healing from heartbreak

Why Unforgiving Someone Can Be More Important Than Forgiving Them

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.
— Maya Angelou

 

English Poet Alexander Pope wrote in his Essay on Criticism,  “to err is human, to forgive is divine”.  

Photo by Natalija Grigel/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Natalija Grigel/iStock / Getty Images

Few things feel more heavenly then when someone really “gets” how they’ve hurt you. It’s easy to forgive them when they honestly apologize, make amends, and genuinely do things differently because they’ve learned the error of their way(s). Sometimes however, this doesn’t happen. Sometimes, behavioral patterns repeat, promises get made that aren’t kept, and sometimes, the one that did the hurting actually denies doing what they did.  

It’s devastating when someone you love deeply, lets you down, betrays you, leaves you, or hurts you in unspeakable ways. What complicates the pain more is this idea that you have to “forgive” that person, let go of your anger, grudges, and resentment, so that you can take the high road and move on in your life.   

 What if there’s wisdom to your pain and that working so hard to forgive someone might actually keep you from hearing what that wisdom is?  

What if your anger, hurt, and resentment, helps you to get the space you need from that person, so that you can begin to heal yourself? And, while in your process of healing, what if you then start to understand somethings, possibly even many things about you, that you never knew? Perhaps you gain insight into why you chose that person, and or made some of the choices you made in that relationship, including the oh so common choice to ignore the little red flags you saw early on because, well, you liked how you felt when you were with them, and no-one’s perfect, right? What if your pain inadvertently offered you an opportunity to learn something so important about yourself that it would empower you to move forward and engage in relationships in a different way, one that doesn’t make excuses for another’s behavior and stays true to you?  

Much has been written about forgiveness and the importance of learning to accept things as they are and let go. Much has been said about not allowing people who have hurt you to take up too much space in your head because that gives them power over you.

All of that is true.

 But I don’t think that means forgiving them, especially if they haven’t proven themselves worthy of your forgiveness. 

I often find in my clinical work, that the reason people struggle with trying to forgive the one who hurt them, is because it feels inauthentic. What feels authentic is the painful double bind they find themselves in. On the one hand, they want to forgive the one who hurt them because they still have some hope that things might somehow workout. Jumping quickly to forgiveness in this way acts as a defense mechanism, protecting people from taking in the awfulness of what the other did and the pain of the loss. On the other hand, the awfulness may be unacceptable and admitting that to oneself means there will be no reconciliation. It’s an impossible dilemma, where people feel damned if they do and damned if they don’t. This bind however, actually has an underlying positive intention, because it acts as a way to slowly remove the band aid and mitigate the overwhelming pain people finds themselves in. 

 

Sometimes, I encourage people to take a few steps back and metaphorically “un-forgive ” the one who hurt them. This allows them to really process through the pain that scarred their soul.  When they take this step back, they then come to understand that’s it’s normal to find themselves cycling through the memories of what happened and the wishing and wanting of what could have been. When people really take the time to proactively heal their wounds, grieve their losses, and learn their life lessons; their lives begin to transform. The void and loss of the other creates the vacuum that draws in new people and situations that are better suited for them and their new phase of life. They begin to become the person they were meant to be. Then, the person who once hurt them so terribly, doesn’t matter so much anymore. The winter of their obsessing, resentment, anger, and discontent, begins to melt away into a new season in their life; one with renewed hope and promise. 

This happens, not because they forgave the one who hurt them, though through this process they may genuinely decide to do that.

It happens, because they stayed true to their process and in turn forgave themselves.

Do You Prefer Platinum or Gold? Some Simple Tips on How to Treat the One you Love with Love.

“Humans were capable of so many amazing things, but too often they just sit making words, not doing anything” – A Dog’s Purpose


bigstock-Couple-holding-hands-15058361.jpg

We’ve all heard of the golden rule: “treat others as you would like to be treated”.

But believe it or not, it’s actually not the best strategy for our closest relationships. 

 Why?  

Because it assumes that what other people think, want, need, and feel, are the same as what we think, want, need, and feel. The truth is: sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. So how do you know when they do or don’t?

Ask.

Ask what they like. Ask what they don’t like. Ask what hurts them. Then listen to what they have to say. Now, take your turn and do the same. Tell them what matters to you. What you like and don’t like. What you want, need, and what hurts you. Teach the other about you and let them teach you about them. 

This is the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated, not as you would.

Then try as best you can to follow it: with one caveat.

It’s not your job to always do what the other wants you to do. There’s a difference between “doing and treating”.  You are not responsible for taking care of all the other’s needs and pain. The same goes for them. That’s care taking, which in time, will suck all that was once precious out of any relationship. Following the platinum rule means you understand that the “other” is both connected to and separate from you.  And while no one can always be 100% attuned to this unique arrhythmic relational dynamic, understanding that it’s there and holding the intention to follow it, will create a much richer connection between you and your partner. 

 Here’s an example: you like to be hugged. Your partner prefers handshakes. So instead of hugging them, why not shake their hand?

 Now, If you want a hug from them, ask them if they can do that for you. If they can- awesome!

If they can’t, then ask them why.  If what they say makes sense and works for you – great. If it doesn’t, well, then a new problem arises - and here’s where many get into trouble. They try to make the other do what they want so they can get their needs met. They think the other needs to follow their rule.

Except that rule (founded in some deeply held belief that’s actually not true) is not golden, silver, platinum or lead. It’s rust. And it’s death to the soul: yours and theirs. 

Trying to make someone hug you when they don’t want to, stay with you when they want to leave or anything else that’s not aligned with the other’s heart or soul’s purpose,  wreaks havoc on everyone closely connected to the “rule makers and breakers” in that relationship. It’s a fool’s gold where dysfunction and chaos, only creates more dysfunction and chaos. 

 Sigh…

Putting anarchy aside, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect.  People find each other by missing each other. And sometimes they need to miss each other a lot,  before they can really find each other and start again.

 And should they choose to do that, they can then trust in the other and relax. They will know that no matter what happens to them, or what life throws their way, if they can commit to following the aforementioned rule, all we be well. 

 Not only will they be able to talk about doing so many amazing things together, they will actually do them with platinum success.

Workbook thumbnail.png

Free Workbook

You can find hope after heartbreak!

7 Simple Lessons on Happiness from a Defiant Dog Named Ben.

ben book.JPG

We can not solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein.

Seven Years ago in August, I adopted a rescue puppy named Ben. He turned eight a couple of weeks ago. Not treated well by his first owner, he and his brother were surrendered to a shelter. The original owner reclaimed Ben's brother, leaving Ben alone and feeling abandoned,  when he was first adopted by another.  He had difficulty adjusting to his first adoption and was returned to the shelter the very next day.  I was fortunate enough to adopt him that very next day. Though it's been a tough road at times dealing with his severe separation anxiety and reactive aggressive behavior, he's given me so much joy and I admire his defiance, which is perhaps better called " resilience".  While I could make a list of dozens doggy behavioral lessons on happiness that Mr. Ben has taught me, here are seven simple ones.

 1. Take time each day to play .

Ben Loves to play. Every morning after his walk and breakfast, he searches for a ball for me to throw to him. If he can't find one, he then grabs one of my shoes instead. Catch or catch me if you can has become a big part of our morning routine.

Adults need to be silly, laugh and play. It releases endorphins and actually can help them to be more productive at work and more at ease with others. Woking too hard or always being on the go, stresses the adrenals and leads to anxiety and depression.

2. Take time to rest.

Ben loves to go for walks- short ones though. Once he tires out, he just plops himself under a shady tree.  He has no particular exercise agenda (unlike his owner) and he listens to what his body needs.  When he needs to slow down or stop, he does.

Just as people need to take time to play, they also need to sleep and take time out in their days for rest. Believe it or not, just ten minutes of mediation a day or a fifteen minute power nap can be a wonderful reset for one's mind, body and soul.

3. Ask for what you want.

There's a park that I often take Ben for walks. At the beginning of the loop there’s an inlet to the pond, and oooohhhh how Ben loves to swim. We have a routine when he goes swimming: I throw out a stick for him to fetch – and off he goes…paddling with a mission, head above water and tail wagging the whole time.    Each time we approach the inlet, without fail, Ben runs down the sandy beach, wags his tail and waits. That's his ask.  Ben doesn't assume I know what he wants, (though I do), so he makes sure to ask me each and every time we approach the pond.

When people come to therapy, particularly when they are having difficulty in their relationships, I notice that they often assume the "other" should always be attuned to what they want and deliver on it.  It's an assumption that can cause a lot of strife and disappointment when expectations aren't met. I encourage people to ask from their hearts what it is they want rather than expect the other will just know.

4. When you can't get what you want, find a way to come to terms with it.

There's a rule in my home: if Ben goes in the pond – he then goes in the tub for a bath. This doggy momma doesn't have time for a fluff and buff bath routine every day, so Ben doesn't always get to go for his much coveted swim.   Though he always asks, when I know he’s not going swimming on a particular day,   I say “no” and then keep walking.  He waits for a few seconds with sad eyes hoping I will change my mind, but soon finds a way to let go, and follows me for the rest of his walk.

People can't always get what they want from another. Yet some have a hard time tolerating when things don't go their way.  Certainly one can always ask again from their heart, but if another doesn't want to oblige, it's best to respect theit wish. If the other obliges because they feel guilted or pressured, then resentment will build over time.  

 

5. Make sure your actions match your words and surround yourself with those who do the same.

When I ask Ben if he wants to go for a walk, we take one. When I ask him if he wants to eat, I feed him.  Imagine what it would be like for him if I only followed through on what I said only some of the time? Would he feel loved and secure?

No, he wouldn't.

When someone follows through on what they tell the other they intend to do, it says that they are a person of integrity and that the other matters. It shows that they care. When they don't, the opposite is true on all counts. Now, no one's perfect and life happens. When things get in the way and force a change of plans, explain that to the other and find a way to make it up to them. It feels good to make other's happy and others feel happy and respected when people in their life do the same. It builds trust and deeper intimacy and It's win win.

6. When someone's actions don't match their words,  know it's not about you.

Dogs take everything personally. Their limbic brains are much bigger than their human companions and they don't have a prefrontal cortex that helps them use logic and resort to higher reasoning. One of the reason's Ben has anxiety and PTSD is because he didn't know that his former human had problems and took them out on him.

Here's where humans have dogs beat. Yes, it hurts when people don't do as they said they would and sometimes, one may never know the reason why they didn't. Learning not to personalize  others behavior and lack of follow through can help build one's self esteem. It can also create enough space for one to calmly ask the other what happened rather than react harshly -which will only shame or push the other away. If necessary, not personalizing an other's behavior can then make it easier to walk away from those who's actions consistently don't match their words .

7. Above all else: "To thy own self be true." 

Dogs are incapable of being inauthentic. They show us who they are all the time. Their sometimes bad behavior also lends a clue as to what happened to them. When a stranger approaches Ben and he feels uncomfortable, he growls and barks. He can't pretend he feels what he doesn't and he won't warm up to someone until he feels safe, secure and happy with that person.

This lesson is much harder for humans. It's not easy to live authentically as choosing to do so may  mean letting others down. A mentor once told me that at some point in the life span, everyone must choose between the following seemingly impossible dilemma, which boils down to this: "If I choose what others want for me, I betray myself and if I choose what I want for myself, then I betray others." 

While there are those who believe it's "nobler to suffer", I believe Shakespeare's Polonius had this one right. To thy own self be true. The human heart is filled with wisdom and when one follows it, they follow the ultimate lesson on human happiness- which in the long run, has a positive trickle down effect on those around them.  The same holds true for when they don't. When people follow their hearts and learn to disappoint others in a compassionate and loving way, it actually IS in everyone's best interest because it allows them to do the sameInauthentic living never amounts to genuine happiness.

So there it is, seven simple lessons on happiness.  

The irony is, none of those lessons are easy.

 Most have to make time to play and they often don't believe there's enough time in the day to do that.

Most need to take time to rest and they are worried that they won't get everything they need to get done if they do.

Many need to learn to ask from their hearts what they want and accept that sometimes they can't alway get it. This requires the courage to be vulnerable and grieve the disappointment.

While most want to have their actions meet their words, sometimes they can't and then they  avoid explaining to the other the real reason they didn't. This avoidance only leads to hurt, distrust and more avoidance: not down the path of happiness. It's also hard not to take another's lack of followthrough personally, because it really does hurt.

Yet, when people master the last lesson: To thy own self be true- the hardest lesson of all, all the other lessons fall right into place. If they consistently practice lessons one through six, then lesson seven becomes easier too.

When all of these lessons get practiced consistently, then one can truly say that "life is good!"



Blue finding hope after heartbreak hacks.png

Free Finding Hope After Heartbreak Hacks

Not only can you survive heartbreak, you can learn to thrive in your life because of it!