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On Forgiveness

Live a Happier Life
FORGIVENESS

Dr. Hallowell on Oprah discussing Forgiveness

Forgiveness begins in a bitter place. It begins in words like these: “When you walked out on me, I vowed I would never forgive you.”

“When you tricked Dad into signing the business over to you before he died, you knew exactly what you were doing. I will always hate you for that.”

“How can I forgive when so many have died? To forgive would be to forget about them. It would be wrong and immoral not to keep my rage alive.”

“After all that I did for you, you organized those people into a mob and you manipulated them into turning on me and bringing me down. You are despicable, and I will never forgive you.”

“You could have helped me back then, but you just walked right by me. You played it safe and chose not to get involved. Now that I’m on top you want to be my friend? You must be joking. I detest you, your opportunism and all the people you represent.”

“There is no way I can ever forgive you. I once loved you, but you have broken my heart.”

In words like these-spoken in moments of terrible anguish-forgiveness begins.

Forgiveness must build a bridge over pain, often tremendous pain.

Forgiveness starts in hurt, in anger, in disbelief, in confusion. It starts in hatred. It starts in a florid wish for revenge.

It starts in bitterness and shock and disappointment. It starts in the fixed belief that you can never, must never and will never forgive this act.

It starts in a lawyer’s office, at a funeral, on the side of the road, in a bar, alone in bed in the middle of the night, out fishing, on a deathbed, early one morning, late one night or in the full sun of midday.

Forgiveness starts in pain.

If you are lucky, it ends in peace. Whether you are seeking forgiveness or trying to grant it, you begin in distress, hoping to find your way to a peaceful place. You don’t know how to get there, and you know you may never arrive. Indeed, many journeys to forgiveness fail. They get stuck in thickets and thorns of resentment, pride, self-justification and rage.

Whether we are trying to forgive ourselves and overcome guilt, or we are trying to forgive some person or some force that has done us wrong, we begin in one of the darkest, most closed-off places life knows, a place that seems to have no exit.

One question that can help light the way out is this: What do you want your pain to turn into? Do you want it to turn into a grudge, a war, a lawsuit or an endless conflict? Do you want it to turn into suffering for the person who hurt you?
Some people call that justice. Gandhi pointed out the problem with that kind of justice when he said, “If you take an eye for an eye, pretty soon the whole world will be blind.” If you want your pain to turn into more pain, then you will never leave the dark place you’re in.

If, on the other hand, you want your pain to turn into something else, something positive-like growth, wisdom, peace, health, or the relief of others’ suffering or of your own-then revenge is not your best option. As sweet as revenge may seem when you have been hurt, a sweeter, smarter choice is forgiveness.

Excerpted from Dare to Forgive

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