Podcast 27: 8 Keys To Forgiveness

Christmas Story of Forgiveness and Resilience

Podcast (Audio Only)

In this episode Joanne Williams, LCSW discusses How this year Christmas is more for giving forgiveness than for giving gifts.

Summary of today Podcast: 

  1. Ways to celebrate this Christmas with more love and forgiveness in your heart
  2. How stress indicates that we are not letting go and how resiliency can help
  3. 8 Tools for simply forgiving self or others
  4. Question for today is? Why should forgiveness be part of Christmas?

In this episode Joanne Williams, LCSW discusses How this year Christmas can be more for Giving forgiveness and finding resiliency than other for giving gifts.

Oprah says, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it's accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.” 

We have had a year like no other.  An election that some don’t want to let go of with authoritarian roots being exposed against our Democracy, a Pandemic that seems like it will never end.  Families with sick or dying family members, who may have just had a birthday party or wedding and never thought people might die from Covid 19 from coming to a party.

Social unrest that has thrown the blanket off a long history of persistent and ugly battering of human rights in our America.

Now we have one of the most stressful months of the year with expectation of giving gifts and being merry, with businesses dying, unemployment soaring and a supportive government nowhere to be found. Where is the hope? The joys of the Holiday Season? Can Christmas Music cheer us up?

We do have a choice to focus on all the bad that has happened this year or choose to look at ways to let go of the hurt and heartache and bounce forward into a new year with or without Covid in the rear-view mirror.

Christmas in my childhood was a complex time, happy and sad.  My family traveled 2 hours to stay with my grandparents and cousins for a traditional Christmas. My father would turn up the car radio on the way to hear the Santa report of sightings and we 4 kids would look out the station wagon windows to look for Santa’s sleigh in the sky, as we drive past the smell of crude oil from the oil fields of Oklahoma.  The Cousins played the piano and would sing carols.  There was a warm fire in the living room fireplace.  We shared and opened gifts on Christmas eve in the German Tradition and had one present from Santa to open on Christmas morning.

Sometimes all the Children would sleep on the floor of the dining room in sleeping bags and peep to see if Santa had come yet.  I remember an old saying, my grandfather would say, so that we wouldn’t get to close to the fire.  “Silly Willy curls and sashes, fell in the fire and burned to ashes, by and by the room grew chilly, but no one came to stir up Willy.”  That is such a troubling image for a child. Why would a sweet grandfather recite that saying to young children?  But that was the worry, or the fear of bad things can happen at any moment, instead of hearing reassuring and comforting thoughts, that your family will always be there for you.

We remember things very vividly from our childhood.  How are the children of this year going to remember it? Will they remember it with pleasant memories or of fear and hearing their parents fighting over an election, or financial struggles or of unity, forgiveness and finding ways to bounce back with resiliency and compassion, with their reassurance and hope.

Christmas is a tradition around the story of the birth of Jesus, the head of the Christian church and believed to be the son of God.  His last words on the cross that killed him were. “Please Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”

So, when is forgiveness the focus of His Holiday celebration? I think we are confused like Silly Willy and somehow, we fell in the fire, of remembering those last word to be sharing around forgiving. Not FOR Giving gifts.  But forgiving ourselves and each other, as the gift of the season.  This year we need it more than ever.

What are some ways to forgive from an Article the Power of Forgiving Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, co-director of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and from Robert Enrights “8 Keys to Forgiveness”

The power of Forgiveness teaches how to overcome lingering bad feelings toward someone who did you wrong.

Almost everyone has experienced being wronged by someone. It could be a former co-worker, friend, or family member. But hanging on to those negative feelings can do great harm to Your health.

"Forgiving a person who has wronged you is never easy but dwelling on those events and reliving them over and over can fill your mind with negative thoughts and suppressed anger," says Dr. Tyler VanderWeele. "Yet, when you learn to forgive, you are no longer trapped by the past actions of others and can finally feel free."

Learning to let go

There are two sides to forgiveness: decisional and emotional. Decisional forgiveness involves a conscious choice to replace ill will with good will. Replace that thought will a forgiving thought. "You no longer wish bad things to happen to that individual," says Dr. VanderWeele. "This is often quicker and easier to accomplish." Than emotional forgiveness,

For emotional forgiveness, you move away from those negative feelings and no longer dwell on the emotions of the wrongdoing. "Emotional forgiveness is much harder and takes longer, as it's common for those feelings to return on a regular basis," says Dr. VanderWeele. "This often happens when you think about the offender, or something triggers the emotional memory, or you still suffer from the adverse consequences of the action." This may need professional help, it there was trauma from this event.  Please reach out to learn some letting go skills for PTSD.  In podcast 26, I cover some of those skills.

Practicing forgiveness can have powerful health benefits. Observational studies, and even some randomized trials, suggest that when you forgive you can have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced substance abuse; higher self-esteem; and greater life satisfaction. Yet, forgiving people is not always easy.

"It's not that men can't forgive, but for some it's more of a struggle," says Dr. VanderWeele. It's not clear why, but perhaps men have learned to suppress certain emotions. "It also can be difficult for men to admit to themselves that there was this great offense that still bothers them," says Dr. VanderWeele. Or if it is PTSD avoidance is one of the symptoms. So, please reach out.

Practice small acts of forgiveness

One way to get more comfortable with forgiveness is to practice small acts in everyday life, says Dr. Tyler VanderWeele.  For example, if someone is rude or cuts you off in traffic, use that moment to recognize the wrong, realize it wasn't directed at you personally, and forgive him or her on the spot. "This way you also can learn to immediately stop the negative reaction from progressing into stronger emotions that can ruin your day.

Reaching for a solutions

Here are 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright 

When another person hurts us, it can upend our lives.

Sometimes the hurt is very deep, such as when a spouse or a parent betrays our trust, or when we are victims of crime or other traumas, or when we’ve been harshly bullied. Especially for a long time.

Anyone who has suffered a grievous hurt knows that when our inner world is badly disrupted, it’s difficult to concentrate on anything other than our turmoil or pain. When we hold on to hurt, we are emotionally and cognitively hobbled, and our relationships suffer. This is why with PTSD disorder; we need help to get out of our heads to think clearer on a emotional direction to let go or feel better.

Forgiveness is strong medicine for this. When life hits us hard, there is nothing as effective as forgiveness for healing deep wounds. I would not have spent the last 30 years of my life studying forgiveness if I were not convinced of this.

Many people have misconceptions about what forgiveness really means—and they may misunderstand it. Others may want to forgive but wonder whether or not they truly can.

Forgiveness does not necessarily come easily; but it is possible for many of us to achieve it if we have the right tools and are willing to put in the effort.

Below is an outline of the basic steps involved in following a path of forgiveness, adapted from Robert Enright’s book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness. As you listen to these steps, think about how you might adapt them to your own life.

Know what Forgiveness is and Why it Matters

Forgiveness is about goodness, about extending mercy to those who’ve harmed us, even if they don’t “deserve” it.

Does any family member come to mind this Christmas? That you could practice on?  A person that doesn’t even know that they harmed or offended you and you wouldn’t fear, hurting their feelings, trying some of the skills on them.

It is not about finding excuses for the offending person’s behavior or pretending it didn’t happen. Nor is there a quick formula you can follow. Forgiveness is a process with many steps that often proceeds in a non-linear fashion.

But it’s well worth the effort. Working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety. It can reverse the lies that we often tell ourselves when someone has hurt us deeply—lies like, I am defeated or I’m not worthy.

Forgiveness can heal us and allow us to move on in life with meaning and purpose. Forgiveness matters, and we will be its primary beneficiary.

A skill you can try on That person this Christmas is to imagine, him or her with a clown nose on their face every time they speak.  It will change the emotional reaction to them and in that moment. Chose to see them differently, such as, his so pitiful, he didn’t even have the brains to hurt me.  I interpreted that situations like he meant to.  He just runs his mouth and it is all gibberish.  Or agree to next time, say something to stick up for yourself, like you don’t know what you are talking about I see it this way.  Almost saying anything, show you can for your self and you will feel better.

Studies have shown that forgiving others produces strong psychological benefits for the one who forgives. It has been shown to decrease depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, and the symptoms of PTSD. But we don’t just forgive to help ourselves. Forgiveness can lead to psychological healing, yes; but, in its essence, it is not something about you or done for you. It is something you extend toward another person, because you recognize, over time, that it is the best response to the situation.  It is a choice.

 Become “forgivingly Fit”

Practice forgiveness, it helps if you have worked on positively changing your inner world by learning to be what I call “forgivingly fit.” Just as you would start slowly with a new physical exercise routine, it helps if you build up your forgiving heart muscles slowly, incorporating regular “workouts” into your everyday life.

You can start becoming more fit by making a commitment to do no harm—in other words, making a conscious effort not to talk disparagingly about those who’ve hurt you after the fact. You don’t have to say good things; but, if you refrain from talking negatively, it will feed the more forgiving side of your mind and heart.

You can also make a practice of recognizing that every person is unique, special, and irreplaceable. You may come to this through religious beliefs or a humanist philosophy or even through your belief in compassion. It’s important to cultivate this mindset of valuing our common humanity, so that it becomes harder to discount someone who has harmed you as unworthy.

You can show love in small ways in everyday encounters—like smiling at a harried grocery cashier or taking time to listen to a child. Giving love when it’s unnecessary helps to build the love muscle, making it easier to show compassion toward everyone.

Perhaps you can refrain from honking when someone cuts you off in traffic or hold your tongue when your spouse snaps at you and extend a hug instead.

Sometimes pride and power can weaken your efforts to forgive by making you feel entitled and inflated, so that you hang onto your resentment as a noble cause. Try to catch yourself when you are acting from that place, and choose forgiveness or mercy, instead. Forgiveness Institute website: www.internationalforgiveness.com.

Address your Inner Pain-

It’s important to figure out who has hurt you and how. This may seem obvious; but not every action that causes you suffering is unjust.

To become clearer, you can look carefully at the people in your life—your parents, siblings, peers, spouse, coworkers, children, and even yourself—and rate how much they have hurt you. Perhaps they have exercised power over you or withheld love; or maybe they have physically harmed you.

These hurts have contributed to your inner pain and need to be acknowledged. Doing this will give you an idea of who needs forgiveness in your life and provide a place to start.

There are many forms of emotional pain; but the common forms are anxiety, depression, unhealthy anger, lack of trust, self-loathing or low self-esteem, an overall negative worldview, and a lack of confidence in one’s ability to change. All of these harms can be addressed by forgiveness; so it’s important to identify the kind of pain you are suffering from and to acknowledge it. The more hurt you have incurred, the more important it is to forgive, at least for the purpose of experiencing emotional healing.

You may be able to do this accounting on your own, or you may need the help of a therapist.

However, you approach looking at your pain be sure you do it in an environment that feels safe and supportive. Please reach out to me, If needed, I can give you guidance where to find a therapist you insurance will pay for or become a client, to work on that specific stumbling block to your peace of mind.

Develop a Forgiving Mind through Empathy

Scientists have studied what happens in the brain when we think about forgiving and have discovered that, when people successfully imagine forgiving someone (in a hypothetical situation), they show increased activity in the neural circuits responsible for empathy. This tells us that empathy is connected to forgiveness and is an important step in the process.

If you examine some of the details in the life of the person who harmed you, you can often see more clearly what wounds he carries and start to develop empathy of compassion for him.

First, try to imagine him as an innocent child, needing love and support. Did he get that from the parents? Research has shown that if an infant does not receive attention and love from primary caregivers, then he will have a weak attachment, which can damage trust.

It may prevent him from ever getting close to others and set a trajectory of loneliness and conflict for the rest of his life.

You may be able to put an entire narrative together for the person who hurt you—from early child through adulthood—or just imagine it from what you know. You may be able to see her physical frailties and psychological suffering and begin to understand the common humanity that you share.

Recognizing that we all carry wounds in our hearts can help open the door to forgiveness.

Find Meaning in Your Suffering

When we suffer a great deal, it is important that we find meaning in what we have endured. Without seeing meaning, a person can lose a sense of purpose, which can lead to hopelessness and a despairing conclusion that there is no meaning to life itself.

Instead, try to see how our suffering has changed us in a positive way.

Some people begin to think about how they can use their suffering to cope, because they’ve become more resilient or brave.

 They may also realize that their suffering has altered their perspective regarding what is important in life, changing their long-range goals for themselves. Or see it as it made you the person that you are today because of it.

To find meaning is not to diminish your pain or to say, I’ll just make the best of it or All things happen for a reason.

Still, there are many ways to find meaning in our suffering. Some may choose to focus more on the beauty of the world or decide to give service to others in need. Some may find meaning by speaking their truth or by strengthening their inner resolve.

If I were to give one answer, it would be that we should use our suffering to become more loving and to pass that love onto others. Finding meaning, in and of itself, is helpful for finding direction in forgiveness.

When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths you have from faith to beliefs in old sayings.

Forgiveness is always hard when we are dealing with deep injustices from others. I have known people who refuse to use the word forgiveness because it just makes them so angry. That’s OK—we all have our own timelines for when we can be merciful. But if you want to forgive and are finding it hard, it might help to call upon other resources.

First remember that if you are struggling with forgiveness, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure at forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. Try not to be harsh on yourself but be gentle and foster a sense of quiet within, an inner acceptance of yourself. Try to respond to yourself as you would to someone whom you love deeply.

Surround yourself with good and wise people who support you and who have the patience to allow you time to heal in your own way. Also, practice humility—not in the sense of putting yourself down, but in realizing that we are all capable of imperfection and suffering.

Try to develop courage and patience in yourself to help you in the journey. Also, if you practice bearing small slights against you without lashing out, you give a gift to everyone—not only to the other person, but to everyone whom that person may harm in the future because of your anger. You can help end the cycle of inflicting pain on others.

If you are still finding it hard to forgive, you can choose to practice with someone who is easier to forgive. OR Alternatively, it can be better to focus on forgiving the person who is at the root of your pain—maybe a parent who was abusive, or a spouse who betrayed you. If these initial hurt impacts other parts of your life and other relationships, it may be necessary to start there.

Forgive Yourself

Most of us tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others and we struggle to love ourselves. Or continue with self-abusive statement or act or continue the abuse that the other person started.

If you are not feeling lovable because of actions you’ve taken, you may need to work on self-forgiveness and offer to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense of inherent worth, despite your actions.

In self-forgiveness, you honor yourself as a person, even if you are imperfect. If you’ve broken your personal standards in a serious way, there is a danger of sliding into self-loathing. When this happens, you may not take good care of yourself—you might overeat or oversleep or start smoking or engage in other forms of “self-punishment.” You need to recognize this and move toward self-compassion. Soften your heart toward yourself.

Develop a forgiving heart

When we overcome suffering, we gain a more mature understanding of what it means to be humble, courageous, and loving in the world. We may be moved to create an atmosphere of forgiveness in our homes and workplaces, to help others who’ve been harmed overcome their suffering, or to protect our communities from a cycle of hatred and violence. All of these choices can lighten the heart and bring joy to one’s life.

Some people may believe that love for another who’s harmed you is not possible. But, I’ve found that many people who forgive eventually find a way to open their hearts.

This kind of transformation can create a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone. And be one of the greatest gifts you can give for this Holiday Season.

Happy Holidays

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