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Forgiveness- A Helpful and Healing Skill

Many of us have heard the phrase, “Failing to forgive is like taking rat poison and expecting the other person to die.” While we may recognize how damaging unforgiveness is to our own hearts, we do not often make the effort to actually forgive. Why? We may not be ready. There may be safety issues going on that need to be addressed first. We may not truly know how to forgive.

Forgiveness is not always as easy as “1, 2, 3,” but here are some very helpful steps from our “Ready for Love” material* to get on the road to forgiveness and healing:

1) Recognize the need to forgive (or be forgiven).

  • Notice ongoing feelings of resentment or anger.
  • Recognize an action as offensive.

2) Create safety.

  • This involves physical safety, psychological safety, and relational safety.
  • Seek help if you recognize that you do not feel safe. This may include a third party, a cooling-off period, or even physical separation.

3) Fire the attorney in your head.

  • Choose to stop “pleading your case” to yourself so that you can let go of defensiveness and blaming.

4) Talk about what happened.

  • Talk about the event.
  • Talk about your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires (what was it like for you?).
  • Receive empathy.
  • Try to see the situation from the others’ perspective.

5) Choose to say, “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you.”

  • Be deliberate about making the choice to speak those words.
  • Take responsibility for choices you made, then and now.
  • Find or create a support network (friends, family, or faith community).
  • Release negative feelings and move on.

6) Choose to act in loving ways.

  • Stop reminding the offender of the hurt.
  • If the other person is not safe to be around, act in loving ways towards yourself or others not involved.
  • Use a pleasant voice.
  • Seek the good of the other.

Contemporary research shows that forgiveness occurs when people commit to owning and expressing feelings, choose to forgive, and commit to actions of love.  Forgiveness and healing can take TIME, and it can be a process of forgiving and then choosing to continue to forgive. It does not necessarily mean forgetting. It does not mean agreement. It is a choice to let go of the poison.

If you know of situation in which you need help forgiving someone or finding forgiveness, contact our counselors who would love to help you.


*Ready for Love is written by Bernard Gurney, Jr., PhD and Mary Ortwein, MS, LMFT. Ready for Love is part of the Relationship Enhancement (r) Series used by IDEALS therapists.

Marriage Like Mayonnaise? Sure!

     Marriage is actually a lot like mayonnaise.  To make mayonnaise, one begins with oil and acid- two substances that don’t naturally mix.  Marriage is similar. It is often the core differences, what one sees in their partner that they don’t see in themselves, that first attracts them to each other and later causes them distress. Regardless of how hard one tries, oil and acid just won’t stay together until just one egg yoke is added.  One egg yoke contains lecithin, a molecule that has one end that can bond with oil and one end that can bond with an acid.
     Now to make mayonnaise, you can’t just break an egg into the oil and acid mix and “shake it like you just don’t care.” You have to whip the egg yoke with part of the acid and then very slowly, even drop by drop, begin to mix in the oil to form an emulsion. Slowly, two things that don’t go together form something stable and all together different from what ether could have done alone.  Yet, the oil and acid haven’t disappeared, haven’t stopped being who they are.  Instead, the lecithin has enabled the two to be suspended together on a microscopic level.
     Being married and living out that commitment is similar. Slowly mixed through the agitations of life, the two become one. What is the “egg yoke” that can make this alchemy possible?  We believe it is a combination of empathy and communication skills.  If your marriage seems to be more like acid and oil not mixing, our counselors would love to help bring some of the emulsifying skills to help support you as you continue to seek a unique, deep relationship.
-Geoff Whiteman, staff therapist

What Thriving Families Do

No family is perfect, but some families do more than just survive- they thrive!  Research has been done to identify those things that thriving (not perfect) families do. Here are some of them.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

It is so easy today to go along with the fast-paced, ultra-stressed, pulled-in-all-directions way of life.  It is easy to lose focus and let priorities shift. Thriving families put family first.

How to start? Get together and plan an activity. It can be for the whole family or special one-on-one time between parents and children. Make that time something you look forward to or is unique to each child.

Listen First

Each person has a unique perspective. There may be times when you rather than your child are right. For example, you may be right in saying, “You cannot stand in the middle of the street.” They may be wrong in saying, “I can do whatever I want whenever I want to.” However, thriving families make a habit of listening and understanding first. They are willing to have empathy or imagine, “What would it be like to be my partner or child?  How do they see things?” They seek to understand the other fully before trying to get their point across.

How to start? When you ask your family member how their day went, put your own thoughts and feelings on hold while you listen to them. Try to imagine being them as they speak and understand from their perspective.

Go For the Win-Win

No one likes to lose. Often, compromises mean that someone has to lose, at least a little. Work for what would be the best for all involved, even if that means thinking outside the box.

How to start? Think of an issue that your family has been struggling with for a while. Discuss together what would be a win-win for everyone. Be creative in problem-solving as a team.

Enjoy Diversity

One of the things that makes life both difficult and exhilarating is the difference between people, including members of a family.  Thriving families honor the differences and look for ways to celebrate unique parts of each other.

How to start? Take 10 minutes to think about the differences that each person brings to the family table. Write out those differences and how they enhance the family. Decide on a way the family can show appreciation for 1 unique thing about each family member this week.

Becoming a thriving family takes time.  Even if your family system does not look how you would like now, you can put some or even one of these elements into practice.  Make a move towards thriving!

(Adapted from Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families)