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An Important Skill for Families

April 2012

During the course of family life, every member will make mistakes or occasionally do hurtful things.  In order to avoid carrying grudges against one another, it helps you to know how to forgive each other.  Failing to forgive erodes trust and creates an entirely different family atmosphere, which may be characterized by much less open communication.  Children can only learn forgiveness by seeing their parents practice it. 

Forgiveness is the therapeutic act of letting go of your own anger.  Otherwise stated, it is taking responsibility for the way you feel.  It is about your healing, rather than being about the people who hurt you.  It is about the peace that results when you let go of your grievances. 

We create grievances by taking something that happened to us very personally.  Then, we continue to blame the person who hurt us for how bad we feel.  That “grievance story” becomes an ongoing part of our identity.

Everyone is wounded when faced with injury, abandonment, cheating, or lying.  At the heart of the wound is the fact that our expectations weren’t met.  An event or thing we hoped would happen didn’t or something we expected not to happen did.  If we lack the skills to manage our feelings, we create a grievance story and carry a grudge.

In order to forgive, it will help to meet three pre-conditions:

You can make the task of forgiving easier by changing the channels you listen to in your mind.  A grievance can be seen as an iPod stuck on a negative song.  It loops over and over, for example “I had rotten parents,” “those lousy teachers,” “my nasty brother” or the like.   Switch to the “gratitude,” “love,” or “forgiveness” playlist instead and give your body and mind a rest!

Remember that every time you are upset with the actions of someone else, it is because you are trying to enforce an unenforceable rule or that you are denying a reality you cannot change.  For example, “People should be kind, polite, generous, and thoughtful and should never hurt others.”  No matter how hard you try, you cannot force other people to behave the way you think they should.  Find the root of your grievance by asking yourself, “What experiences in my life am I thinking of right now that I am demanding to have been different?”

When you have identified your unenforceable rule the other person broke, remind yourself that you feel bad because you are trying to enforce the unenforceable.  Things are the way they are.  Be willing to challenge your unenforceable rule.  Change from demanding what you want to hoping to get it, but accepting that you might not. 

Notice that when you wish or hope things will be the way you want, but are prepared to accept that they might not, you think more clearly and feel more peaceful.  You become aware that much of what you took too personally was simply your set of rules which you could not enforce. 

Finally, make a strong statement of hope that represents the specific positive outcome you desire in hurtful situations.  For example, “I wish no one lied,” or “I hope my feelings are considered.”  Remember how things work and that there are limits to your control over other people and life events.  Affirm your intention to use your experience in a positive way. 

To the degree you and your family members practice forgiveness you will experience less stress in your household.  The entire family will feel better psychologically and emotionally.  And, you will gain control over your feelings, thereby becoming a hero rather than a victim. 


For further reading: Forgive for Love, Dr Fred Luskin


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