Live a Long Happy Life? Forgive.

When Laina gave Jennifer as a reference for a job she really wanted, Jennifer told the recruiter about the shoplifting incident. Laina didn't get the job and felt she could never forgive Jennifer. Their lifetime friendship ended.
If Jennifer had apologized to Laina, acknowledging she had done something wrong, this friendship might have had hope. But that didn't happen and the women parted on very bitter terms.
Forgiveness is something we all consider at some point in our lives. People hurt us, unintentionally or on purpose. The question is: Should we let that person back in? You might think forgiveness is akin to giving the person who hurt you a free pass. But it's not. It's really for you.
According to area psychologists, forgiveness brings more to the person doing the forgiving than the person being
forgiven. "Being angry with someone is a huge weight to carry," says Darien psychotherapist Maud Purcell. "Sometimes the person who hurt us doesn't even know -- or care -- that he or she did.
"A lot of people assume forgiveness means one thing and others think it means something else," Purcell adds. "If by forgiving we mean the act of deciding within ourselves that there's no benefit for us to continue to hang on to the anger, in most cases, that's a positive thing."
Purcell notes that the inability to forgive is really about anger and its harmful long-term
effects. "Research shows that certain chemicals that are produced in our body when we're angry are not meant to be produced in a chronic, on-going way," she says. "So, from a physiological viewpoint, if we can forgive, it's better for us. It's really not good to have that chemical stew running around through your body permanently."
When we're angry with someone, or have unresolved issues, she says, "it's tied up in emotion and psychic energy that could be better used for more positive endeavors in other areas of our life."
"It's a lot about history," adds Westport couples counselor Lyn Sommer, who works with a lot of marriages where one partner has been unfaithful. "If your parents never lied to you, were always honest, it's not such a deeply personal offense. But if your dad lied a lot, had affairs, and now your spouse is doing it, there's a lot of woundedness around that. It sticks much more easily." When it's hard to forgive, says Sommer, "the perpetrator may be repeating something from the past."
Sometimes the person we need to forgive is ourselves, says Wendy Sauer, who works in Danbury with substance abusers, sex addicts and their families. "A key to helping addicts recover is to help them forgive themselves," she says. "Addicts cannot be `cured' until they do that. But it works both ways. Not forgiving someone is a huge stumbling block in families where any kind of addiction has occurred. In families where someone has a sex addiction, many deceived spouses feel they can't ever forgive. But that's very toxic to them."
And that goes for the rest of us, too. "I've seen people who inadvertently caused deaths -- car accidents, for example -- who say they can never forgive themselves. I tell them, be gentle with yourself," says Sommer. "It has to be good for you before it can be good for anyone else."
Sommer remembers the first time she was forgiven. "I was baby-sitting when I was young and something broke, and the mother said, `I forgive you.' I never grew up where people spoke that language. `I forgive you.' It was such a relief. Being forgiven is one of the most powerful things in life."
Psychiatrist Tarique Perera of Danbury says it's all about our harsh super-ego. "We often interject a very critical person from the past who lives inside us that makes it very hard to forgive ourselves, and others," he says.
Obviously, there are times when you can't forgive. "Unforgiveness is useful, too," says Sommer.  "If forgiveness means actually going the next step and contacting the person and offering your forgiveness, there are cases where that's neither safe nor healthy for the person in question," says Purcell. "If it means re-establishing a relationship with the person who hurt you, there are many situations -- such as domestic abuse, some cases of infidelity, even a family member who has hurt you badly in some way -- where that's just not healthy."
Purcell agrees that in the vast majority of cases, forgiving the individual in your own mind is better because it frees up that psychic energy and stops producing the anger chemicals that can be so harmful.
So how can you forgive, or trust, someone again who has hurt you? "If you've previously had a good relationship, or the person is someone you frequently come in contact with, if you believe the person didn't intend to hurt you, there's a goodness of heart, there may be value in re-establishing a relationship on a limited basis," says Purcell. "Forgiveness is something that's a big judgment call in my mind, as to when you can both forgive and forget and when ultimately, all you can do is forgive."
What about forgetting? "Since research has shown that we don't lose memories, we now understand that all memories remain, and to forget even on a physiological level isn't completely possible," Purcell says. "But we can put the memory in the background if we've previously had a good history with this person, and this was the aberration, not the norm."
Sometimes, though, it may be impossible to forgive. "If the perpetrator acknowledges responsibility and is offering to do whatever it takes to make it up to you, you may be able to forgive," Sommer says. "But if the person who hurt you doesn't, it's not a very good idea, because they could, and probably will, do it again."

Deciding When to Forgive
• Be gentle with yourself.
• Silence that voice in your head that tells you you should because the person is your boss, friend, sister.
• Think about whether it's really in your best interests to forgive the person.
• If the person has demonstrated that he or she knows what they did was wrong and will do anything to make it up to you, consider forgiving them.
• Think back over your life to see whether the hurt echoes another hurt or trauma from your childhood or another time in your life.
• Freeing up that psychic energy you may be blocking because of your inability to forgive may let you refocus on other areas of your life that are more positive.
• Remember, holding on to anger only hurts the one doing it.




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