Divorce is one of life's biggest and most painful stressors and traumas and far too often those involved carry the weight, the pain, the blame, the hurt and the anger around with them for years, long after the divorce itself.
Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project defines forgiveness as follows: to forgive is to gibe up all hope for a better past. If you are stuck in regret or anger over the past you have less energy available for your life today, and are in some ways compromising your future by being defensive and carrying around some unhappiness from the past.
Forgiveness is about healing. There is a distinction between justice, reconciliation, condoning and forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean you condone what was done, nor does it mean you have to reconcile with or like the person who did it. It is fine to say, "This was such a dreadful act that I must end my relationship with them." And it doesn't mean you don't seek justice, if warranted. These are separate from the inner healing that occurs with forgiveness, which means that you don't take what happened as just personal, but that you see it as a part of the bigger, ongoing human experience of hurt, resolution, conflict and negotiation.
Dr. Luskin outlines 9 steps to forgiveness. http://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/
1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the "peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story."
4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes - or ten years - ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body's flight or fight response.
6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the "unenforceable rules" you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.
According to Dr. Luskin, the practice of forgiveness reduces anger, hurt depression and stress and leads to more hope, peace, compassion and self confidence. Practicing forgiveness leads to healthy relationships and physical health. It also influences our attitude which opens the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.
When you meet people who have forgiven, you see their power. You see the strength and courage it takes to forgive in a world dominated by "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." I have seen this in the truly amazing, inspiring and wonderful story of Azim Khamisa, whose only son Tariq, a 20 year old student was shot and killed while delivering pizza. His killer received a 25-year prison sentence. Azim, a Sufi Muslim, turned to his faith in his grief. Through prayer, he found the blessing of forgiveness, concluding that there were victims at both ends of the gun. Azim reached out to the grandfather and guardian of his son's killer, Tony Hicks, and eventually to Tony also. Azim chose the path of forgiveness and compassion rather than revenge and founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation by break the cycle of violence and teach peace, compassion, and forgiveness. Tony Hicks and his grandfather, Plez Felix, also work with Azim at the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.
Forgiveness provides a fresh start. So, you can say yes this terrible thing happened to me, and it hurt so much but I'm not going to let it take over my life. That's the choice that's always available. And without making that choice one can get stuck in bitterness and revenge. That's the cost of not forgiving.
And Divorce is a fresh start also. And that fresh start will have a much better beginning if it includes forgiveness.