Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FORGIVENESS - Letting Go of Past Mistakes

Letting go of others' past mistakes and the hurt that they have caused us has come up quite a bit in recent sessions lately--particularly those with couples. In my experience, this presents as a major problem for many couples,especially those that have a long history of ignoring problems--sweeping them under the rug, hoping they will go away and simply resolve on their own. Unfortunately, they never do resolve "on their own". Sometimes it may seem like it, but more often than not they just go deeper underground only to erupt at startling times over seemingly unrelated issues. The offender (or the target) suppposes that the problem is the current issue at hand and is surprised at the level of emotion that is expressed over it. Both parties don't understand that it is not just the "triggering event" that is causing the out of proportion reaction-it goes far deeper--it also contains past hurt and pain that has been suppressed over a (sometimes very long) period of time. As time goes on and the same problems reoccur or remain unaddressed, the offender goes on his or her merry way oblivious to the pain of the other, but often all parties involved know fully well what these grudges are; what we don't know is just how destructive they can be. They can do damage in all areas--even areas that are totally unrelated to the original offense or problem. How do we stop the damage, repair it with forgiveness and move forward?

A recent example that presented in a session:

A husband was playing scrabble with his wife and a few friends. One of the words he had spelled out, to most people simply describes a place. But to his wife, it conjoured up memories and her feelings of inferiority, past examples of his insensitivity to her and fearful feelings of abandonment. At that point in the evening, she immediately shut down, quit talking and became cool and aloof. When the friends left and the husband asked what was the matter, the couple engaged in a full blown fight in which she detailed all of the past mistakes and hurts that the husband's behavior had inflicted on her over the relatively short period of time of their relationship. The husband was blindsided by the weaponry she had been storing. It was difficult for him to aplogize and ask for forgiveness for the impact of the hurts of which he wasn't fully aware that he had caused her ( although he did have a clue--he just hadn't bothered checking it out by communicating with her). As he came to understand why and how these incidents had hurt her, he tried to apologize and expressed the desire to wipe the slate clean. She had a harder time making a fresh start. Whenever there was a hint that he was not sensitively refraining from triggering these feelings, she would remind him of his past mistakes. They had talked about them so much they even had titles. Each knew what the other was talking about with a three or four word title, e.g., "the hitchhiking incident". This couple was stuck. She needed to forgive him and he needed to truly understand his part in keeping this cycle going before they could move on. Finally, the wife made a list of all the past wrongs that she wanted to let go of and for which she wanted to forgive him. When he went over the list, he knew exactly what the wrongs were by the titles. In a symbolic "letting go" ceremony, he expressed his understanding of how his actions had affected her and, without justifiation, blame or excuse, asked for her forgiveness. She committed to never again bring up these past incidents - ripped up the list, deposited it in the kitchen garbage can and then they both took it out to the bin in their apartment complex to be carried away for good. She forgave him. He felt forgiven. He felt relieved he would not be punished any further with ambush reminders. He committed that now he was aware of her special sensitivies in these areas, he would do all he could to prevent future possible hurt. Thus they truly could begin anew. This doesn't mean that they each have to be perfect in this, but their commitment will help them to get back on track right away when and if there is a slip. So far, they each have kept their commitment and their closeness is at an all time high.

True forgiveness is not easy. The concept of forgiveness, although some say is simple, can be in practice, very complex. How do we truly let go of the past and create a fresh start for ourselves and for our relationships with others? What are your thoughts...have you done this? If so, how?