying ourselves from the outside in. We can’t allow the actions of others to control us and determine our quality of life. I hated the person who pained me. There was no way in hell I was going to let that person have any affect on my life so I had no choice but to let go and forgive.
Traci Moreno, PsyD is a Coaching Psychologist and founder of Free Spirit Coaching & Psychological Services PLC, located in Cave Creek, AZ