The fine art of forgiveness

Clinical psychologist advocates letting go of resentment and anger.

I’m about to let you in on a very important family secret of ours. It is not that it is so secret. We just have never discussed it outside our family. In the near future, as we sit around the dining room table having our erev Yom Kippur meal, each one of us, with a serious and heavy heart, asks for forgiveness from each other family member for all we have said or done wrong or for the harm we have inadvertently done over the past year. We then look inwards and talk about what we hope to change in ourselves over the coming year. We often find ourselves asking for forgiveness for the same transgressions we committed in past years. Sadly, we are often guilty of the same wrongdoing for which we blame others. After all, we are far from perfect. We are human. After we eat and prepare to leave for synagogue, my husband and I take each child aside, lovingly cradle his or her head and bless them. How does one forgive someone when in our mind they did something wrong or maybe even terrible? While so very important to every relationship, without forgiveness, a relationship can be poisoned forever. Anger can do long term emotional and physical harm. Each one of us has to make a personal choice - to hold onto our anger, frustration, disappointment and resentment or to let go, forgive and move on. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Daniel Beller speaks much on this subject and in guiding me as a therapist, I’d like to pass on some of his knowledge. Pick your forgiveness issue and let’s work on this for a moment together. Think of someone who has hurt you deeply and whom you have not yet forgiven. Now ask yourself these questions and write down your answers: •
  • What happened? What is “the story?” Putting it on paper can provide some clarity and may help it bec ome more real. •
  • Where in my body do I physically feel my pain? Where am I holding onto it - my head, gut, shoulders, etc? •
  • What am I feeling emotionally? Anger, resentment, shattered dreams? •
  • Imagine that the person you are angry with is standing before you and now complete this sentence: I feel resentment towards you because... •
  • Ask yourself, what benefit do I gain from holding onto my pain? Why do I personally need to hold onto my feelings of sadness and anger? (At some point it may no longer be what they did wrong but why you are invested in not letting go of these weighty feelings) How has it helped me? What is the payoff? How do I justify my anger? (This often reveals a less than nice aspect of our personality.) •
  • Now ask yourself, what is the cost to my relationship? (To my sexuality, my self-esteem, my spirituality, etc.) How has it adversely affected me to hold on and be resentful? •
  • Recognize that the cost really does outweigh the benefit. How and why am I holding onto my resentment and ill will? Do I want to feel this pain for months or years? Do I want to be consumed by my anger? Do I want to carry around this heavy load? •
  • How can I allow myself to feel if I let go of it and move on? The fine art of forgiveness is really the refusal to hold onto our ill will. It is the art of being able to let go even when it is not at all easy to do so. Life is short and we never know just what tomorrow may bring. Do we really want to go to bed angry? Do we really want to close the door without working it out? Each one of us can make that decision for ourselves within a meaningful relationship. In this contemplative time of year, I would like to ask forgiveness from all of those people whom I have offended. G’mar hatima tova. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana.