Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How to Forgive

Today, I had the pleasure of reading Symphony of Love's sentiments on forgiveness and was inspired to address the topic (and free you from more, er, taxing matters for the day). We're often urged to let go of the past and cast off our anger, hurt, and resentment, emotions that have no place in the present. According to conventional wisdom (and medical research), holding a grudge can spiritually and physically damage the one who bears it. It can also make for some really cheesy Japanese horror, but we're going to nip that in the bud before you go there.

As singles, we see people come into and out of our lives as we transition through stages that may be less stable than if we lived in a fenced-in yard with 2.2 children, a chocolate lab, and a minivan. Lovers come and go, friends get married and move away, coworkers leave for better bonuses. Sometimes we watch them depart with hard feelings.

Few would deny that it's important for our own wellbeing to forgive, but it's easier said than done. For all the touchy-feely spiel about forgiveness, seldom do we get definitive, concrete suggestions for putting it into practice. Today, Singletude rises to the challenge with a list of steps to not only talk forgiveness but feel it:

1. Realize what's done is done.

Break the cycle of why's and what-if's by accepting that whoever wronged you can't change the past, no matter how he or she regrets it. Understand that the event itself is history and that only your obsession with it can impact the present.

With that in mind, consciously decide to move beyond the transgression and reclaim your future from the memories so that every time they haunt you, you purposefully shift your attention to something worth your time. Pick up a book, turn on the TV, get out of the house and meet up with a friend. Find some way of distracting yourself until the memory fades into part of your ancient history--not forgotten but not revisited with a gleam in your eye every night while watching The Godfather.

2. Express yourself...

"...hey, hey, hey, hey." Oops, sorry. Guess you discovered my Madonna mix tape, heehee.

Seriously, sometimes the roadblock to forgiveness can be removed by a simple apology, but many of us neglect to ask for one. Often, we expect the transgressor to come begging if he or she is really sorry, but sometimes the offending party assumes we want to hear from them like we want to hear The Spice Girls' Greatest Hits. Other times, he or she isn't even aware that a line has been crossed.

If the idea of approaching the "traitor" makes you want to throw up, maybe it's because you need to swallow your pride. Contact the one who hurt you and be truthful about how upset you are. (A face-to-face meeting is best, a call is second choice, and an email should be your last resort.) Explain why their actions hurt you and directly ask for an apology. You may be surprised by how quickly one is forthcoming...and by how easily it dissolves your anger.

3. Send it in a letter.

Or don't. Send it, that is.

If your relationship is beyond repair, or if part of you can't accept an apology even though you want to, you still need a way to burn off that excess bitterness. Try composing a letter to the person who slighted you, venting all your rage, disappointment, and pain. At the end, declare that despite all these offenses, you're now going to close this chapter of your life and move on. Then, symbolically bury or burn the letter, releasing your pent-up emotion and freeing yourself from tangible ties to the traumatic event.

Go ahead...burn, baby, burn. Smokey the Bear will look the other way, I promise.

4. Walk the walk... someone else's shoes, that is. Whether or not you iron out your interpersonal problems, it will help you shake off that negative energy if you can imagine yourself out of the mind of the victim and into the mind of the perpetrator. (Yes, you can watch a few episodes of Law & Order to get you in the mood.)

If you were your betrayer, what thoughts and feelings would be coursing through you at the moment of betrayal? Ask yourself what motivated your formerly trusted friend, paramour, relative, or associate to hurt you in the way he or she did. Was the wound inflicted an aberration, perhaps provoked by undue stress or a misunderstanding? Were there any alternatives to hurting you in the way he or she did? Might you have done the same thing if the tables were turned? What was your own contribution to what transpired?

The more you ponder these questions, the more obvious it may become that the person you've wasted so much time hating could've been you under different circumstances. We all make mistakes, and as a great teacher once said, let he who is without blame cast the first stone.

5. Accentuate the positive.

If you want to patch things up with the doer of bad deeds, you need to reframe him or her as the same person who held a special place in your life long before forgiveness was needed. Make a list of all the reasons you love this person, from the time she drove three hours to commiserate with you when you lost your job to the extra tickets he always slips you to shows at the club he manages. Chances are after you read over the list, you'll feel a lot less like putting a horse head in his or her bed and a lot more like going out for a drink to resolve your differences. Even if you don't want to rekindle the relationship, focus on the good that came out of your pain.

I know what you're thinking: "Elsie, I'm all for the positive and such, but I'm not a masochist!"

To clarify, I don't mean that you should celebrate what you suffered but that you should take stock of what you learned from it. For example, maybe you're harboring resentment toward your boss because he hinted that you were next in line for promotion, but then you were passed over. Instead of dwelling on how your boss crossed over to the dark side, use his indirect feedback to analyze how you can improve at work so that you'll land the coveted position next time. Or perhaps you can't let go of your wrath at an ex who cheated. Rather than continue simmering about it, think of how fortunate you were to have found out she was unfaithful before you made a deeper commitment. After all, that's not the kind of person you'd want for a long-term partner.

Even if you follow these guidelines to the letter, be prepared to have bouts of misery over whatever it is you're trying to forgive. The memories will rush over you in a tide of emotion...but then recede. The more you practice the steps above, the more your anguish will be an outgoing tide. You won't forget what happened, but the memories of it will cease to be salt in your wound until your response to them is no more or less intense than memories of what you ate for breakfast. At last, the tide will turn, and the incoming waves will be ones of peace, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Have you ever had difficulty forgiving someone? What techniques did you use to expel the negative emotions and forgive? Do you believe that it's always best to forgive, or do you think there are some circumstances in which we shouldn't?

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