Know Thyself, Quarantined Soul!

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Accurate self-awareness is a sign of good psychological well-being.  Most schools of philosophy argue for the need to “know oneself” in order to live a good and flourishing life.  Here are examples from some of the world’s greatest thinkers:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu, famous Chinees war strategist.

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates, famous Greek Philosopher

Here is one from a book I’m reading now that I just love:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau, American author

“I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.” – Michel de Montaigne, French Essayist

And let’s end with a good old American Hero who understood human nature than most modern psychologists, Benjamin Franklin:

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin

These last few months of quarantine have helped me spend some time reflecting on who I am and what matters to me.  I thought I would share them with all of you to perhaps spark a little interest in using whatever time remains in our social isolation to do the same.  Here is a little insight into the soul of Dominick Hankle.

  • I like people more than I ever thought I did.  I’m an introvert by nature, but too often people think that means I don’t enjoy being with other people.  I love being with people, but I don’t like shallow surface engagement with them.  I like deep conversations where we get to know one another at a whole different level.  I like that conversational intimacy where you get to know someone better than before you sat down over that glass of wine.  I miss seeing several people who I can have those conversations with and will treasure them more after this is over.
  • I enjoy laughing and drinking wine.  I am indeed a man of Christian persuasion and I am committed to my belief and practice of the Christian faith, but I certainly cannot claim to be a puritan.  There have been a few nights where I have been able to drink a good bottle of wine with limited friends and family and I cherish those moments.  Wine and laughter, as well as the occasional off colored joke do not make me less of a Christian, they make me more human.  I thank God for reminding me I am merely a human being in such a pleasant and unconventionally Christian way.
  • I love my family.  Certainly, this seems obvious, but a man my age often reflects on life and ponders “What might have been.”  I’ve been with the same woman for about 30 years.  We have grown up together, we have loved each other, fought with each other, and at times hated one another, but we’re still together.  Being with her is a constant in my life that I would regret losing if it were to ever happen.  I do indeed love my wife.  I’m also blessed to have all my children still living with me, and that’s good.  Sometimes the five of us are sitting together in one room just laughing and enjoying being a family and that feels good.  Quarantine has reminded me of just how much I love these people.  I’m glad we are a family.
  • I love to learn.  I’ve read many books since our quarantine and it has been a wonderful experience.  I’m learning another language and revisiting statistical analysis so I can still think critically through the myriad of data my studies in psychology throw at me.  I have discovered that my love for learning is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s a blessing because we live in a world where there is always more to learn so I have so much to explore to keep me busy.  It’s a curse, because it reminds me that I don’t necessarily fear death itself, rather I fear that I will die without studying and learning all the things I’m interested in knowing.
  • I have been reminded that life is meant to be lived intentionally.  I’ve spent many days doing a number of things that served little purpose in regard to what I have discovered my life is meant to be.  We need to reestablish our lives so that each moment the tasks we engage in serve two primary purposes.  First, the tasks must be aimed at helping us achieve and actualize our life purposes.  What we do must reflect the very thing God calls us to be.  The second purpose for what we do must be to love and serve other people.  Each time I engage in an activity I ask myself, “Does this help me be the man God created me to be and does it help me love those he has placed in my life more fully?”  With these simple questions, I can instantly evaluate whether I’m using time in a way that matters.  Relaxation itself can be either useful relaxation or a waste of precious time.  There is a difference between idleness and rest, its important we know the difference.  This time reflecting on my life has helped me learn what that difference is.

Anyway, these are just five things that I’ve learned about myself over these days of quarantine.  Make some time to sit down and ask yourself how you can use this time to be more self-aware.  Time and circumstance will come and go regardless of how you feel about it.  Perhaps times like these are meant to help us use our situation to be more than we ever imagined we could be.

When All Else Fails Sing – What we Can Learn From Italians Who Defy The Virus

Human beings need one another. Our hearts ache to connect with each other and when we can’t we do everything humanly possible to feel as if we’re connected, even if it’s for a brief moment. People need people and we’re seeing how badly we need one another more and more as we’re being asked to keep away from other people to avoid spreading this dreaded virus. While self quarantine is an important discipline, we still ache to engage our fellow human beings and it seems when we can’t do that not only do our bodies feel as if they’re under siege but our souls do as well.

This desire to connect with one another at this difficult time is being beautifully expressed in Italy. News stories around the world show videos of Italians singing to each other over their balconies as they wait out this terrible experience of self quarantine. You can watch one of these videos here. While the disease caused by this virus is bad enough, the emotional strain caused by isolation is just one more factor eating away at our human spirit. The Italians have found a way to overcome this tragedy and connect to each other through one of the most uniquely human activities one can perform. They are singing songs of hope to one another.

As I watched these videos I started to think how important it is to find ways to connect with one another during this crisis. Psychologists have done numerous studies that demonstrate the importance of human connection. Children raised in orphanages who seldom receive human touch struggle developmentally and sometimes succumb to death. Studies exploring social isolation find that the same pain centers associated with physical pain in the brain are active when an individual feels isolated and socially excluded. We need one another and when we can’t connect to each other we suffer physically, emotionally, cognitively, and socially. So the question we need to answer is how can we remain connected with other people when we’re being asked to socially disengage?

I think we need to be mindful that while many of us will be with other people because we’re quarantined with family members living in the same house there are those who live alone that won’t have that same opportunity. They may be single adults, older individuals, or people with illnesses. People who are self quarantined and living alone will feel isolated in a more profound way than those of us isolated as whole families. However, they don’t need to feel alone if we just do some simple things to stay connected to them. What can we do?

First, make phone calls to people you know who are living alone. Check in on them, ask how they’re doing, and see if there is a way you can get them anything they need. Most likely just hearing your voice will be enough to lift their spirits so they can press on another day. Phone calls are simple gestures of care that too often get pushed aside by our texting habit. During a time when people feel alone, the sound of your voice might be a better choice than the “ding” of a text.

Secondly, use Skype or some other video conferencing application to connect with those left alone. We need to see another human face, its a very important part of how we feel connected to people. Often just seeing another human being’s face gives us a sense of comfort and connectedness. Try and make that a reality through Facetime or Google Hangouts. We have the technology to connect with one another so lets try and make it happen for those who feel left alone or isolated without any option to be with people. In fact, there are numerous free video conferencing websites that a number of you can use to get people together, use them to create a virtual social gathering.

Lastly, connect with one another over social media. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. all provide some sense of connection to others. I have a friend who lives about 8 hours from me. Unfortunately he isn’t able to get out much because of his health issues. However, he spends a significant amount of time on Facebook when he can’t be with other people and often he and I engage in chats as well as share pics and memes with one another to the point where it feels like we are in the same room. In fact, after a number of shares and chats we often just call one another to talk about what we’re doing on social media. Even the most minimal engagement through technology can help us feel connected to others.

Nothing can make social isolation perfect and nothing replaces face to face human interaction. Most days we lament the fact we don’t connect in person with other people and remain disconnected through social media. However, maybe social media and technology can be the one thing that helps us keep those living alone feel connected to other people. Maybe this situation will help us reignite the desire to get off the screens we hold in our hands and actually visit with one another when this virus is contained. Ultimately, if none of this works, maybe we can learn from our friends in Italy and let that primal human expression that bubbles up within us emerge from our vocal chords. Maybe, just maybe, we need to sing. When all else fails, sing to one another and let one lonely soul cry out to another through the gift of music.

Processing Pain – The Heart of Forgiving

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I’ve been writing a great deal about forgiveness over the past few months because I believe it’s such an important tool necessary for living a good and peaceful life. Frequently, no matter what someone comes to speak to me about as their therapist, the need to forgive someone for something seems to always come up. In fact, I use the very things we’ve been talking about as part of my daily practice so that I can be a more forgiving person.

So far, I have mentioned the importance of doing several things to be more forgiving. First, forgiveness is a choice you have to make, it’s not a feeling you have about something. Forgiveness is much like love. We can feel we love someone or something but more importantly, we can choose to love someone or something. You must choose to be a forgiving person, how you feel about that is something you work out later. We talked at length about this part of forgiveness in the post called The Choice to Experience Anger – Step 1 of the Forgiveness Process. I have also discussed how forgiving someone who hurt you means seeing them differently. Too often we see our offenders as these powerful monsters who can hurt us instead of the broken and hurt human being they actually are. Changing our view of them isn’t easy to do, so I try and help you with that part of the process in the post I called The Monster Who Hurt You – How to Start Forgiving Them. As part of forgiving our offender and seeing them in a different light, we have to start extending some level of compassion toward them or at least reduce the feelings of anger and hatred the thought of them causes us. Again, I discussed that in the post called Extending Compassion to Your Enemy – The Crucial Part of Forgiveness. I know its not easy, but is indeed part of the healing process that frees you from the past hurt they caused you. These steps are important because they help break key barriers that keep people from being more forgiving. These barriers are:

    • Our sense of justice wants us to see the other individual suffer as much as we have, but revenge seldom gives us the peace we want.
    • Too often people believe forgiveness is the same as reconciliation. You need not reconcile with the person you forgive, nor do you need to allow them to hurt you any further.
    • Sometimes people see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is not weakness. It takes a great deal of strength to be a forgiving person.
    • People will avoid going through the forgiveness process because it requires you to re-experience the pain and injustice that caused you such difficulty in the first place. However, it’s important you re-experience these feelings in order to reduce their impact on you in the present.

So, if you’ve been able to work through these stages, you’re well on your way to being forgiving. What you need to do next is begin to process the pain you feel. One way I help clients do that is to ask them to make a list of the people who have hurt them. Then, list under that person each incident of interaction they’ve had with that individual that caused them pain. Most likely it wasn’t just one thing they did or said that hurt you, there are either multiple incidents or multiple aspects of what someone did that needs processed. The first step is to write it down. Then, look at each incident. Ask yourself, “why did this person do this?” “What pain or hurt in their lives caused them to act this way?” “What is it about me that makes me hurt because of what this individual has done?” “How might I evaluate this differently and in such a way that I see it as the action of a person struggling in life just like me?” Keep asking questions. If you feel hurt again, it’s okay. Think about the incident and then slowly but surely view the incident as a black and white movie. Shrink it down in your mind and visualize it as a small movie clip in black and white running on a small video screen. Notice how your body allows you to relax more and more as the image of that hurt becomes less and less real and more like a fading memory. Repeat these questions and this visualization over and over again. If you can’t visualize it, think about the dialogue. Soften the dialogue so that it becomes less and less audible and more like a bad recording from long ago. Make the voices fuzzy and difficult to hear.

Do this over and over again for the incident you decided to work on. Keep trying to understand the person who hurt you did so because they are a weak, hurting, powerless human being that found a way to avoid experiencing their weakness and powerlessness by hurting you. Let your mind transform the experience that haunts you in a way that it becomes weaker, more powerless, and more distant from you. Do this again and again until you can say with confidence you forgive the person for that one thing they’ve done to you. It may take days, weeks, months, or years, but do that over and over again until that incident is powerless and gone. Now, repeat this same process for the next incident you have on your list in relation to this person. If its one, you’re done. If you have more, keep moving through the list. Do this again and again until you process the emotions around the hurt you experience. The key to forgiving this individual is forgiving each incident you can recall that hurt you. Once you do that, you have forgiven them.

It sounds easy when you read this but it can cause a great deal of emotional trauma if the incident you’re reflecting on is exceptionally difficult. That’s why sometimes its best to do this with a good therapist. However, there are probably lighter issues that this self-reflective activity may be useful when trying to overcome emotional pain. Use it as you can and if things get tough seek out a good therapist. What is most important is to begin to let go of things that are stuck deep in your emotional self with barbed hooks and metal that just won’t let go. If you can process these feelings you can be free.

In the last post, I will share on the topic of forgiveness in this series, we will discuss how you hang on to that sense that you have forgiven someone when it feels like you never have. Often we go through this process and believe we’ve done the hard work necessary to forgive someone and something reminds us of what was done to us and it sets us off again. I want you to be able to hang on to the forgiveness you experience so look for how to maintain that forgiveness experience in our next blog post.

How Can You Love Your Spouse? Ask That Important Question!

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Having been a marriage and family therapist for a number of years, people often ask me what needs to happen in order to experience a good marriage. I’m really not a fan of that question because marriages vary between being good and being bad all the time. There are days, months, and years where marriages aren’t “good” and there are days, months, and years where marriages are great. Being happy in a marriage is transitory, it comes and goes and changes based on millions of situations, conditions, and variables. There are no perfect marriages and people who claim to have them are living a grand illusion. Whenever you ask two people to commit to one another for the rest of their lives it’s going to lead to problems because people aren’t perfect. Simple math reminds us that adding 1 imperfect person to another imperfect person only doubles the imperfections in the relationship.

There are a number of great researchers who have provided “best practices” for good marriages. Dr. John Gottman is one of my favorite marriage researchers and a great resource to help people develop solid practices and habits for experiencing a better marriage. However, even if you learn all the techniques, habits, and practices he shares with his readers, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a happy marriage. Happiness tends to be a fleeting experience that comes and goes with the changing seasons. It certainly isn’t a guaranteed state of existence.

I have found the best question to ask yourself in order to improve your marriage is very simple. The best thing to ask yourself is “How can I love my spouse in a way he or she needs to be loved?” Call it what you will, but the forces of the universe have led you to build a shared life with another person and that means life becomes about more than what you want. It means you have to think about what someone else needs from that shared experience the two of you are building. It’s also important to remember people change so to assume you have things figured out within the first two or three years of marriage is misguided. That’s why you need to ask that all-important question again and again while you’re married. You need to ask yourself, “How does my spouse need me to love them? What can I be doing now to give them the love they need?”

There are some general guidelines on how a man and a woman need to be loved. Some of the work I like the most has been provided by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn. They have two books, one called “For Women Only” and the other called “For Men Only.” The book called “For Women Only” provides research-backed information on how a man needs to be loved and likewise, the other book helps men know how women need to be loved. For example, when it comes to sex the book “For Women Only” reminds the ladies sex is more than a biological urge for a man. It reminds him that he is loved and desired and it gives him confidence. Sex is very important to men because deep within their psychology, it is an affirming act that words can’t replace. Likewise in the book “For Men Only” the guys are taught that listening is exceptionally important for the ladies. When men listen to their ladies they communicate that you are important and what you have to say matters. Women aren’t looking for men to fix their problems (and often men aren’t very good at fixing things anyway!) A women sharing her problems from the day isn’t asking her husband to fix her situation. Her emotional turmoil isn’t just another item you check off your to-do list. She wants you to focus on how she is feeling, not the problem. When a man realizes a woman feels loved when he is interested and invested in her emotions then things work out well. Men and women need to be loved in different ways.

While all of this is good and interesting, my main point still overrides these very good ideas. In the end, you aren’t just loving “some” man or “some” woman, you’re loving the person who has decided you’re the individual they want to be with until they take their last breath! That’s pretty powerful. So, while all of this general advice is good, what matters most is whether or not you are sincere when you ask yourself “How can I love my spouse in a way he or she needs loved and not in a way I think is best?” In the end that’s what matters. I’m not advocating for abuse or doing things that make you exceptionally uncomfortable, but an honest answer to that question will go a long way in building a relationship grounded in selfless love rather than self-interested speculation.

Extending Compassion to Your Enemy – The Crucial Part of Forgiveness

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In the discussions we’ve been having about forgiveness, I proposed the first two steps in this process involve 1) deciding to forgive the other person and 2) transforming your view of the individual from being a powerful monster to be a simple, broken, human being.  Both seem simple, but as you now know, these are difficult steps that require time, patience, and the willingness to be uncomfortable.  Deciding to forgive someone takes courage.  It’s like deciding to get surgery.  If you broke your arm when you were young and never had it correctly cared for you may have problems with it, but you learn to live with those problems.  As you get older that injury may start impacting your mobility and you may decide to get the arm fixed.  When you speak with the doctor she says, “I’ll have to break your arm again and reset it to correct your problems.”  If you’re like me, you start to think living with that crooked immobile arm might be okay!  Who wants to undergo so much voluntary pain when you’ve learned to live with the limitations of your injury?  When you decide to forgo the forgiveness process and live with the emotional limitations and deficits unforgiving people live with, you’re saying “No!” to the emotional equivalence of fixing a broken arm.  Sure, you don’t have to relive the pain of being hurt or try and see your offender in a more compassionate way, but you will live with limitations and pain.  Your health will suffer, your emotional life will suffer, and most importantly your future relationships will suffer.

Okay, so you need to decide to forgive someone and you need to start seeing them in a more compassionate way.  What’s the best way to do that? You start by making a commitment to stop ruminating on the hurt the individual caused you.  Plenty of evidence indicates a continued focus on how you’ve been hurt only perpetuates your anger and keeps you in a cycle of pain.  You have to say to yourself, “I will no longer focus on my hurt feelings, I will attempt to understand the person who hurt me in a more compassionate way.”  You’re not agreeing with what was done to you by being more compassionate nor are you trying to reconcile or befriend your offender.  You’re committing to the fact that you will no longer ruminate repeatedly about the pain you feel.  You’re committing to the fact that you will not be triggered into a painful cycle of hurt every time something reminds you of your offender or what happened to you.  You must commit to this process otherwise your subconscious will draw you into that negative cycle or rumination over and over again.

Once you commit yourself to the process you need to make a habit of extending compassion to yourself and the offender.  Give yourself time each day to reflect compassionately on your situation.  First, have compassion for yourself.  Know that your pain is real and it’s okay to be hurt by what was done.  There is no shame in it, you’re not weak, and it doesn’t mean you’re less of a person for struggling with being hurt.  Give yourself a healthy dose of compassion.  Then, recall the individual and the incident that caused you pain.  If there are multiple instances where this person hurt you the process needs repeating for each instance.  However, start with the first one that comes to mind.  Rate the amount of pain you feel with a number from 1 to 10.  Does the pain feel like an 8 or a 6?  Try and gauge the pain you feel as a result of what was done as best as you can.  Keep that number handy, it will be a good measure for determining if things are getting better later in the process.  It may go up at some point in the future, that’s not uncommon, or it may go down as you walk through the process.  The goal is that after a significant amount of time of practicing forgiveness you’ll feel less pain when you recall what was done.

Now the hard part.  Ask yourself why the person who hurt you did what they did.  Sure, your first responses are going to be that the individual is a monster with superpowers intent on inflicting pain on everyone they know, but you’ll get past that pretty quickly.  Now think about what causes people to be hurtful.  Think about how you’ve hurt other people and why you might have done that.  Did you feel pain from something and unintentionally strike out at others because of it?  Do people hurt others because deep down they’re insecure about something and maybe you unintentionally raised those insecurities to a new level of consciousness in them?  Were they abused as children, treated poorly in a bad marriage, or stepped on and mowed over by arrogant individuals at work?  Have they been made to feel powerless?  Spend time looking at the brokenness this individual might be experiencing.  You need the time to develop a compassionate view of the individual that doesn’t excuse their behavior but allows you to see them as they truly are, another broken person.

I want you to spend some time with this part of the process.  We haven’t forgiven them yet, but we have started to move in that direction when we reduce our negative rumination about our pain and see the offender as nothing more than a broken person.  You will slowly start to see the burden lift from your shoulders as you get closer to this view of them.  Give it time because you will probably slide back into that negative rumination over your own pain.  Your desire for justice is deeply rooted in who you are and will always be there.  The goal is to find a way to temper it with mercy.  No one says this is easy, but it is the key to the freedom you deserve.

We’ll look at the next steps in the following posts that allow you to complete the forgiveness process.  However, my experience finds this is the most difficult part of the process and the one that challenges people the most.  Think of it as climbing the summit of what might be the psychological mountain of Mount Everest.  If you can get here, you can finish strong.  Let me help you get there.

The Monster Who Hurt You – How to Start Forgiving Them

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When we’re ready to forgive someone for some past affliction, we need to start by seeing them for who they really are and not the individual living in our minds.  More than likely you’ve created a larger than life version of this individual and given them powers they never had.  We do this because the offending party is still impacting our relationships, our self-esteem, and the places we go.   Even if we cut them out of our lives, they control us.  The person who hurt you is no longer a person at all in your mind.   They’re an incarnate source of misery, fear, anger, depression, and numerous other negative experiences plaguing you because of the hurt they inflicted on you.

Besides making up your mind about how powerful a monster this individual is, you’ve also decided you know why they hurt you.  Our psychological mechanisms need to make meaning out of tragedy and the pain we’re feeling.  We do whatever it takes to find some meaning for our suffering.  In psychology, we often talk about making “attributions” which are simply characteristics we ascribe to other people to explain behaviors they exhibit.  When someone behaves in a negative way, we believe we know why.  A psychological concept known as the “fundamental attribution error” plagues our ability to accurately determine why someone behaved one way over another.  We often believe a person’s negative behaviors are due to the fact they’re bad people yet if we perform the same behaviors, we decide we’ve done so for good and righteous reasons.  If someone is speeding, we immediately say they’re a destructive, dangerous, irresponsible person.  However, if we’re speeding its most likely because we need to help someone, take care of important business, or perform some righteous task superseding the speed limit making us a better person than all the other people speeding that day.  We always believe other people are behaving badly because they are bad people and when we perform the same behavior it’s because of some higher good.

When we review two of the most popular and well researched psychological theories about forgiveness, we find both believe an important step in the process is reframing our view of the offending party.  Robert Enright believes we need to see the offender from a different perspective.  In the “working phase” of his forgiveness process, Enright prompts his clients to see how the individual who hurt them may be impacted by his or her childhood, the stress in their lives, and the numerous factors that lead people to be hurtful to others.  He isn’t asking you to make excuses for their behavior nor is he attempting to justify what was done, he simply wants you to see the individual you’ve given so much power to as just another broken human being.  Enright believes starting to develop empathy for the offender takes some of the imagined power you’ve given them away.  Likewise, Everett Worthington’s model proposes it’s important to develop empathy for the offender as a means of understanding why they may have hurt you.

I want to be clear about this step in the forgiveness process.  No one is saying the individual who hurt you was right to do so.  This step is most important because it allows you to see that the person who hurt you is just another person.  They really aren’t some powerful force you cannot overcome, they’re merely broken people perpetuating that brokenness on others.  If you can empathize with the person who hurt you, then the power they have over you will disappear.  Forgiveness starts with recognizing the offender is just another person and they really have no control over your life.

I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a very important part of your ability to heal.  Most people hurt other people because they’re carrying around a significant amount of hurt and pain themselves.  In his book, The Science of Evil Simon Baron-Cohen describes how excessive abuse of a child can cause them to become sociopaths of the most wicked kind because that abuse destroys the neurological empathy path in the brain.  The most vicious serial killers are broken people and for some that brokenness is caused by the brokenness and hurt in other people.

So, I leave you with this: Can you transform your understanding of the person who hurt you to be less of a powerful monster and more like the broken person they are?  If you can get to that place, you are on the path to forgiving them and reclaiming your life and the parts their hurt has taken from you.

The Choice to Experience Anger – Step 1 of the Forgiveness Process

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If you’ve decided you want to be more forgiving you need to be patient with yourself.  forgiveness is a process and one that requires several steps, stages, and tasks to complete.  It’s important to remember forgiveness does not come naturally, it’s something we grow into.  We struggle to be forgiving because of that deep sense of justice I described in my previous post.  However, like other virtues, you can practice numerous behaviors and thought processes that help you become more forgiving.  Forgiveness is like love, it’s not just a feeling we have, it’s a decision we make.  Love is a choice and sometimes we choose to love difficult people.  Forgiveness is a choice and sometimes we choose to forgive someone who seems unforgivable for treating us in an unforgivable way.

If you look at the numerous studies and theories published on forgiveness in psychology journals you find most identify three primary components as part of the process.  These components are 1) changing your perspective of the offending party to be more balanced and realistic, 2) decreasing the negative feelings toward the offending party and attempting to increase some level of empathy/compassion for them, and 3) letting go of the idea the person who hurt you should pay you back for what was done or receive the justice they deserve.  I’m going to address all three of these components at some point, but in this post, I want to start with the fact you need to decide if you’re ready to exercise forgiveness in the first place.  I’ve said forgiveness is a choice, and you need to really ask yourself if you’re ready to make that choice.  One way to come to that conclusion is by assessing how not being a forgiving person is impacting your life.  Simply put, how is your unwillingness to forgive a particular hurt and pain you experienced keeping you from being the loving person you could be?

The basic consequence of not forgiving someone who hurt you is living with anger.  Anger is a natural response to being treated unjustly and when someone hurts you anger emerges as a response to that unjust act.  Maybe you were treated as if you didn’t matter, you were never listened to in your family, or you were treated as the family servant and everyone walked all over you.  These actions are unjust and when you realize how you’ve been treated, you get angry.  However, recognizing anger in ourselves is often a very painful experience.  So, instead of acknowledging we’re angry because we’re hurt (Some people don’t like to do this because they believe it makes them weak or a “bad” person) we find other ways to express that anger.  No one likes pain.  Emotional pain, like physical pain, is something we will do almost anything to avoid.  Robert Enright writes in his book, “Forgiveness is a Choice” the following regarding acknowledging anger:

“Realizing that you are angry can be very painful, but forgiveness is not about pretending that nothing happened or hiding from the pain.  You have suffered and need to be honest with yourself about that suffering.”

So, before you go through any of those three previously mentioned components in the forgiving process, ask yourself if you’re ready to acknowledge your anger and experience the pain it has produced in its most raw form.  Instead of shoving it deep down inside, ignoring it, transferring it to other people, and letting it destroy your relationships, ask yourself if you’re brave enough to acknowledge how avoiding anger has negatively impacted your life?  If you are ready, ask yourself these questions to assess how much anger has spread into the physical, emotional, mental, relational, and transcendent aspects of your life.  Enright lists these questions as tools to explore your anger:

  • How have you avoided dealing with anger?
  • Have you faced your anger?
  • Are you afraid to expose your shame or guilt about a situation?
  • Has your anger affected your health?
  • Have you been obsessed about the injury or with thoughts about the person who hurt you?
  • Do you compare your situation with that of the offender?
  • Has the injury caused a permanent change in your life?
  • Has the injury changed how you view the world?

This is where I want you to start.  Take a week or so and think about these questions, journal about them, meditate on them, and ponder them.  Do whatever works for you but assess as best as you can how anger, caused by your unwillingness to forgive a past hurt in your life, has spread through your world like cancer and negatively impacted your potential to live well.  Once you do that, you may feel more motivated to start the forgiveness process.