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Forgiveness Can’t Be Forced

Forgiveness, like Nature, can't be forcedI’m at the self-checkout at the grocery store with my partner, Mike. He passes our rewards card in front of the scanner, and an electronic female voice addresses us.

“Welcome, Valued Customer,” she intones, with all the warmth an industrial recording can muster.

Mike is disgusted. “Do they really think they can manipulate us with that ‘valued customer’ crap?” He looks at me, expecting agreement.

I look back at him sheepishly. “Uh …  That makes me feel … um … like a valued customer,” I admit.

He shakes his head in mild exasperation at my ignorance, then turns his attention to scanning a sticker-less potato.

There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing

I’m very easy to manipulate. There’s no question about it. I don’t even mind being manipulated, as long as it works.

The “valued  customer” message works on me because it communicates appreciation for my business. I know it’s just a simulation that’s supposed to make me feel appreciated, but somewhere back there in the decision-making chain, gosh darn it, someone cared enough to create that simulation.

I know. I’m a pushover.

My easy-going relationship with the “Welcome, Valued Customer” lady doesn’t extend to all simulations. Here are three “fakes” I just can’t buy in to.

1. Using My Name

Somehow researchers concluded that we like to hear the sound of our own names. So what was done with that information? Salespeople were trained to “fake it till you make it,” “it” being a personal relationship with the customer that’s supposed to make us want to buy stuff from them.

Telemarketers are fond of asking me, “How are you doing today, Tina?” Sometimes I’ll go along with the “We’re pals” theme and offer them an extended (fictional) monologue about my day. Ironically, the more I confide in my new friends, the sooner they want to get off the phone with me.

Not even the “Welcome, Valued Customer” lady uses my first name. I wouldn’t want her to.

2. Mirroring

Again, those hard-working researchers discovered that when two people are really engaged and enjoying a conversation, they unconsciously mirror each other’s body language. E.g., you cross your legs and lean left, and without realizing it, I cross my legs and lean right to match you.

This mirroring seems to imply connection. Knowing this, some people (particularly  NLP aficionados) believe in consciously mirroring others in order to foster connection. This actually happened to me on a blind date once. It was so obvious that it was distracting, and I told him so. You may be surprised to hear this, but there was no second date.

Simulating what  happens when people are actually connecting with each other doesn’t create connection for me. It creates a weird, empty simulation that’s about as genuine as my degree in theoretical nuclear astrophysics.

3: Forcing Forgiveness on Yourself or Others

Real forgiveness signals an end to emotional suffering; it involves relief and peace. But trying to forgive before you’ve fully experienced the pain is nothing more than a simulation.

As in the other examples, forcing forgiveness means faking a process that occurs spontaneously when Nature is allowed to take its course. True forgiveness is more than just the official release of a grudge; it’s an honest-to-goodness emotion all by itself. It feels good in a way that a policy of forgiveness never can.

How to Forgive?

The best way to invite good feelings into your awareness — like connection, love, peace, forgiveness, etc. — is to embrace all your emotions, including the unpleasant ones. That way, instead of making do with a cardboard cut-out of a lovely feeling, you can have the real thing.

You can decide *not* to press charges, you can resume communicating, you can even speak well of the person who hurt you… but those are behaviors, not feelings.

Forgiveness is a feeling. And you cannot choose how you feel.

If you disagree with that last statement, go ahead and feel something right now, on cue. Since you can. I recommend sheer bliss!

There’s only one path to the release of forgiveness, and it can be summed up in three steps. All are internal, invisible, and private.

1. Recognize that although you may be feeling bad about what happened to you, YOU yourself are still good;

2. Fully feel the pain of the injury or offense — know what you have lost, and remember that you’re a good person who doesn’t deserve what happened; but it did happen, and you got hurt.

3. Repeat Steps 1. and 2. until the bad feelings are gone. Tears are a common and  harmless byproduct of this process.

Forgiveness is what will be left  over when you’re done.

How long will it take? All I know for sure is that a) forgiveness will take longer if you try to force it, and b) if you let yourself wallow in what you really feel, with self-compassion, you’ll minimize the time it will take.

At this point, I think there’s only one thing left to say: “Thank you, Valued Reader!”

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Forgiveness Can’t Be Forced"

  • bookishheather
    September 23, 2012 - 4:33 pm Reply

    A professional organizer I follow attended a lecture, and posted a link online this morning about the lector’s approach to forgiveness:
    http://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/

    It reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, called “Forgiving Dr. Mengele.” It follows one woman’s journey to forgive the Nazis for testing on her and her twin sister at Auschwitz. She was the sole survivor of her entire family.

    I never really understood the woman’s forgiveness in the movie, and I don’t really understand the concept of forgiveness in the link. I have a very different perception of what it means to forgive. To me, forgiving means everything is A-OK, no harm done, any hurt or ill will is gone, that sort of thing. Unless the offense is quite minor, there is usually some reconciliation involved to get there.

    Personally speaking, I appreciate your definition of forgiveness more—acknowledging that it can be a very long, difficult process. Their “forgiveness” seems to encourage people to cover up a hurt prematurely. I think it is possible to move on in a positive way (as the link seems to be encouraging) and still acknowledge that you’re hurting. Personally, I’ve found that hurt has influenced decisions I made which then led me to that more positive life afterward.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 24, 2012 - 12:28 pm Reply

      Bookishheather, it seems to me that your comment brings together the best of both camps. You made the point that it’s possible to move on in a positive way and still acknowledge that you’re hurting. I agree.

      Putting some energy into getting your needs met elsewhere while you’re grieving, as the speaker suggested, seems like a healthy thing to do; it allows you to express care and concern for yourself. Self-compassion is a potent tool for healing.

      Thanks very much for sharing the link and your thoughts about it. Also for creating a bridge between these two different takes on a popular theme.

  • Terry
    May 4, 2014 - 8:55 am Reply

    You’re amazing, Tina. Such a deeper, very exceptional explanation of forgiveness, unlike the typical “pat explanations”. Your perspectives make it easier to understand what human, natural process that occurs, allowing one to have their natural feelings.
    Thank you. ….are you making presentations at these events, listed; Mpls, Vancouver, other various places?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 4, 2014 - 11:49 am Reply

      Thank you for your enthusiasm, Terry; it’s gratifying when a post resonates with a reader in this way.

      Yes, except when I’m at a Barnes & Noble (those will be simply book signings), I’ll be speaking at each bookstore I visit. You can view the tour schedule on my calendar page.

      Thanks for your interest, and again for sharing your thoughts.

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