By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
None of us is perfect. We make mistakes and hurt those we love. So, to have a long term, emotionally close relationship, it is essential that we find ways to move through these difficult times. When you are the one who’s done the hurting, it’s important that you learn to apologize, which I addressed in my previous blog, “How to Apologize”. In addition, it is equally important to be able to forgive.
Forgiving is often difficult to do. We feel hurt and often harbor anger. It can feel like forgiving someone is “letting them off the hook” for what they’ve done. However, the reality is that you are, instead, choosing to accept that what has happened has happened, and that you want to move forward. In my book, Insecure in Love, I offer a number of exercises to assist you in offering forgiveness. One suggestion is that you “Apply Understanding and Compassion,” which involves doing the following:
Nurture awareness of your emotions. Sit in a quiet place and pay attention to the emotions that arise as you think about the hurtful situation. You will likely feel a number of different emotions, so label each of them. If you tend to get overwhelmed with a mass of negativity, make a conscious effort to pay attention to the sensations you feel in your body. Allow yourself to take this process slowly. Acknowledge and label an emotion. Then ask yourself what else you might be feeling.
Befriend your emotions. Practice “sitting with” your emotions. Comfort yourself with kind words of understanding if you feel distressed. You might say something like, “I know this hurts a lot. And it makes sense that what she did would hurt you. So, it’s okay that you feel this way.”
Develop an understanding of what motivated the other person’s actions. Try to understand the state of mind of the other person when they acted as they did. What were they experiencing in their lives that might have influenced their actions? What were they thinking and feeling? Can you understand their actions as a reflection of their limitations or weaknesses as a person – just as we all have limitations and weaknesses? Again, the purpose of doing this is not to “let them off the hook,” but rather to make sense of what they did – even though it was problematic and hurtful.
Practice compassion. You will want to have compassion for your own pain, as well as empathizing with and having compassion for the experiences of the other person. People frequently remain stuck in one perspective, or alternate between having compassion for themselves and for the other person. As you practice feeling each of the perspectives, attempt to hold onto to the other perspective. Eventually, you can feel compassion for the two of you at the same time.
Choose to forgive. When you feel compassion for both of your experiences, you will find it easier to forgive. By forgiving, I mean that the part of you that feels hurt lets go of wrestling with what happened (but does not forget it) and refocuses on healing.
Continuing the relationship is another story. You might or might not choose to do that. Even if you choose to maintain the relationship, you might decide to place more distance in it. These decisions rest with how the other person responds to you and the situation. But no matter what happens with your relationship, you can always choose to forgive and release yourself from the pain of your hurt or anger.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.