Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Summertime is a time for us to kick back, reflect and enjoy the outdoors, the sun and some casual activities. With walks to Soul Cycle in crisp mornings and strolls through my neighborhood in magic hour light, the summer season has me ruminating about resentments, forgiveness and compassion.
In my book Falling Up: A Memoir of Renewal, I share life events that took me down the rabbit hole of resentment confusion, betrayal, upset, bewilderment, disbelief and out to the other side of joy. Though not an easy emotional shift, all of us can learn how to look at the world through a lens of forgiveness.
Sometimes we may in righteous indignation tightly hold onto to our resentments and form a hardened wound that pierces our hearts. Despite the damage this can do, we can practice forgiveness for it is like oxygen that feeds our soul and replenishes us. We must learn the process – a slow burn that demands patience, reflection and a willingness to grow out of the hurt and into new light. And though we may struggle, here are guideposts I have found useful on the the road of forgiveness that will inevitably lead to compassion.
Forgive yourself first. Many of you are familiar with the 12-step philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the fourth step one is asked to make amends to all persons we have harmed. In truth, we must first learn to forgive ourselves, the situations and the people involved. By doing so, we bring honor to us and our neighbors. Another part to this is making amends to all people whenever possible. This is an essential life skill for cultivating our hearts as well as pushing us to be better, stronger versions of ourselves.
Forgive but don’t forget. When we look at life events that have been challenging, it may be difficult to forget the pain or sorrow. It is possible to forgive while acknowledging and grieving the loss. One can develop new boundaries which enhance well being.
Confront and feel your hurt. What do you need to take care of yourself? This is an inner issue, not outer. Forgiveness begins when we powerfully grieve the losses experienced and let go. We then come out the other side – no longer freshly minted like a shiny coin, rather, worn, wiser, and ready to take on the day.
Forgive for you. When we hold on living in pain. How many sleepless nights? How many hours lost dwelling on something we can’t change? How many hours spent in counseling? Put forgiveness into action to take care of yourself.
Forgive for the psychological benefits. In The 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright, the author explores studies that show forgiving others produces strong psychological benefits. “Decreases in depression, anxiety, unhealthy anger, rage and even PTSD are reduced through forgiving.” In addition, brain studies show that forgiveness increases the ability to be empathetic.
Practice forgiveness. It is a great daily exercise that demands your attention. Consider reflecting on your daily thoughts, evaluating your feelings and process your emotions. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you think you have been angry long enough or do you still need to be angry?
What goodness does righteous indignation give you?
Do you gossip about others and belittle other’s feelings and emotions?
Do you put yourself on a pedestal of pain and worry?
How’s that working for you?
Put yourself in the others person’s pain. I know this is easier said than done, and empathy is the seed that grows a tree of forgiveness. Brain studies show that forgiveness increases the ability to be empathetic. And when one gives up anger it reduces physical problems associated with stress.
Find meaning. It is not a cliche that silver linings lurk in the shadows of experience. If you look closely, you will discover the lesson, or the gift, in your experience. In my memoir, I share the many experiences I have had with sudden death and the aftermath of people that were kind and folks that turned their checks. Despite some negative interactions, there was always a gift hidden beneath the surface. Discover the gifts that you have.
Look for the positive. When you discover forgiveness, you also discover positivity, possibility and optimism, and the world opens up. Pessimism evaporates. In fact, optimism and positivity is more than just a warm state of mind. According to Jon Gordon, a best-selling author and speaker, positivity is a competitive advantage in business, sports and politics. “While the pessimists are complaining about the future, and the realists are talking about it, the optimists are working hard to create it.”
Surround yourself with good folks. There is nothing better than folks that have your back. As an interventionist and clinician, it is imperative for my husband and family, friends and colleagues to show support in my work. In turn, I’m more willing to forgive and build toward a compassionate heart for myself and others.
Let us hear how you have discovered in the sea of forgiveness.
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.