Friday, March 5, 2021

Teaching our patients on how to forgive


“How to forgive” is often one of the most difficult things for us to teach people, even for those who actually want to forgive. It can be a common source of pain and suffering for people.

Forgiveness is sometimes more about understanding, what’s the underlying beliefs that are holding us back from letting something go. Once we have clarity around that, we can challenge those beliefs, or at least defuse, zoom out, or “make room” for them.

So what are the common culprits?

1. If someone does something wrong, they must be punished or have consequences.

2. Life should be fair. We must have justice.

3. Letting go is the same as giving up.

4. It’s unfair. Why do I have to let that go.

In the words of old wisdom.....

“Holding on to anger or resentment, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.

Let it go. It will lighten our load. We are doing it for our own health and well-being. 

I often frame it to patients in a number of ways depending on context. It may be: Do you want to forgive your mum? Do you think you can forgive your friend? Do you want to be at peace with that?

The patient will need to be in the driver seat. We are simply facilitators in the process to achieve what they want.

For example. A woman who felt that her mum didn’t love her while growing up. It may be due to a personality clash.

We asked her, “Do you want to forgive your mum?”

And things evolved from there.

If the “crime or hurt” was written on a piece of paper or represented by a “crying baby”, do they want to hold that “hurt” with kindness and compassion, resentment/punitive mindset, neutral/detached, or various shades of the above.

It’s a choice that they can make when ready.

Definitely no right or wrong answers. We try to empower people to make choices based on their context and their values.

Some people can choose to be neutral and detached about it (but not dissociated), especially in the context of a law suit or legal compensations.

Forgiveness may not be their aim there. Justice, and fairness may still be their main focus. It will come at a price.

It is certainly quite hard to “titrate” all these states or mindsets in all of us. Having better awareness and emotional literacy around this, will assist us to better navigate this space.


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