Friday, December 7, 2012

7 Steps to Forgiveness

We just returned from a two-day regional mental health conference sponsored by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. Among the many great panels and discussions was one led by Sharon Adams, Ph.D., on “Cultural and Personal Forgiveness.”

We all encounter people who cross us or bring us harm in our work lives, our personal lives and throughout societies. They may even be the very people for whom we now are caring for in their advanced age or diminished state. And if we can't forgive them for what they've done, we should forgive them for what they continue to do. Chronic “unforgiveness” has been linked to numerous health issues – including obesity, substance abuse, depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to learn to forgive, not for the people who hurt or offended you but for yourself.

 “Forgiveness is a choice. It’s an act of your own free will,” Adams, who is Dean of Student Services at Sierra College, told the crowd gathered at the Hilton in Mission Bay. “It is an act of emotional release that brings some level of closure and peace. It also is a process – it doesn’t happen right away.”

"People who have a hard time forgiving others have a hard time forgiving themselves,” she said. It’s important to understand that to truly forgive does not mean you forget or condone what someone did. You don’t even have to try and like that person again. You are merely deciding you no longer want to spend any more energy on the issue.

Forgiveness also doesn’t mean instant relief; the anger can dissipate over time and you’ll know you’ve truly forgiven someone when you have no need to bring them harm in anyway.

Here are 7 steps Adams outlined to reach a full state of forgiveness:

1. Acknowledge that forgiveness is a choice. The single most important issue we will settle in our lives is whether or not we will choose to forgive.

2. Be willing to embrace a new normal. Some of us become consumed with revenge and reshape our lives and goals because of it; letting it go can open up other opportunities.

3. Empathize with your offender. Many of us are capability of the same kind of cruelty on a different scale. Understanding where someone’s anger or hate may come from is important.

 4. Forgive yourself, if necessary. Self-blame, especially when it comes to chronic abuse, is common.

5. Chose not to keep a record of wrongs. Doing so only makes it more difficult to let it go. If you constantly catalog and resurrect all of the insults, slights or assaults, you will never lead a full life.

6. See the offense as an opportunity for personal growth. Your creativity will improve, as will your mental health.

7. See you God in your offender. Everyone starts off as an infant with no malevolence but have something happen to them at some point in their lives. Most abusers and bullies have been abused and bullied themselves. It can be important to recognize they weren't born this way.

Adams ended her presentation by reminding us that “truly healthy people” get back to being centered sooner.

No comments: