Search term: gratitude letter

Using Gratitude Letters to Create Authentic Holiday Joy

black woman pointing to the sideAs reader’s of this blog or my parenting book know, the science of positive psychology has a great deal to offer us regarding how to be happy. One of my all time favorite strategies is to write a gratitude letter. Below are the stops and a link to a brief video where I describe the strategy.

Step #1: Identify a person towards whom you feel a significant amount of unexpressed gratitude. This might be a person who knows about some of the gratitude you feel but not all of it. This gratitude can be recent or ancient. You can also rotate writing a gratitude letter within a family: week #1 is moms turn, then eldest son’s, then dad’s, etc. Then everyone writes a gratitude letter for the person whose turn it is.

house with arrow upwardStep #2: Hand write a legible letter of about 300 words. Don’t worry about a precise word count, just land somewhere in that ballpark. (The handwritten nature of the letter produces a more personal feel and indicates more effort on your part.)

Step #3: Schedule a meeting with the person, but don’t tell her or him about your letter. The surprise tends to make the experience more powerful.

Step #4: Read your letter to the person. Don’t chicken out and hand it over for the person to read as that stands to significantly weaken the experience. Don’t worry if you get misty or cry as such usually adds meaning for the other person; plus you probably won’t be the only one.

Step #5: Give your letter to the person.

Here is a video  where I briefly describe gratitude Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.43.31 AMletters (click on the image):

I’ve done this myself, had families do it in my office and asked my students to do it. I find that just about everyone (myself included) is surprised by how powerful of an emotional experience it proves to be. The research also suggests that the writer of the letter can experience a bump in happiness for a few weeks afterwards. So, give it a try it and see how much power you have to manufacture happiness in your life and the life of another.

Advertisements

Manufacture Joy: Write a Gratitude Letter

I thought it might be a good time of year to review a set of strategies that we parents can use to manufacture happiness. I’m drawing these strategies from the science of positive psychology. The first of these is to write a gratitude letter. I first learned about this strategy from a video presentation by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman years ago and have since garnered a good amount of professional and personal experience with it. There are five steps:

Step #1: Identify a person towards whom you feel a significant amount of unexpressed gratitude. This might be a person who knows about some of the gratitude you feel but not all of it. This gratitude can be recent or ancient. You can also rotate writing a gratitude letter within a family: week #1 is moms turn, then eldest son’s, then dad’s, etc. Then everyone writes a gratitude letter for the person whose turn it is.

Step #2: Hand write a legible letter of about 300 words. Don’t worry about a precise word count, just land somewhere in that ballpark. (The handwritten nature of the letter produces a more personal feel and indicates more effort on your part.)

Step #3: Schedule a meeting with the person, but don’t tell her or him about your letter. The surprise tends to be more impactful.

Step #4: Read your letter to the person. You typically would not want to chicken out and hand it over for the person to read as that stands to significantly weakens the experience. Don’t worry if you get misty or cry as such usually adds meaning for the other person; plus you probably won’t be the only one.

Step #5: Give your letter to the person.

I’ve done this myself, had families do it in my office and offered graduate students extra credit for doing it. I find that just about everyone (myself included) is surprised by how powerful of an emotional experience it proves to be. The research also suggests that the writer of the letter can experience a bump in happiness for three to four weeks afterwards. So, give it a try it and see how much power you have to manufacture happiness in your life and the life of another.

Stay tuned as I’m going to do a series of these strategies and will end with a list of books where you can learn more.

Gratitude Letters

Gratitude letters can promote closeness and happiness in families. Let me describe what such a letter is and then describe how such might be used within a family.

Gratitude letters are usually around 300 words in length, but can be as long as you’d like. The letter is written directly to a family member (i.e., in the first person). To be more personal, write it out by hand. The letter should express only positive thoughts and feelings that you have regarding the person and should not include direct or indirect statements regarding how the person may have let you or someone else down or how the other person might improve as a person. Try to include examples of specific things the person has done or said that cause you to feel gratitude; these examples can be recent or from a long time ago. When it’s time to share the letter do so by reading it to the family member; don’t chicken out and hand it over for the other person to read. You may start to tear up or get emotional. That’s okay (you’ll probably find you’re not the only one). When you’re finished give it to the other person. Allow the positive moment to linger as long as the other person likes (i.e., some of us, though we enjoy it, may start to feel a little uncomfortable with the intimacy that can emerge); in other words, the other person decides when to end the moment or change the topic.

There are a number of ways such letters can be introduced into your family. The first way is for you to start doing the exercise unilaterally for any and all members of your family. If you chose this method don’t announce your agenda in advance; just spring it on the other person. It is also important to not do this with the hope or expectation that the other person will reciprocate.

Another method is to agree, as a family, that you will all do this exercise. The first step is to pick the person who will be the first “victim” (i.e., the one who everyone will write about first) and pick a day and time by which the letters are to be completed and read. You may need to stay after some kids to make sure they do their part; the recipient of the letter should not be the one to do this reminding (if you’re a single parent, ask a relative or friend to do this for you). If a given child is in 4th grade or younger, or has some interfering disability, you can be flexible regarding the length. For children who cannot write, but who are old enough to understand the concept, ask for a gratitude picture instead (if a given child needs it, it’s okay to provide a little help, but do this as sparingly as possible lest the recipient conclude it’s more your work). When the assigned day and time comes around, take turns reading your letters (/showing your pictures) all-together as a family. After everyone is finished, go with any urges to hug and cry and express love and joy. After the first recipient’s turn is finished, assign who the next recipient will be and so on and so forth. When I’ve helped families to do this, we’ve usually spaced the turns one week apart, though you can do it at whatever pace feels right for you.

This experience is usually very positive for families, and often to a surprising degree. (If this is not the case for you and your family, I would wonder if this is a symptom worthy of attention.) You can also find a lot of satisfaction in writing gratitude letters for others towards whom you have unexpressed gratitude, be it ancient or recent. If you’d like to make this a regular self-improvement project, write and execute one a month, at least until you run out of people. You might also encourage others in your family to try writing letters for people outside of your family. Such a practice focuses our minds on positive truths and stands to promote happiness.

Developing Gratitude in Kids

happy jumping black boy, white backgroundHelping kids to develop gratitude has multiple benefits. It weakens self-entitlement because kids need to recognize that they have been gifted with something instead of feeling inherently entitled to it. Gratitude also promotes adaptive thinking, joy and a sense of meaning. This entry focuses on a few strategies for promoting gratitude in kids.

A good way to start is to do gratitude letters across the entire family. For that methodology, see this blog entry. Being on either end of a gratitude letter is usually a very enriching experience.

Families can also develop gratitude rituals. Before eating a shared meal, whether it’s all of the family or just part of the family, each person might mention 1-3 things that she is grateful for that day. These might be small things (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping in the morning) or big things (e.g., being on the honor roll). Moreover, if your family shares a spiritual practice of praying, prayers of thanksgiving can be offered each night for specific developments during the day.

There are also things kids can be trained to do on their own. For example, counting three blessings in the show can be a mood lifting habit, as can doing so right before bed. Some kids also find value in making a gratitude list once a week for things that happened that week. The research suggests that such practices promote positive feelings and attitudes. As is said: that which you pays attention to expands.

There are two traps to avoid. First, directing a kid towards gratitude usually teen laying down and looking aheadwouldn’t be a good way to respond to that kid’s legitimate pain and suffering. Trying to direct a kid towards gratitude, when he is legitimately hurting, can make it harder for him to learn to cope adaptively with such experiences. Second, it’s important to try to be specific with expressions of parental gratitude and to not offer vague praise (e.g., a parent saying to a child: “I’m grateful that you’re so smart” is not nearly as helpful as “I’m grateful that you aced a difficult English exam today”).

Tolstoy said it well, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” I think it’s fair to say that happy families, and individuals for that matter, regularly engage proportionate and specific gratitude.

 

Manufacture Joy: Focus on Gratitude

Continuing on with this holiday series, I will next review the technique of using gratitude. (This is related, but different, from the technique of writing a gratitude letter that I covered earlier in an individual and a family exercise.) When you are feeling grateful you are probably not feeling sad, worried or angry. You are also less likely to be taking people and circumstances for granted. There are a number of techniques you can use to pull this off. Below are six to get you started.

• Keep a gratitude journal. Pick either a day a week, or a time of the day, to write down that for which feel grateful. If in doubt regarding which practice would be a better fit for you, make entries into the journal once a week. Write down simple pleasures (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping, the taste of a sweet piece of fruit, a smile you received), bigger events (e.g., getting a raise, celebrating a birthday, taking a great vacation) and anything in-between (a fun date night, your kid getting a good grade on a test, seeing a funny movie). Not only does this practice focus your mind on uplifting events but, over time, you create documentation of all that which is working well in your life, facilitating a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction. This practice also keeps you from becoming like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, needing a miraculous divine intervention in order to appreciate the value of your life.

• Use gratitude as a coping thought. What behavior would you next do if you put on a pair of pants you hadn’t worn in a long time and, upon zipping them up, they felt so tight that it hurt? If you’re like most, your next move would be to take them off and put on a more comfortable pair (though you might simultaneously swear, promise yourself to eat less ice cream, or commit to joining a gym ;-)). Imagine what a silly image would be cast by someone walking around wearing uncomfortable pants declaring “Ouch, these pants really hurt! Ouch! I can’t believe how much these really hurt.” Yet, this is exactly what we do when we allow a painful thought to remain on our minds when it serves no useful function (i.e., not figuring out a problem or grieving or doing something else useful, but just pommeling us into the ground). So, if you find yourself chewing on a painful thought with no value just STOP, and turn your mind to that for which you feel grateful of late. Try to savor these thoughts for at least as long as you’ve been inclined to fret over useless and painful thoughts.

• Use your time in the shower each morning to reflect upon what you are most grateful for from the day before.  If you shower in the evening, focus on the day’s events.

• Go through photo albums or family videos with an eye towards remembering what you are grateful for about those events. Printing out some of your favorite images and displaying them around your life can add more value.

• Create a list of the top 10 things you are most grateful for about your life. Better yet, agree with your significant other or best friend (or both) to create your lists and share them with each other over a lunch date at a restaurant new to both of you.

• Write one thank you note a week to the person you felt the most gratitude towards that week. (It doesn’t have to be a heaping dose of gratitude.) Moreover, keep some thank you cards on any desk(s) you work at and put a weekly reminder in your electronic or paper appointment thingy to complete this task.

The point of this series, which you can read by scrolling down on my home page from this entry down, is to review some of the techniques that the science of positive psychology suggests we may use to lift our moods and enhance our experiences of meaning. I hope you will decide to give some of these techniques a try. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about the results as such will become part of my gratitude ritual!

Thanksgiving in Trumpland

As anyone who has experienced them knows, negotiating holiday meals that involve combinations of families, generations and single adults can be exceedingly challenging. This may be even more true this year as so many of us are divided around our politics. Let me offer suggestions.

Try to avoid:

√ Idealistic expectations. Like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, many of us can develop idealized expectations regarding how these days should go off. We so look forward to them, especially given how hard we work. We so invest in preparing. We so much love some of the people we’ll see. And, we so much miss spending time together. All of this can cause us to create expectations that mere mortals would have a difficult time realizing. When people then let us down (i.e., act like humans), it can cause us to feel hurt, angry or sad. Best to just expect the speed bumps and enjoy whatever blessings come along.

√ Conflict resolution. Once the day kicks into gear (and especially if the wine starts flowing), it’s easy to be tempted to try to let so-and-so know about his or her significant opportunities for growth. However, rarely do people welcome such unsolicited counsel, no matter how sagely conceived and expressed; in fact, they may then be tempted to return the favor, and then others may join in, creating the psychological equivalent of a food fight. Best to keep such thoughts between yourself and your guardian angel, at least during these get togethers.

√ Intoxication (i.e. transient brain dysfunction). Ok, this one is already pretty clear so I won’t go on and play the role of Dr. Obvious.

√ Pressing other people’s hot buttons, especially this year. Trump supporters may be tempted to do an end zone dance in the face of Trump detractors. Trump detractors may be tempted to question the decency and humanity of trump supporters. As both sides offer evidence and rhetorical constructions supporting their point of view, tension rises. Plus, even if a winner could be declared, what’s the prize? An empty bag, resentment and a compromised day. Best to let it go for now. If you’re concerned this could happen, here’s a draft email to work off of: I have a favor to ask regarding Thanksgiving Day. Would it be okay with you if we did not discuss politics? Some of us have some very strongly held views that are not in agreement with each other. I’d like to make the day not about discussing those differences, or trying to win debates, especially during this time of national division. Instead, I’d just like to focus on things that are uplifting. Please respond back to the group and let us all know if that’s okay with you and your family.

√ Displaying irritation or anger. How often does expressing such emotions turn out well oncheerful-family-copy turkey day? Sure, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But, we’re talking odds here. Best to belly breathe, change the topic, or use whatever you may to calm yourself down.

Try to embrace:

√ Opportunities to express gratitude. Gratitude focuses our mind on the good parts of our lives and has been found to offer many psychological benefits. Write a gratitude letter (click here for my blog entry on gratitude letters), pull someone aside and let him or her know what he or she means to you, express thanks for what you see before you or what is true about your shared lives, and so forth. (Two cautions: don’t offer such expressions with the expectation of a response, and don’t pressure anyone to offer such thoughts and feelings, especially teenagers.) Finally, you can also express gratitude to the hosts by offering to share in the day’s labor (those sporting a y chromosome may need to overcome a biological imperative to collapse in front of a TV once tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier).

√ Opportunities to let others strut their stuff. Many people derive validation from having loved ones recognize and value their accomplishments. Ask others for their favorite memories from the year or what they are most proud of. Then, let yourself come aglow with happiness for them. (To an ambivalent listener, this can seem like bragging. But, even when it’s bragging, what’s the harm? Just imagine someone crawling towards you, begging for a drink, and you have a bucket of water in your arms. Would you not do the kind thing?)
√ Adaptive thinking. I have two suggestions here. First, try to remember that crisis = pain + opportunity. Opportunity is pain’s Siamese twin. So, if things don’t go off as planned, or some unfortunate event happens, look for the opportunity imbued within. (The classic movie A Christmas Story manifests a great example of this in how the family responds to the fact that invading hounds have gulped down their holiday meal.) Second, try to remember that we’ll all blink three times and be looking back at our lives from the perspective of our death beds. Just think, when you’re at the end of your life, how much you’d give to come back and relive the day at hand. As death’s gift to the living is perspective, such thinking can help you to find your wisdom.

shutterstock_223597855√ Empathy. Those you are with may express sadness or share other failings or frustrations. Empathy and agreement are different things. Being empathic says that you care, even if you privately disagree.

√ Loving kindness. It’s amazing how operating in accord with these two simple words keeps one on a high road, promotes joy and expands meaning. If in doubt about what to do, it rarely fails to respond in accord with whatever insights this question offers, “what’s the loving and kind thing to do?”

May God, or your Higher Power, or the universe, bless you and yours during these challenging days for our nation.


i

What Do You Want to Focus on This Holiday Season?

black family, white background The holidays are so frenetic, and we look forward to them for so long, that it’s easy to end up feeling pushed around by the day-to-day stresses and to be left with a sense of disappointment at the end. One of the ways to combat this is to decide on three things you’d like to focus on during the holidays. Then, in the midst of the (usually) joyful craziness you can anchor yourself in what matters most to you. Here’s a dozen sample ideas of things you might decide to focus on:

  • Spending one-on-one time with each of your kids.
  • Praying each day.
  • Expressing gratitude to a certain person (e.g., search the for term “gratitude letter” above).
  • Being sober.
  • Lightening the load of your spouse/partner.
  • Forgiving someone for an old injury (this needn’t be done collaboratively, though it can be).
  • Practicing the Serenity Prayer when surprising events happen.
  • Responding with kindness when another adult acts in an uncomplimentary fashion (e.g., bragging, acting stingy).
  • Being of service to vulnerable people (e.g., someone who tends to be marginalized in groups, the poor, someone with a disability)
  • Promoting magical experiences (e.g., you can find multiple ideas for Santa rituals to do with kids on this blog site).
  • Organizing family experiences that promote bonding (e.g., baking, caroling, playing board games).
  • Focusing on your health (e.g., getting 8 hours of sleep, completing one hour of physically exerting activity and eating whole foods).

To keep your focus, it’s a good idea to put your three priorities in places yochristmas snowman sign for blogu’ll see them (e.g., on your computer’s or cell phone’s desk top, on a sticky note you place on your bathroom mirror) or by setting alarms in your cellphone.

There are three traps to avoid:

  • There is usually no good purpose to beating yourself up if you have a day when you fall down on one or more of your priorities. You do well when you judge yourself for your intention and effort and avoid conscious or unconscious expectations for perfection, something that we parent-lunatics fall prey to all the time.
  • When doing something nice for someone else it’s a good idea to not expect a certain response. Sure, it’s nice when someone is grateful, reciprocates or otherwise shows a positive reaction to your outreach. But, when that response becomes an expectation–be it conscious or unconscious–the outcome of your act of kindness can too often be increased tension and bitterness.christmas squirrel with note

• Expecting that others will join you on the high road. Holiday stresses can regress just about anyone, especially when large groups of family come together. It’s lovely when others follow your lead but expecting that can too often end up leaving you feeling empty and frustrated.

I want to close by thanking my wife, Lia, for suggesting this week’s topic and by expressing my hope that your holidays will be packed with meaning, joy and rejuvenation!

Four Stress Management Strategies off the Beaten Path

grpx_1889In last week’s blog entry I reviewed highlights from the recently released Stress in America Survey, a national evaluation of American stress conducted annually by the American Psychological Association. In this week’s entry I will review four of my favorite, perhaps less broadly known, stress management strategies.

I suppose just about everyone reading this blog knows that the tripod of effective stress management is healthy sleep, regular physical activity and a balanced diet. I suppose just about everyone also knows that certain techniques commonly used to manage stress are ultimately ineffective or even toxic (e.g., smoking, drinking alcohol). So, I won’t make those points here. What I would like to focus on are four strategies that might not be as well promulgated but which nonetheless have an impressive empirical track record supporting their usage.

#1. Be in the moment. So often our thoughts are in places other than the moment before us; or we might be partially in the moment and partially somewhere else. The science behind “mindfulness” indicates that methods for tuning into the moment facilitate peace and effective stress management. There are so many ways to do this: meditating, studying the details of the environment in which we find ourselves, mindful photography, mindful eating and so forth. This can be done in a few moments (e.g., see www.donothingfor2minutes.com) or can be a sustained practice (e.g., see The Power of Now).

#2. Practice gratitude. I’m not suggesting that someone try to be gratefulholding a heart for things that are not true, but merely to tune into those things that promote grateful feelings and thoughts. Our minds can be like hyperactive squirrels as they ping pong from one stressful thought to another. A gratitude practice can be a way of inserting true and uplifting thoughts, which then help to manage stress. Like mindfulness strategies, gratitude can be practiced in snatches of time (e.g., reflecting on things one is grateful for while showering) or be more elaborate (e.g., writing a gratitude letter). Enter the term “gratitude” in the search bar above for some additional ideas.

#3. Perform acts of kindness. The phenomenon of the “helpers high” has been scientifically established to be true. Sometimes stress causes us to shrink inwards, making the notion of being kind to others seem impractical. However, being intentionally kind can lift one’s mood and promote a sense of meaning. I don’t know that this next statement has been empirically investigated, so take it with a grain of salt. But my experience is that when kindness is done for the purpose of creating a helper’s high it may offer a more limited benefit. It’s almost like one must surrender all expectation of a return on the investment in order to experience such a return. This also can be done simply and quickly or in a more sustained and elaborate fashion. Just enter the term “kindness” in the search bar above for some ideas.

spiritual man, african-american#4. Practice the Serenity Prayer. (Google the prayer if you’re not familiar with it.) One can be an atheist and still receive the psychological benefit of practicing this construct. Many types of personal, family and institutional illnesses flow from trying to control important things that can’t be controlled. This is part of the reason why 12-step recovery programs routinely use this prayer. The power of this prayer warrants all of us posting it where we can be reminded of it regularly. By the way, releasing control doesn’t mean becoming cold or indifferent to pain or unfortunate events. It just means that I don’t make myself sick trying to control that which is outside my control. Click here for an entry I wrote on using this prayer in parenting.

 

 

Are We Conditioning Selfishness in Our Kids During the Holidays?

christmas woman white backgroundA student of mine recently forwarded this YouTube video to me (thank you Mary Ware!). It is by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, New York Times bestselling authors of Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. In this video the authors report that they invited 50 kids, ages 5 to 8, to a Christmas party. After first dosing them with holiday joy, a man playing Santa interviewed the children; joining them was another child. After the interview one of Santa’s helpers offered the kids a choice. Santa, Santa’s helper and the second child were all assistants of the researchers (i.e., the other child was not a subject in the experiment but someone playing a part). There were two conditions for the interview. In the first condition, Santa asked the child-subjects the traditional questions we tend to ask our kids in November and December; these were all along the lines of, “what do you want to get?” In the second interview condition, Santa asked the kids versions of, “what do you want to give?” (It’s thought provoking to watch the kdis struggle with the latter quesion.) The kids were then shuffled to Santa’s helper to make a decision. The child-subject was offered a choice of two pieces of hanukkahchocolate, with the knowledge that the piece they didn’t chose would go to the other child. One of the pieces of chocolate was much larger than the other. What was interesting is that 70% of the kids who were in the “what do you want?” condition chose the larger piece of candy. However, in the “what do you want to give?” condition, “50% more of the kids acted more generously” and took the smaller piece of candy (I think this means that 45% of the kids took the smaller piece of candy, as opposed to 30% in the other condition).

This YouTube video is not a research study published in a scholarly journal; for this reason we need to be even more cautious than normal in the conclusions we reach. However, I think this video is thought provoking and challenges all of us to wonder if we might do well by our kids to modify some of our holiday procedures (e.g., imagine that the people being interviewed were not cherubic children but fully grown adults). So, in the spirit of that concern, here are six tips:

1. Focus as least half of your questions to your child on what she or he plans to give. This isn’t about depriving you or your child of the traditional holiday “magic.” This is about encouraging you and your child to spend at least equal time on that which better promotes wellness.

2. Collaborate with your child on what she or he might give. This could certainly include purchases, but could also include acts of kindness, productions of art, or offerings of labor.

3. Join in a project of sending holiday cards to loved ones. (Cards personalized with your child’s input are likely to be better received anyway.) Of course, you can prioritize how much your child contributechristmas squirrel with notes based on who the card is going to and your child’s age.

4. If your child needs cash for presents you might allow him or her to do extra chores to earn what you previously would have just forked over.

5. Consider a family kindness project such as giving to a food bank, helping at a soup kitchen, giving away used toys and clothes to charity or giving to a family in need. Be sure to collaborate in choosing a project and discuss what it felt like afterwards.

6. Write gratitude letters to each other. (Enter the term “gratitude letter” in the search bar above for some guidance.)

By the way, this isn’t about aspiring to live on a higher moral road for it’s own sake. This is about trying to live on a higher moral ground because that is what promotes happiness and wellness.

I_Am_documentary_2011_PosterHere’s a 7th tip thrown in for good measure: watch the movies Happy and I Am over the holidays (streaming choices are also available); both of these movies are projects of Tom Shadyac; Mr. Shadyac, IMHO, is a contemporary prophet (i.e., someone who offers initially uncomfortable, but ultimately life giving, counsel that challenges common perspectives that make people sick). In an interesting and engaging manner, both of these movies review aspects of what the field of positive psychology indicates promotes happiness. If your kids are old enough to sit through and appreciate these movies, family discussions about them could serve as a catalyst for life-giving changes in the new year. Otherwise, watch them on your own or with your significant other; I think you’ll be glad you did!

Forgiveness: An Essential Ingredient for Healthy Family Life

forgivenessForgiveness is the triathlon of psychological work. When someone completes a triathlon we can fairly conclude that that person is in top physical condition. Likewise, if someone is adept at forgiveness that person likely travels on a high road often.

We families are so close to each other, it is inevitable that we will inflict wounds, whether accidental or intentional. Without forgiveness, such wounds, especially as they mount, can cause relationships to break or to exist across large chasms. For this reason it is difficult for a family to be healthy, over the long haul, without developing a sound forgiveness practice.

There are three sections to this entry: (1) a listing of what forgiveness isn’t, (2) a description of a three step forgiveness process and (3) a description of some behaviors that can augment and support forgiveness work.

What forgiveness isn’t

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the offense. While the passage of time may cause a forgiven injustice to fall out of mind, forgiving someone does not require forgetting what happened.

Forgiveness does not equate with leaving oneself open to continued injustice. We can forgive another person without allowingfighting partents that person to hurt us again in the same way.

Forgiveness does not mean excusing, minimizing or justifying the injustice. We’ve been hurt. Acknowledging and being aware of the fullness of that is often part of a healthy forgiveness process.

Forgiveness does not require the offender’s participation. Resentment is a poison within us. Sure, if the perpetrator authentically and effectively asks for forgiveness, it is easier to remove the toxin. However, it’s best for us if we proceed even if that isn’t forthcoming. (Imagine a patient telling a doctor that they would only have the doctor remove the venom from a snake bite if the patient’s partner would first expresses a wish for that to happen. Sort of a silly image isn’t it?)

Forgiveness does not require communication with the offender. We may wish to let the offender know that we have forgiven him or her; and, in family life, this is can be a very helpful thing to do. However, there are instances when that could lead to other painful complications; in these instances, forgiveness can occur privately.

Forgiveness steps

The forgiveness process can proceed differently across people. However, if you’re looking for some guidance, I can suggest this tight summary:

spiritual man, african-americanStep 1: Let yourself become fully aware of how you’ve been hurt. Examining your wound(s) is often a part of good self-care.

Step 2: Try to empathize with the human condition in the offender that promoted the infraction against you. This is very, very hard to do (just like it can’t be easy to run a long distance after having swam a mile). But, even the most tragic of attacking behaviors has a human condition behind it with which we can empathize.

Step 3: Try to forgive the offender. If you are a spiritual person, taping into your Higher Power can be very helpful here. It can also help to imagine that you are cleansing yourself of a toxin (i.e., resentment).

How long these steps take will vary tremendously. And, there can be a looping back across them over time.

Augmenting behaviors

Forgiveness may be facilitated in families by the following activities:

• Appreciating that I’ve been an offender also and taking appropriate steps to seek forgiveness and make reparation as I become aware of such.

• Try to avoid aligning yourself with friends who would have you stay trapped in resentment. Instead, seek out those who will support your desire to live on a high road.

• Pointing out what the offender does well. (Search above for “gratitude letter” for a great exercise along these lines.)diverse happy parents copy

• Getting clarity on what my vow and commitment to my family members means to me (e.g., how much they are conditional and, if they are, under what terms).

• Having regular and enjoyable rituals with my family members.

• Using the problem solving exercise to get past problems and conflicts (use the search engine above or see my parenting book for a full description).

• Seeking out therapy when forgiveness work bogs down or seems impossible to do. For a referral click here.

Good luck! This ain’t easy, for sure.

%d bloggers like this: