Hello Chris, and thank you for taking the time to reach out for help regarding the distress you are experiencing with the relationships in your life and the hurt that you have experienced at the hands of the women you have been in relationships with. It is completely understandable and normal to be angry and to not feel that you are able to forgive or forget at this moment. This is a very common, and very complex issue that involves many different factors in regards to how to move past them, recover from them, and prevent them from occurring again in the future. I would encourage you to see that anger as another emotion and be able to identify that underlying emotion that is being covered up by the anger as a form of protection and prevention of vulnerability, as anger is a secondary emotion. In saying this I mean that when people say they are "angry," they are most likely, truly, another emotion, such as sad, disappointed, lonely, overwhelmed, embarrassed, hurt, helpless, in pain, frustrated, insecure, grieving, anxious, stressed, threatened, tired, guilty, jealous, scared, and/or ashamed. By identifying the underlying emotion that is being "protected" or "hidden" by the anger, one can reduce the negative impact that the energy it requires to experience "anger" can have on a person and thus have the energy to focus on the solution, rather than the problem, as well as experience a reduction in the intensity of one's emotional experience. That being said, another facet of this issue is learning how to forgive one's self, as well as to forgive others. This is another very difficult concept for many to fully comprehend, let alone implement, in their lives, mostly due to it's not being a singular, single-action but something that needs to be continuously practiced, as well as a misunderstanding of what forgiveness truly is versus what it is not. The term “forgiveness” refers to a person’s conscious decision to give up resentment and any claims for redress from someone who has hurt him or her. Forgiveness is for YOU, not the other person, so that you can live a healthier, happier life. Below is some additional information on Forgiveness:
What Forgiveness Does Mean:
• Canceling the debt- When someone does us wrong, we feel as though they have taken something that belongs to us – our peace, our joy, our happiness – and that they now “owe us.” When we forgive them, we simply release the debt. It’s no longer “you’ve hurt me and you’ve got to pay”. We don’t pretend the debt never existed, we just forgive it. “You no longer owe me anything.” Forgiveness is about OUR healing. It is a way of getting the poison out of our system.
• Unilateral process- Forgiveness is something we do on our own. The other person does not need to cooperate or even be aware of it. Forgiveness does not depend on what the other person does or doesn’t do.
• Involves “letting go”- Forgiveness involves working through the feelings of what occurred and giving validity to “the loss.” It is a process that involves freeing ourselves from the emotional effects of what was done to us, getting free of the hurt, bitterness, and resentment. The number of times someone hurt us or whether they deserve forgiveness is not the issue. To forgive literally means “to give up”—to give up hatred, revenge, punishment. Our motive is to move our lives past bitter obsession. When we have truly completed the process of forgiveness, what happened between us and the other person is no longer a “live” issue in the way we think of or relate to the person, or in the way we live our lives. Signs of genuine forgiveness include:
• The ability to use anger constructively. We can use anger to initiate and sustain constructive activity (stop injustice, protect self, engage in conflict resolution). We are no longer controlled by anger or fearful of its expression.
• An increase in more neutral or genuine positive attitudes, especially toward the person forgiven. Greater life capacity to give and receive love, and experience gratitude.
• An ability to ask for forgiveness from others and to give forgiveness, even when the other refuses to forgive.
What Forgiveness Does Not Mean:
• NOT forgetting We all know the old adage, “Forgive and forget”. However, forgiving someone does not mean we forget the wrong that the person did. Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. For example, what would happen if you burned your fingers on the stove, and you forgot that hurt? Remembering the pain helps us to not let the event be repeated. An important part of forgiveness is remembering and dealing with what has happened. The pain inflicted will probably never be forgotten. Forgiveness allows us to put the pain in a place where it doesn’t continue to hurt us.
• NOT condoning the person’s behavior By forgiving, we are not saying that what they did was acceptable or unimportant, or “not so bad”. It was bad, it did hurt, and it was wrong. We are not declaring the offender “not guilty” or absolving the person of the wrong. We do not need to justify or explain the other person’s behavior. Forgiving does not mean removing responsibility for what the person has done. There is nothing about genuine forgiveness that precludes holding people accountable for their actions.
• NOT reconciliation Forgiveness does not mean we have to meet face-to-face with the person who wronged us. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different processes. The forgiveness we do by ourselves. Reconciliation requires the other person’s participation.
• NOT self-sacrifice Forgiveness is not swallowing our true feelings and playing the martyr or saying it’s all right in spite of the pain. It is not gritting our teeth and tolerating those who hurt us, or using the “grin and bear it” approach. Self-sacrifice makes life less joyful and more difficult.
• NOT a clear-cut, one-time decision Forgiveness cannot be forced, and it is a process. Researchers now look at forgiveness and unforgiveness as two ends of a continuum, with a person moving, often not in a linear fashion, between unforgiveness and forgiveness over time. There is also a new concept of “not forgiving”, which is a conscious decision to withhold forgiveness. Sometimes what people really need is permission not to forgive, to feel what they feel. It is important to be at peace with a decision to not forgive, and not let the hurt continue to disrupt our lives.
STEPS TO FORGIVENESS
1. Recognize the injury. Whom do you need to forgive? Writing a list is helpful. How have they hurt or injured you? Describe what happened. Writing out all the details helps bring the hurt to the surface, and helps you see that, no matter how horrible or extensive the offense, it does have a boundary and is not limitless.
2. Identify the emotions and feelings involved. List the feelings you have about what happened. For example: “I am afraid to look at this because...” or “It made me furious when...” or “I felt resentful/damaged/bitter.” This can be difficult if feelings have been buried or stuffed down for a long time. Try writing and just letting your thoughts flow onto paper.
3. Express your hurt and anger. Reaching genuine forgiveness almost always includes working through anger. Frequently, underneath anger are feelings of hurt. Anger that is left unresolved takes root and produces bitterness and resentment. Anger is not inherently good or bad, right or wrong. Anger is merely a fact of life. Healthy anger drives us to do something to change what makes us angry. Anger can energize us to make things better. Hate wants to make things worse. It may be important to find a trusted friend, counselor, or religious community leader who can help work through the feelings. Be sure to choose someone who is nonjudgmental and is willing to just listen.
4. Set boundaries to protect yourself. This is a way to possibly avoid additional hurts. Boundaries are limits. For example: “I will listen to what my mother tells me to do, but I won’t allow myself to feel that I have to do what she says.” Or, physically stay away from a particular family member for a time or for good.
5. Decide to forgive. This is deciding that what you have been doing has not worked and been willing to begin the forgiveness process. Choosing to forgive is about healing your own feelings. It has nothing to do with what the other person does or does not do.
6. Work on forgiveness – cancel the debt. Work toward empathy, understanding, and compassion for the offender. See the person who, like you, is part of humanity on this earth. Acknowledge your pain and let it be. Let go of the emotional IOUs.
7. Commit to forgive. Take your list of injuries and burn or bury them. Write a letter to the offender, detailing the issue and your feelings, write “Cancelled” across it, and destroy it without sending it. Make up a forgiveness certificate (for your personal use, not to be given to the offender!) and post it where you will see it every day. Such actions leave us with the memory of a definite time when we tangibly and concretely canceled the debt.
8. Hold on to forgiveness and discover your release from emotional prison. If grudge or resentment thoughts about the issue and person in question surface, remind yourself that you have forgiven him or her. Discover your own need for forgiveness. These steps work for forgiving yourself, too. Discover the freedom of forgiveness. Decide whether or not reconciliation is wanted or possible. When seeking reconciliation, the goal cannot be to restore the relationship to where it was before----- the offense has changed it permanently. A new way of relating will need to be developed.
The most important step in this "forgiveness process," in my opinion, is the setting of boundaries. For yourself, and for others. Here are a few tips to help you get started establishing boundaries with the people in your life: 1) Communicate your thoughts with one another. Be honest, but respectful when sharing your thoughts and feelings with others. It’s totally normal and okay to need time to gather your thoughts and feelings, but don’t use that approach to avoid the conversation. 2) Never assume or guess others’ feelings. Making assumptions can create a lot of misunderstandings in a relationship. You may feel like you know the other person very well that you feel you’re entitled to assume what they want or need without asking them, but it is always your best bet to ask rather than assume. 3) Follow through on what you say. Setting boundaries and not executing them lets the other person think they have an excuse to continue to overstep your boundaries. You shouldn’t make any exceptions to your own boundaries without careful consideration because you may soon find yourself on compromising things that aren't acceptable to you. 4) Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of immediately blaming the other person for the situation or how you’re feeling, take a step back and think about the choices you’ve made in the relationship and see if they may have contributed to the situation. Both individuals should be doing this! and 5) Know when it’s time to move on. You can only share how you desire to be treated in the relationship, and you can’t be responsible for the other person’s feelings or communication. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and fairness. If the other person can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to end the relationship. Setting and establishing healthy boundaries is a skill, and it takes time! Remember, healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you trust your instincts, be open, and practice with the people in your life, the relationships will only get stronger over time. I hope you found this information to be helpful and please don't hesitate to reach out with any further questions. I wish you all the best!