How to Forgive Someone Who Keeps
Reframe your Grievance Story to place yourself in control of your destiny
– Dr Dick Tibbits
When life isn’t fair…
Have you ever thought –or HEARD – that you OUGHT to forgive, because it’s the right thing to do?
And maybe even TRIED to forgive, but gave up thinking, “It’s impossible. I can never, NEVER get over what they’ve done to me. They don’t deserve it, anyway.”
Dr Dick Tibbits, expert mental health counsellor, shares how to experience the healing power of forgiveness: the impossible. . . IS possible!
- Surviving when life just isn’t fair
- Hurting you, more than them
- A Force that heals
- Worthless to Purpose
- Letting Go, Clinging on
Life Isn’t Fair!
If you live on planet earth, it’s almost certain that either you or someone you know has suffered some form of hurt, bullying, injustice or even long-term abuse at some point in your life.
While we used to think that only physical violence could hurt people, we now know that emotional hurt can be far more painful.
Abuse can take many forms:
- Physical abuse
- Mental abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- even spiritual abuse.
People who hurt us the most, are more often than not the ones closest to us.
How to forgive someone who has hurt you?
Mental and emotional scars from tragic situations are long lasting and deep. Letting go of anger and resentment is difficult. Forgiving people can seem impossible.
Like it or not, these events cannot be erased from our brain’s memory: they form grievance stories in our mind that inevitably shape the person we become.
BUT… did you ever stop to think:
YOU are the ONE who decides WHAT YOU WILL DO about the hurts you have suffered when life just isn’t fair?
You CAN’T FORGET your grievance stories, but can you CAN REWRITE them so that they don’t harm you and destroy – LITERALLY – the rest of your life.
How to forgive and forget? Don’t forget – forgive
Listen to behavioural scientist Dr Dick Tibbets speaking about the healing power of forgiveness:
Been there, tried that?
Forgiveness doesn’t work for me. But before you give up, let’s be clear about what forgiveness isn’t!
4 Things Forgiveness is NOT:
1. Forgive and forget:
If this were true, then only people with memory loss would ever be able to forgive. The fact is, when something is important to you, you will remember it. The test of genuine forgiveness is not whether you remember your grievance story, but how you remember it.
2. When life isn’t fair . . .
Does forgiveness mean that I’m saying what’s happened is right? Wrong is wrong even when it’s forgiven. Forgiveness never makes a wrong act right, nor does forgiveness condone or excuse the wrong act. Forgiveness defines who you are. Forgiveness does not redefine the other person’s wrongful act as right.
3. Forgive and make up:
In an ideal world, forgiveness would always lead to reconciliation. However, in reality, this doesn’t always happen here on earth. It takes two people to reconcile, but only one to forgive. Even if the other person refuses to participate in forgiveness, your ability to forgive still belongs to you. You can forgive whether or not the other person is involved. You may feel that this means, “They don’t deserve it.” But, as we’ll see, holding a grudge actually hurts you more than it hurts your wrongdoer.
4. Forgive means there are no consequences:
Certainly forgiveness can involve pardon – but it doesn’t have to. You can forgive people and still hold them accountable for the legal and natural consequences of their actions. Forgiveness does not suspend the law of cause and effect. What changes is your desire for vengeance and retaliation, and that change helps you avoid an escalation of attacks and counterattacks. Forgiveness frees you.
Dr Dick Tibbets, expert mental health scientist whose doctoral thesis examined the healing power of forgiveness, uses this definition for forgiveness:
Forgiveness is the process of
reframing your anger and hurt from the past, with the goal of
recovering your peace in the present and
revitalising your purpose and hope for the future.
They don’t deserve it – But you do!
7 things that can happen when you hold a grudge (Tibbets, 2006, p. 63):
- stomach disorders
- joint pain
- chronic lower back pain
- heart disease
Playing the Blame Game (It’s no fun…)
Often we try to solve our problems by blaming other people for them. Remember fights with your brothers, sisters and friends when you were younger?
Once adults came on the scene and wanted to know what happened, the almost inevitable answer was some variation of “He started it!” or “She looked at me first!”
Blaming others seems to come naturally to us as humans, and often we carry this habit into adulthood. We feel – maybe subconsciously – that once we know who to blame, our problem is solved. But is it?
The Blame Game looks something like this:
1. What happened is your fault.
2. Therefore, the misery in my life is your fault.
By playing the Blame Game, you are saying, “My bad life is your fault.” – That is dangerous.
Why? Because by doing that, you are reinforcing your belief that you can do nothing about the situation.
At the same time:
1. Blame insists that the other person must change before your situation can improve.
2. And you don’t have to do anything to make things better.
Raw, Throbbing Pain
The idea that “my life is your fault”, keeps your pain raw and throbbing and drains your energy.
Rather than facing your problems and fixing them, you expend more energy than you may realise on fantasising about ways to het even.
Beyond that, blame limits your options as it sees only one solution – that is: the other person must change.
Blame keeps you stuck.
Blame also reinforces helplessness.
If others need to change and you can do nothing to change them, then you can do nothing to improve your circumstances.
Blame is at the root of your helpless feeling.
When you blame someone else for your problems, you are in fact saying it is that person’s fault and there is nothing you can do about it.
Thus, in a very real way, you are giving the other person control over your life.
And if you are thinking, My life is your fault – no wonder you feel so helpless!
Think about it like this:
“Life’s hard… it isn’t fair…”
Countless times each day, that lament was heard from the Dura town people – and for good reason. Through the years, Dura had become – literally – a very hard place to live. Rocks covered the landscape, making it impossible to grow flowers or jog in the park. Rocks lay everywhere in the land.
How did this come to be? Well, as the tragic story goes, an evil sorcerer cast a powerful spell upon the town:
Through your eyes you will not see
A life of joy or hope or glee.
Through your mouths, where curses flock,
Every angry word shall turn into a rock.
Whenever someone spoke an unkind or hurtful word, it instantly became a hard rock.
Like everyone in Dura, Kaas had too often been the victim of unkind and hurtful words. Rocks of all sizes and shapes had pelted him. And, also like everyone else in Dura, Kaas never felt content to merely watch those rocks fall to the ground. How could he? They had hurt too much when they struck him!
That’s why Kaas developed the habit of keeping a rock or two in his hands. If the occasion presented itself, he could throw one back at the person who had caused him pain. However ugly that strategy might sound, no one even confronted Kaas about it because everyone else in Dura did the same thing.
They all knew from experience that holding a hot rock would blister their hands, but they believed the pain would be worth it once they got the opportunity – someday – to even the score by throwing back a rock at the one who had hurt them. After all – “they deserve it!”
When a rock began to cool (as it always did), the people of Dura took it to the centre of town where an enormous furnace named Grievance stood. There they could heat up their rock until it once more glowed fiery red, and as it was warming, they told each other their grievance stories. “Life isn’t fair. It’s not my fault that my hands are burned,” each would say. “It’s their fault. They threw the rock first. I’m just holding it so that someday I can throw it back. They don’t deserve forgiveness.”
One day, however, Kaas and the other people of Dura got the shock of their lives. A robust, cheerful man with compassion in his eyes came striding into town, declaring that none of the townspeople had to live in misery any longer.
“My name’s Sala,” he announced, “and I want you to know that you can be free of those rocks you carry around wherever you go. What you need is forgiveness. You don’t have to keep living like you have been.”
Some of the townspeople sneered, while others gasped or stared blankly ahead. Could there really be a better life? Impossible!
Sala ignored the jeers and continued. “Simply put, forgiveness is learning how to drop your rocks. You don’t have to collect them, carry them, be burdened by them, heat them, or throw them. In fact, I guarantee that, if you drop them, your whole life will improve. Your hands will start to heal. And you’ll have the time and the energy to do the fun things you’ve always wanted to do, but never believed you could.”
It can’t be that simple, Kaas thought. How could it possibly work? He had to speak out.
“Now, hold on, mister,” Kaas began. “You mean to tell me that if someone throws a rock at me, I can’t throw it back? That’s not fair! Why should I let the other guy off the hook? He needs to be punished! No, sir, your way won’t work. And I am not falling for it!”
With that, Kaas spun on his heels and hustled away as fast as he could from Sala and his too-good to-be-true words. In his headlong retreat, however, Kaas failed to notice that a few in the town had already decided to give Sala’s counsel a try.
They dropped their rocks – and immediately noticed something truly remarkable. The scars on their hands, caused by carrying the hot rocks for so many years, began to heal.
These people had always worried that forgiving would be letting their offenders off the hook, but – they learned – dropping their rocks actually made their own lives better. Soon the people of Dura were throwing fewer rocks, so fewer rocks came hurling back at them. In fact, in some yards, the rocks were so scarce that flowers began to break through the newly exposed ground.
Who would have believed that life’s burdens could be so easily removed by simply dropping the rock?
Don’t be a victim, be a hero:
If you see yourself caught up in the Blame Game, how can you escape? By learning and acting on the simple truth:
Vengeance hurts me more than it hurts the other person.
Once you understand that truth, you will quickly learn a similar truth:
Forgiveness helps me more than it helps the other person.
Letting go of the past by realising you can do nothing to change it or the other person – is simply a much better option than vengeance.
The sad reality is that people will treat us unfairly at some time or other. We can’t avoid that. So how do we deal with it?
1. Option 1 Blame the offender and place responsibility for improving your life on that person.
2. Option 2 Shift the responsibility to act from the other person to you.
When you forgive an offender, you take responsibility for your response to the offense (but not the offense itself); thus you also take back control over your own life.
Your actions – not those of someone else – define who you are. You must choose not to give another person (especially someone you don’t even like!) the right to define who you are.
You are not responsible for the hurtful actions of someone else. But, you are responsible for what you do after someone has wronged you.
How on Earth Do You Do That?
For forgiveness to work:
1. you need to identify the person who has caused you pain – who has hurt you so much that when you think about this person, you feel the hurt all over again?
2. Picture in your mind exactly what that person did to you; recall as many of your feelings as you can. Write out the story of how you were hurt. Then ask yourself these questions:
• Do you think this individual has your best interest at heart?
• If not, why do you give that person so much influence over your happiness?
• Who would you prefer to be responsible for improving your life – you or the person who hurt you?
• Are you willing to take back responsibility for your life today?
• Are you willing to forgive this person so you can take back your life and move on?
Dropping the rocks: The How-to of Forgiveness
Thinking back to Dr Tibbits’s definition, there are 3 parts to forgiveness:
1. How I handle the memories of painful things said and done to me in the past
2. How I overcome the negative emotions I feel right now
3. How I free myself from a hurtful past to achieve my desired future
Where are you on the forgiveness journey?
Let’s look at the first part of forgiveness:
Reframing your grievance story to heal past hurts
The way you look at the past – in other words, your memory of it – is a key when it comes to forgiveness.
After all, what you need to remember is what you need to forgive.
The good news is, you don’t have to stay mired in the ugly past you remember. Did you know that you can change your pain-filled memories – not the events themselves, but the way you look at them – through the process of forgiveness?
It starts with reframing your grievance stories in a way that places you in control of the outcome.
How large is your frame?
Chances are that at some point in your life you have chosen a picture frame. In a framing shop, there are usually adjustable frames that expand and contract, allowing you to see how your picture would look inside frames of different sizes.
How the picture is framed determines how viewers will interpret it because the frame will highlight a specific aspect of the story told by the picture. Make the frame small, and the perspective on the picture is narrowed. Enlarge the frame, and you get a bigger perspective that invites a much different story. It’s all a matter of perspective.
How about from this perspective?
Each frame changes the story…
The same is true for the way we frame our memories. The largest frame gives the most accurate and therefore the best perspective on our circumstances and past experiences. Forgiveness is the process of reframing your past so that you see a bigger picture.
If your frame on your memories of life is so small that only life’s bad stuff appears within it, you will then think that your whole life is miserable and ruined and that you can do nothing about it.
But… if your frame is bigger and something bad takes place in one corner of the picture, you have a much larger context in which to place that hurtful grievance story. Then you see it for what it really is: one bad thing surrounded by many good things. The larger your perspective, the less influence any single event can have over your life
Steps to changing a memory
Forgiving people for events in the past happens as you change your “frame”; in other words, your memory of the past. Here are 6 steps that you can use to change a memory:
1. Focus on what is true about the event from both your point of view and the offender’s perspective.
2. Develop empathy for the person who hurt you.
3. Realise that you have done things to hurt others as well (maybe in other situations, not necessarily to provoke this particular hurt) and that you also need forgiveness.
4. Revise your story so that it more accurately reflects the point of view of the offender as well as the offended.
5. Look ahead at your life goals and take steps toward achieving them.
6. Realise that forgiveness takes time; forgiveness is almost never achieved in a single attempt.
Take control of your future
Forgiveness doesn’t change the reality of the past, but it does have the power to change your memory of the past. When you reframe your grievance story, you take much of the sting out of your past and transfer control of your life back into your own hands.
1. Reframe the grievance story you previously wrote by placing yourself, instead of the person who offended you, in charge of the outcome of your story.
2. Now place your grievance story in a larger frame by including all the information about the other person that you have discovered since the injury. What inconsistencies in your picture do you see? How does your story change?
3. What can you learn from this hurtful incident, and what lesson can you take from it in order to find healing and growth?
The Healing Power of Forgiveness by Dr Dick Tibbits:
Dr Tibbits book covers in more detail:
• Why to forgive
• Playing the Blame Game – and why it’s not for you
• How to find freedom from past wounds by reframing your memories
• Dimensions and principles of forgiveness
• Forgiveness and high blood pressure: is there a connection?
• Forgiveness isn’t easy… but here’s how it can be done!
• Forgiving and finding peace in the present
• Forgiving and finding hope in the future