The Power of Forgiveness
by Naomi Drew, M.A.
author of Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World
When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, youre spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others presence."
Peace is not possible without forgiveness. Martin Luther King once said, Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude. The only way children can learn the habit of forgiveness is by seeing us, their parents, forgive others and forgive ourselves.
The freedom to be at peace in our own skins - thats what forgiveness allows. We relinquish this freedom when we hold onto anger and resentment. Enormous amounts of energy are wasted when we hold back our love, hold onto hate, and harbor acrimonious feelings. The only remedy is letting go, and being willing to forgive.
But how? Here are four powerful steps to forgiveness from one of the worlds foremost experts on the subject, Dr. Fredrick Luskin:
1. Close your eyes, and for about 20 seconds, picture the person who hurt or angered you. Let all your grievances come up. Notice what happens in your body -- acceleration of heart-beat, shallow breathing, tension, etc.
2. Now let go of this image and take some slow, deep abdominal breaths. Focus on your abdomen, and imagine the breath going down into it as you inhale. Expand your abdomen on each inhalation, and deflate your abdomen as you exhale. Take about five breaths and keep your focus on your abdomen. If your mind goes back to the person who hurt you or to anything else, bring the focus back to the rhythm of your breath and the movement of your abdominal muscles as you inhale and exhale.
3. Bring into your mind an image of someone you love very much, or a place of peace and beauty. Allow yourself to be flooded with the positive feelings this image elicits. Now bring those feelings down to the area around your heart. Allow the good feelings to penetrate your heart and soothe you.
4. Lastly, keep breathing the good feelings into your heart. Now take a look again at the person you are angry at. Let the good feelings protect you. The purpose of doing this step is to break the pattern of stress reactions that normally occur in your mind and body when you think of the person who hurt you. When you surround your heart with positive energy, the power the person has had over you begins to dissipate.
Resentment is a habit, and habits take twenty-five days to change. So if you do this exercise each time you think of the person who hurt you over twenty-five days, you will literally change your mental and physical reactions. They will no longer have power to hurt you because you will have reprogrammed your own reactions. And when this happens, you start to become free.
Sometimes we need to forgive without reconciliation: forgiving for the mere purpose of forgiving. Certainly, what we strive for is to reconcile all conflicts, clear the air, and understand one another. But there are times this is impossible - with a parent who has passed away, with someone who has wronged you and is long gone, with someone who is unwilling to communicate. These are the times we must dip deep into our own souls and see if we are willing to forgive anyway.
I have on the bulletin board above my desk a yellowed article written by the scholar and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel in 1997. In it, Weisel expresses the most profound act of forgiveness imaginable. It is here that Elie Weisel expresses forgiveness toward God for the Holocaust.
In the article Weisel asks God the question he has struggled with all his life: Where were you, God of Kindness, in Auschwitz? Weisel had never been able to understand how a loving God could have allowed the Holocaust to exist. But out of the question that has tormented him for fifty years, Weisel gleans a sudden insight: Watching your children suffer at the hands of your other children, havent you also suffered?
In this moment of compassion, Weisel is finally moved to offer God his forgiveness: Let us make up, Master of the Universe, he says. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you for so long.
This story is a reminder to me that forgiveness and compassion are essential and possible under all circumstances. For the child in all of us, we must learn to forgive. And for the sake of the children we love with unparalleled ferocity, we must model the most magnanimous and humbling of all acts - the act of forgiveness.
- Is there someone you need to forgive? Write about that person and the circumstance below. Are you ready to forgive him or her? If so, go onto the next step.
- Do the process outlined above.
- When you feel ready, complete this forgiveness statement .
I ___________do hereby grant forgiveness to ____________. I forgive you for:
Heres what I need to communicate so that my offering of forgiveness will be complete:
Naomi Drew is recognized around the world as an expert on conflict resolution and peacemaking in schools and homes. Hailed as visionary, her work has enabled educators, parents, and people of all ages to live together more cooperatively.
Her work has been recognized by educational leaders throughout the country. People of all ages have attested to durable changes in their relationships after applying the principles Drew outlines. Her work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV and she currently serves as a parenting expert for Classroom Close-ups, a public television show.
She is the author of four books, serves as a consultant to school districts, leads seminars, and runs parenting courses. Her latest book is Hope and Healing: Peaceful Parenting in an Uncertain World. Visit www.learningpeace.com for more information on Naomi Drew and her work.
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