(Excerpted from Drake Eastburn’s book The Therapeutic Hypnotist)
Forgiveness is the scent that the
Violet leaves on the heel that has
—Attributed to Mark Twain
Too often I have had clients who were the victims of some type of abuse or perpetration. Anger, hatred, resentment and estrangement are often ways that they deal with their issues. However when we hold anger, hatred and resentment toward another individual who is it that is hurt by these emotions? There is a saying and I’m not sure where it came from but it goes like this; “When we hold hatred for another person it is as if we are taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
When I have talked about forgiving with some of my clients they will often respond with “I’m not ready to forgive them yet.” I can understand their feelings no doubt, but what is the statute of limitations on these feelings? I realize that a lot of times what these clients are saying is that he/she (the perpetrator) does not deserve to be forgiven as if we are exonerating the perpetrator by our forgiving. The truth is when we forgive that person we are not saying that the actions they perpetrated on us are somehow now justified or forgotten, what we are really saying is that it is time for the victim to discontinue suffering from those perpetrations. When we hold resentment toward a perpetrator we are allowing them to continue their perpetration every day of our lives and we are giving them power over us and they don’t deserve it. Another problem arises due to the fact that all of the time the victim is busy hating this other individual (the perpetrator) that person probably has no clue, or could not care less.
Often times the victim feels (erroneously) that if they can somehow make the perpetrator hurt as much as she/he has been hurt then all will be fine. The problem with that is that if something does occur which would hurt the perpetrator equally it is unlikely that he/she would ever associate it with what the victim feels and any sense of victory will be empty and unsatisfying. The notion that someone else’s suffering will alleviate our pain is a bucket without a bottom. Certainly there are times when a perpetrator needs to be reprimanded for what they have done which could mean legal action, etc., but will breaking someone else’s leg cause your bones to mend?
In my book “The Power of The Past” I talk about the damaged relationship between my older brother and my father. My brother had continuously tried to get my father to admit to some of the horrible things that he and mother had done to us. Dad stayed in his comfort zone by denying that anything had ever happened and that we all lived a “Father Knows Best” existence. All of this led to many battles and long term estrangement between my brother and my father. My father would come from Florida each year to stay with me in the summer and avoid the hot, humid, southern days. My brother decided that the way to finally get to the bottom of this was to confront Dad while I was present and that way I could verify what my brother was saying was true and Dad would not be able to use his old escape route of denial.
I told my brother he was right and of course these things did happen and I was there to witness the truth; the problem is that dad was old and not in great health and wouldn’t have long to remain on this earth. I asked my brother if he would feel better if confronting Dad meant that Dad took his life or died from the stress of the whole thing. I said to my brother, “You are in pretty good shape, you can be helped and can grow and move ahead with your life, but Dad doesn’t have anywhere to move ahead to and something like this would ruin what little time he has left.” My brother actually agreed and no such altercation took place. My brother was in therapy at the time and continued with therapy for sometime although neither my brother or my father ever really got beyond their issues and each one took his own life. I do believe my brother’s last sentiments showed that he had become free of or at least at peace with the resentments at that time when he ended it all. I don’t believe my Dad was in any way at peace with himself when he took his life a short time later.
Forgiveness is not something we do; it is something we don’t do. You will know when you have truly forgiven someone for you will no longer be hanging on to the anger and resentment. If while you are taking out the trash you are telling yourself, “I’m forgiving Bob,” or while you are cleaning the house, or driving to work, then you have not forgiven Bob. Forgiving is not a process, it is an event and a highly forgettable one.
It was popular at one time to confront our perpetrators, but this has been problematic. It seems that there is a notion that if we can only get our perpetrator to admit what they have done and feel the shame and disgrace that we have, then all will be well with the world. There most certainly can be a profound healing when both sides come together and share in the pain and become bonded in a whole new way. The problem is that this does not often work out as well as it should and this confrontation thing at one time led to false memory syndrome, legal actions and the destruction of relationships which could have been healthy and supportive. On the other hand there are those relationships where there was an obvious perpetrator and acknowledgement will never come. As in the case of my brother and father (and the real issue was with mother, but she was deceased), for my father to admit to the actions which did occur it would not just be an admission of guilt, but of a much deeper issue. For someone to admit they were guilty would be admitting to more than just making a few mistakes, but would be admitting to being a certain type of individual and that would be a mentally unbalanced individual, for what other type of person could possibly have performed such heinous acts. It is much easier for the perpetrator to simply remain in denial and in that denial the act(s) may have been blotted from conscious memory or at least seemingly so. The perpetrators’ image of who they are is so inconsistent with the acts that they forced on others that somehow in their mind it must not be so.
Recently there was a huge sex scandal which came to light at Penn State University. A long time cherished football coach lost his position with the college and died shortly after (likely in part due to the scandal) not because he was a participant, but because he did nothing to prevent the unspeakable acts. The assistant coach who was convicted of the crimes continues to this day to profess his innocence even though witness after witness testified against him in court. Why? Likely it is due to the image he had created of himself and presented himself to be in the world was inconsistent with the unspeakable behavior he was guilty of. Family members will also be in denial of such acts and support the perpetrator since they can’t deal with the fact of being associated with such a person or those acts or they just can’t get their minds wrapped around the fact that someone they have known and loved all of their lives could be such a person.
Some of our most powerful genetic encoding is to bond and most importantly to bond with our mother. This need to bond extends throughout our family because there is a genetic payoff to having a bond, even with extended family. Fathers are important, but fathers will not always be present and it is the mother who is our source of sustenance and nurturing and without her our chances of survival are not good. If we miss that opportunity to bond we can become neurotic (abandonment issues, anxiety) and even though our “mother” is unavailable we may obsessively continue to fill that need to bond. It can be difficult to just walk away from our family especially when we are alone and insecure already, but a toxic parent or family will not likely allow us the opportunity to heal and move ahead. Sometimes the healthiest choice is estrangement (I am not saying that as advice, it is merely an option) if we are to truly heal. Estrangement from the dysfunction can be a positive step to our own self healing and we are setting healthier boundaries for ourselves and our family in the process. Now is a time to form healthy relationships and involve yourself in positive resources. It is easier to focus on healing yourself and being all that you can be than it is to fix broken perpetrators.
Do we forgive and forget? Memory is not an exact record of events and a lot of things we thought happened did not happen or at least not in the way we thought they happened. Sometimes what we believe to be the memory of an event is really just the memory about the story we have created around the event. I talk about the memory and in regard to past traumas in my book “The Power of The Past”. The truth is that we will still have a memory of the event(s), but they will be transformed and no longer have the hold on us they once did. That being said there are things which will unwittingly trigger an old emotion even after we have worked through an issue successfully and this happens through anchors and triggers, or what is also referred to as conditioned response or Pavlovian Response. Because something happens which is so strongly associated with an emotion (event) the stimulus has the power to re-excite the old emotions and memories. This is usually a very brief occurrence which exits about as fast as the stimulus leaves.
It takes a bigger person to move on than it does to hang on. When you hang on to the anger, resentment and the righteousness, you are making that other person(s) responsible for your lack of movement, your lack of success and well being. If you are going to fail or succeed do it on your own, don’t let someone else be the controlling factor in your destiny. Take your power back and do something and you can fail or succeed in the process, but at least it will be you doing it and not someone else. Prisons and the Jerry Springer Show are full of people who can justify where they are today by placing blame on someone else.
One thing that worked well for me and with many of my clients is doing a multigenerational healing process. This can be done cognitively or as a hypnotic trance process (which will give greater clarity and detail). By going back in time as the perpetrator (gestalt) and making note of important events along the way, eventually we get to a point where the perpetrator is the victim (a child). As we experience the child being victimized it is much easier to forgive the person who is a little child than an adult whom we assume should act more responsibly. My brother could never get beyond the fact that Dad could never be the dad he wanted him to be, and Dad could not be that person because Dad was only a child himself. Once I regarded my father as the injured child he truly was, it was easy for me to maintain a healthy relationship with him and not hold any resentment toward him. Often this process can be shortened considerably by just doing a typical Gestalt process with the perpetrator.
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored
Than to anything on which it is poured