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The Art and Science of Forgiveness
Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.

Nine Steps to Forgiveness
The Four Stages of Forgiveness
What is Forgiveness?

Nine Steps to Forgiveness:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a couple of trusted 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. No one else even has to know about your decision.

  3. Understand your goal. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that upset 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.

  5. At the moment you feel upset practice the 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, friendship and prosperity and work hard to get them. However, you will suffer when you demand these things occur when you do not have the power to make them happen.

  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. I call this step finding your positive intention. 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.

  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

The Four Stages of Forgiveness

Making the choice to forgive can be a liberating practice. One that if practiced proactively can lead to a life filled with exquisite experiences. It is imperative to remember that forgiveness is only possible because we have the ability to make choices. We have the choice to forgive or not to forgive and no one can force us to do either. If we want to forgive someone no one can stop us no matter how poorly the offender may have acted. This ability to forgive can be seen as an indication of the control we have over our lives. It can be helpful to reflect upon and feel the respect afforded us to be able to make choices that can have such profound implications.

It is important to remember that the option to forgive implies that we had discretion as to whether or not we took offense in the first place. While forgiving may be a difficult enough choice for many of us, imagine how our lives would be if we rarely or never used our power of choice to take offense. Since we have choice, wouldn't it make sense to limit the amount of times we are hurt or offended so that the need to forgive rarely if ever arises? The ability to live life without taking offense, without giving blame to the offender when hurt, and by offering compassionate understanding are choices that offer a life of great peace.

The ability to experience the power of forgiveness proceeds along four steps or stages. At step one you are filled with self justified anger. At some point in your life you have been wounded and you are mad at and/or hurt by the person you feel wronged you. You blame the person committing the wrong for how you are feeling. It is their action and not your choice of response that you determine to be the cause of your distress. You have forgotten that you have choices as to how you can react, or you are so wounded that you are convinced that it would not be right to forgive the offense. At this stage there is usually both active and submerged anger as well as a great deal of pain.

The second step towards forgiveness emerges when after feeling upset with someone for a while you realize that the hurt and anger do not feel good to you. It may be impacting your emotional balance and/or physical health. Or you wish to repair the damage to the relationship. So you take steps to forgive. You may begin to see the problem from the other person's point of view or you may simply decide to let the problem go. In either case, after an extended period of time, you are no longer aggrieved and have forgiven the person with whom you were angry. This process of forgiveness can be applied to anger at oneself, another person or to life in general.

The third stage of forgiveness comes after you have seen the results of forgiveness in action and you choose to let go of a new interpersonal grievance fairly quickly. In this stage you choose to feel the hurt for a shorter period of time, and then work to either repair the relationship or let go of seeing the situation as a problem. In either case you decide to forgive because you have had some practice with it and see the clear benefit in your life. This could emerge in as simple a situation as being cut off by another car on the expressway or in a complex situation like an affair in a marriage. At this stage of forgiveness you are aware that the length of time you experience a situation as a grievance is primarily up to you.

The fourth stage of forgiveness involves the proactive choice to rarely if ever take offense in the first place. This means you are prepared to forgive in advance of a specific trigger. This stage often emerges at the same time as some or all of the following thoughts:

- I don't want to waste my precious life in the discomfort caused by anger or hurt so I will decide to feel differently. I am able to forgive myself, forgive others, forgive life, and forgive God.

- I know how it hurts when people don't forgive me. I do not want to hurt other people by my actions so I will perceive the problem in a way that I can either deal with it or let it go.

- Life is filled with incredible beauty and wonder and I am missing these experiences if I am stuck in the remembrance of old hurts or disappointments. I forgive myself for getting sidetracked.

- People do the best they can and if they err the best way to help them is by offering understanding. The first step in this process is to forgive whatever constituted the specific offense.

- Everyone, including myself operates primarily out of self-interest. I must expect that some times I, in my self-interest, will be annoyed by some one else's expression of their self-interest. If I can understand that this is an ordinary part of life, what is there to be upset about? If I understand that self-interest is my guiding principle, how can I not offer forgiveness to everyone, including myself for behaving that way?

These four steps to forgiveness will not be followed in the same way by all people and in all relationships. There are some people for whom we feel such love that we are almost always at stage four: open hearted and ready to forgive. There are other people for whom we feel so egregiously hurt and our well of good will for them is so dry that we can spend years at stage one. What is critical to keep in mind is the role of personal choice and the need to exercise that choice to forgive so that we can bring peace and healing into our relationships and to ourselves.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the moment to moment experience of peace and understanding that occurs when an injured party's suffering is reduced as they transform their grievance against an offending party. This transformation takes place through learning to take less personal offense, attribute less blame to the offender and, by greater understanding, see the personal and interpersonal harm that occurs as the natural consequence of unresolved anger and hurt.

Forgiveness is Not the Same As:
- Forgetting
- Pardon
- Reconciliation
- Condoning
- Justice

Three Components in Creating an Interpersonal Grievance:
- Take something too personally.
- Blame the offender for how you feel.
- Create a grievance story that reflects helplessness.

Core Components of Forgiveness:
- View the offense less personally.
- Take responsibility for your own emotional experience.
- Change the story to reflect the heroic choice to grow and prosper.

Learning To Forgive
Forgive for Good, Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.,
Harper Collins, 2002.
Order from bookstores online
Forgive for Good by Frederic Luskin, PhD bookcover

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