Forgiveness is a Divorce Key
I can’t emphasize enough the importance—and magic—of forgiveness during the divorce process. At this point, forgiving your former spouse or yourself may still seem impossible. But keep in mind that forgiveness is not something you do for the person who has hurt you. It is something you do for yourself and for your children.
As radio host Bernard Meltzer says, “When you forgive, you in no way change the past—but you sure do change the future.”
Forgiveness is not about condoning or even completely forget- ting harmful actions or words. It is about lightening your emotional burden. If you have children, this release will help you be a better parent and co-parent. Buddhists compare un-forgiveness to clutching a hot ember; hanging onto it doesn’t harm the ember—- only the one who won’t let it go. Author, speaker Dr. Steve Maraboli says, “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” And moving forward is what you want, right?
Much has been written about forgiveness and there are many processes to help you forgive yourself or others. The following is from Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project and the co-chair of the Garden of Forgiveness Project at Ground Zero in Manhattan. He shares the following advice for forgiving another person.
1. Find Your Voice: Spend some time to know exactly how you feel about what happened. Get to the place where you can articulate what about the situation is not okay. Then tell a couple of trusted people about your experience, your thoughts and feelings.
2. Do It for You: Think of your un-forgiveness as hanging onto a hot ember. Don’t do it to yourself. Make a commitment to do what you have to do to forgive because you will feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
Many people report feeling unlovable or unworthy as their marriage falls apart. In my experience, it is the rare individual who goes through a divorce without at least a few moments of wondering why they were not good enough, smart enough, mature enough, whatever enough to make the marriage work. Though you might learn something useful through this line of questioning, it is counter-productive to stay there. When your self-esteem is battered and bruised, you tend to feel defensive which kicks you back into reactive mode rather than response- able mode.
So now is the time to recover your self-esteem. You may need to push yourself a bit but there are a number of things that will help you feel better about yourself again. Some form of exercise can be really beneficial right now. Studies consistently find that regular exercisers are healthier, happier, and more productive than they were before they started exercising. Doing fun activities and hobbies you enjoy can be a real boost, as can giving back to the com- munity through some form of volunteering. Surrounding yourself with people who are positive and believe in you is another way to shore up your self-confidence.
This solid sense of self-worth will also help break the cycle of the blame game. When you feel confident, you are in position to respond calmly and tactfully if your spouse still tries to blame you for what has happened. You will be able to acknowledge your part in the breakdown of your marriage and learn from it rather than becoming defensive. You will be able to stay above the fray of blame by keeping your self-esteem in good form.
And if these suggestions don’t work for you, find a professional and talk it out. If you are feeling overwhelmed and still reactive about your relationship and the issues you need to re- solve, seek out a divorce coach or other mental-health professional who can see the situation from a distance. Talking things over with a supportive professional may help to alleviate defensive reactions and help you find a foundation where you can be more responsive.
3. Find Peace: Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that you reconcile with the person who hurt you, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you condone their actions. What you are after is peace. Forgiveness is the peace and understanding that come with releasing blame, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your internal story about the grievances.
4. Put the Past in the Past: Get a different perspective on your un-forgiveness. Recognize that your distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not whatever offended you or hurt you two minutes (or ten years!) ago. Forgiveness heals current hurt feelings and moves the past incident back where it belongs—in the past.
5. Breathe: In the instant you feel upset, take a deep breath. Then take another. Deep breathing is a simple stress-management technique which soothes your body’s flight-or- fight response. It is the only thing you can do consciously to signal your unconscious physical responses to relax.
6. Drop Expectations: Let go of expecting things from other people that they do not choose to give you. Release the expectation that life has to hand you exactly what you want. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have about how life should be or how other people should behave. Remind yourself that you can move toward health, love, peace and prosperity by your own actions and choices.
7. Face Forward: Concentrate your energy into looking for ways to get your needs and goals met rather than focusing on the experience that hurt you. Instead of mentally replay- ing your disappointment in what did not work out for you, seek out new ways to get what you want.
8. Get Even by Getting Better: Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings—thereby giving power to the person who caused you pain—learn to look for and expand the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
9. Tell It Differently: Amend your grievance story. Start leaving out the parts about the hurt and emphasize the parts about the learning. Make it a hero’s journey where you, the hero, found the courage to forgive.
The practice of forgiveness reduces hurt, anger, depression, and stress. It leads to greater feelings of hope, peace, compassion and self-confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships as well as physical health. It also opens the heart to kind- ness, beauty, and love. So which will you choose?
For more information on forgiveness from Fred Luskin, visit the website www.learningtoforgive.com.