The concept of forgiveness takes on a new meaning after divorce because no one marries with the intent of divorcing and hurt and shame can run deep. In my case, I was determined not to repeat the patterns of the past since divorce goes back several generations in my family. In my Huffington Post article Breaking the Legacy of Divorce , I write about my difficulty getting out from divorce’s shadow.
What does forgiveness really mean? What I’ve come to realize is that forgiveness is more of a perspective and a practice rather than about one act. Forgiving is one way of letting go of your old baggage so that you can heal and move on with your life. It’s about giving yourself, your children, and perhaps even your new partner, the kind of future you and they deserve – unhampered by hurt and recycled anger. It’s about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment.
There are many reasons why people have difficulty letting go of the past and reversing the painful consequences of their past, writes Dr. Fred Luskin in his acclaimed book Forgive For Good. He posits that they may take on the pain of others mistakes because they take their offenses personally. Subsequently, some people create a grievance story which focuses on their suffering and assigns blame. Dr. Luskin explains that individuals heal best when they are able to acknowledge the damage done and shift to an impersonal perspective.
The next step is crafting a new story by creating a positive intention – a way of transforming a grievance story (or a grudge that causes us pain) into a positive goal. For instance, my positive intention is “I let go of the pain from my divorce and forgive myself and my ex.”
Luskin writes, “Forgiveness is not a focus on what happened in the past and neither is it remaining upset or holding onto grudges. You may have been hurt in the past, but you are upset today. Both forgiveness and grievances are experiences that you have in the present.”
The following are 5 steps to becoming a forgiving person adapted from Dr. Luskin’s model:
- Gain awareness of the emotions you experience about your past hurt. Talking to a close friend or therapist can help facilitate this process.
- Take steps to lessen the impact the grievance has on your relationship. Repair the damage by finding ways to soothe hurt feelings. This might include writing a letter or release to the person who injured you – even if you don’t mail it. Your release might read something like: “I release you from the pain you caused me when we used to argue.”
- Make a choice to feel hurt for a shorter period. Challenging your thinking and letting go of “unenforceable rules”— Luskin’s term for unrealistic expectations and standards that people hold for themselves and others that ultimately lead to feelings of disappointment or distress.
- Focus on those things that you can control. You can’t control the past but you can make better choices today – such as letting go of hurt feelings.
- Accept that people do the best they can and attempt to be more understanding. This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy A Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks. Terry’s forthcoming book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around will be published by Sounds true in February of 2019.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry