But you don't know what she did to me! Why didn't he remember our anniversary? Why weren't my parents more loving? Sound familiar? Of course, because we have all faced these or similar problems.
Most of us grew up learning that we should try to forgive others. Dr. Luskin, director and co-founder of the Standard University Forgiveness Project, has conducted several studies on forgiveness as a source of various medical and health benefits as well.
He writes: Scientific research clearly shows that learning to forgive is good for one's health and well-being good for mental health and according to recent data good for physical health as well gratitude, faith, and care have a positive impact on cardiovascular functioning Almost uniformly, the forgiveness studies show positive results in psychological and emotional well-being. People who are taught to forgive become less angry, more hopeful, less depressed, less anxious, less stressed, more confident, and they learn to like themselves more (pp. 77-78).
Dr. Luskin's main point is that forgiving others helps us lead a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Each of us stores pain from unrealized goals, failed relationships, personal failures, and so on. Over time, it begins to take over our lives and thwart our quest for happiness.
His techniques rest on several foundations, among them identifying your grievance story, starting with the small hurts and working up to the big ones, practicing forgiveness, realizing that forgiveness does not necessarily involve reconciliation or acceptance, understanding that you are the only one suffering, and concluding that it is time to let go and move on.
Some of his techniques are the following:
- PERT (The Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique). Do we watch the Grievance Channel, home of such popular re-runs as I Had Rotten Parents, My Life Was Unfair, or My Parents Mistreated Me? Why are we not switching (recognizing and taking responsibility for our situation) to the Gratitude, Beauty, Forgiveness, or Love channels?
Other elements of PERT are the breath of thanks. Breathe in and out slowly, be aware that you are breathing, and give thanks that you can breathe and are alive. Then apply the heart focus, by bringing to mind a very positive memory and allow the associated feelings of peace and love to engulf you.
- Challenging unenforceable rules. As we cannot control everything and are imperfect, others will continue to disappoint us. Why get mad at them for being human? We are not perfect, so why should we expect them to be perfect? In short, we need to hope for something instead of demand something of others and ourselves.
- HEAL. Hope (for a specific outcome in a specific situation), Educate (limited control results in something unexpected), Affirm (reconnect to your goal by affirming your positive intention), and Long-term (make a long-term commitment to your long-range well-being).
Dr. Luskin recommends practicing these exercises several times a day in a secluded place. Set aside about 15 minutes for each session, and work toward becoming a forgiving person. Acknowledge your submerged anger and pain, decide how to deal with these negative feelings that are harming your emotional balance and physical health, remember how much better you felt the last time you forgave someone, and then do it. This will transform you into someone who finds it natural to forgive and thereby deprive others of their negative power over you.
In our agitated world of ever-rising expectations, this book is just what we need. As Dr. Luskin shows, a dose of realism and forgiving people's imperfections will lead each of us toward a more fulfilling life. And isn't that what we all want?