The Art and Skill of Forgiveness
Saanich News July 23, 2005
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor
Last column I wrote that in any marriage, no matter how good it is, people get into difficulty with one another. We make mistakes.
Given this fact, there will be times when we will feel “grieved” and need the art and skill of simple forgiveness.
To practice forgiveness intelligently, genuinely, is key not only to the success of our marriage but to our greater freedom and happiness in life.
Because anger and resentment, held in memory, are painful and troublesome. These feelings fester and begin to crowd out the feelings of appreciation and intimacy.
With stored grievances and resentments, we begin to view one another in a more negative light. This creates a downward spiral, a lowering of the confidence and good will between partners.
This is how each person in a couple begins to build walls around themselves.
And it becomes worse. Our grievances, our stored complaints, become part of a “story” we make up about our partner and about the relationship. Our stories begin to shape our perceptions, what it is possible to see and experience in our relationship, and the future in front of us. Our story takes us over.
This downward spiral is reversed when partners in relationship learn the power of forgiveness.
What does it mean to forgive?
Webster’s Dictionary defines forgiveness as “ to give up all resentment against; to stop being angry with; to pardon; to give up all claim to revenge or to punish another. “
Forgiveness occurs when we begin to understand our resentments and grudges as something we are doing, as bad habits that make things worse by adding more negative charge and insecurity to matters.
How does one forgive?
Forgiveness is simple and happens when we release unwanted painful thoughts about our partner or an event from our mind.
We forgive when we call on the power of understanding to reduce the strength and hold of our negative thoughts. We cast the troublesome event in the brighter light of understanding. In doing so, we restore the innocence and the humanity of the other person.
Each of us can do this.
Human beings have many misconceptions about the nature of forgiveness. So before we can freely choose and practice forgiveness let’s be clear about what forgiveness is and is not.
First, many consider that to forgive another means that we are condoning, allowing, or supporting the behaviour. It does not.
Forgiveness is an act of the heart, a letting go of a grievance, resentment, or memory. It is to find peace with the past, to free ourselves of the past. Forgiveness is not a comment on the rightness or wrongness of behavior.
Secondly, many people genuinely believe that holding on to a grievance will protect them – that staying present to the difficult memory will somehow keep them alert, their partner alert, and keep these things from happening again.
Yet staying present to a troubling memory doesn’t guarantee greater safety.
It simply keeps you stuck with a troubling memory and in the protective tension state the memory produces.
Thirdly, many people consider that forgiveness is something we do primarily for the other person. We think forgiveness is an act of generosity we do for them.
It’s much more than that.
The truth is that resentments eat away at the heart and the soul of the person who carries them.
I tell some of my clients, who are hanging on tightly, that holding onto resentment is a little like taking poison - and hoping their partner will get sick !
We all know that, if we cling to resentments, and grudges, we suffer.
When we forgive, we give up our anger, our blame, our judgement. We come to peace with ourselves. This sets us free and returns us to our own well being.
So, forgiveness is really a gift we give to ourselves.
Finally, many think that you must or should forgive another. No, you don’t have to forgive. No one “has to” forgive. Genuine forgiveness is choice made freely. We choose forgiveness when we’re ready, when we see that such actions are possible and advantageous.
In the end, forgiveness simply says that we are choosing not to put our partner out of our heart.
Once we begin to actually do this, we come to know what a powerful action forgiveness is. When we practice forgiveness we are participating in an act of love.
Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.