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One of life’s toughest tasks

Neil Rosenthal

People who forgive sever themselves from the past and look to the future. The choice to forgive gives you the opportunity to heal yourself. Here’s how you can begin the forgiveness process, courtesy of Beverly Flanigan in the book “Forgiving The Unforgivable” (Wiley):

n Identify exactly what it is you have lost. Faith, hope, trust? What else?

n Complete the following sentences with as many answers as you can:

Before s/he hurt me, I thought I was … I thought I would … I thought s/he was … I thought s/he would … I thought we were … I thought we would …

Since s/he hurt me, I think I am … I think I will … I think s/he is … I think s/he will … I think we were … I think we will … I never thought I could be hurt by (name at lease five things or people) … I never thought that being hurt could make me …I thought I was safe in (or with) … The hurt I feel today reminds me of how I felt when … I knew I was vulnerable, but I never knew you could … I used to think I could control … I used to think I could prevent …

n Imagine the person who injured you. Think of this person’s face (or look at a picture of it). Then say out loud “I cannot control you. I cannot control what you think or do. I cannot control whether you love me, or how you hurt me in the past. Today, though, I can control myself.” Use your own words and describe what you can control.

n Every tragedy bears its own gifts. You will heal faster and forgive more quickly if you can begin to see good things that result from bad circumstances. Try to think of any unexpected benefit that has come your way because of what has happened to you. Things like “new friends,” “new skills,” “renewed values,” “renewed friendships,” “experiences that would not have happened had the injury not occurred,” and so forth.

n Write down the wishes your wound leaves unfulfilled, such as “I wish my childhood had been happier.” Can you do anything to make these wishes come true? If not, rewrite them. But this time, state what you can do about them in the future. For example “I can no longer believe my childhood was perfect, but I can believe….”

n Tell (or write a letter to) the person who harmed you. Address the nature of the violation, the level of responsibility you assign to him/her, the beliefs that got assaulted in the wake of the injury and what you want from him/her now, including any form of gratitude, thank-you’s, apology, restitution and/or punishment.

n Answer the following questions: “If I forgave you, I’d have to give up …

I’d have to accept … I could not longer blame you for …”

n Think of as many gifts your injurer gave you as you can. These should not only be material gifts, but also gifts of caring, generosity or other intangible sources of pleasure or gratitude. Thank your injurer for the gifts that came your way.

n Think of the person who hurt you. Then say this sentence: “You’re still to blame, but I no longer want … from you.” The missing word might be love, money, nurturing, support, apologies, thank-yous, respect or any number of expectations.

When you have forgiven, you have accomplished one of the most difficult tasks of living. When you forgive, you give up control over a relationship, but you begin to reestablish control over your own life.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boulder. He can be reached at (303) 758-8777 or e-mail at his Web site http://www.heartrelationships.com


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