Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. It’s not the same as justice or vengeance. So what on earth is it? After years of personal struggle with an unforgiving heart, Dr. Fred Luskin knew something had to change. Today, he serves as the Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, and author of several books on forgiveness. Join us as Dr. Luskin explores the meaning of forgiveness, and explains how to develop it as a skill, take back your power, and restore your physical health.
The first question I have for you, you built a career around discovering the importance of forgiveness and living a healthy, wholehearted life. But I'm sure, like most of us, you probably weren't born thinking about forgiveness in the same terms that you think about it today.
So before you got into actually researching forgiveness and writing books about it, what did you believe that it was?
Oh that's a really interesting question... I don't even think it was important to me for much of my life. One of the reasons I got into the study of forgiveness was that it was so difficult for me. My guess was that forgiveness was not high on my list of things to be concerned about.
One particular instance, where a close friend betrayed me... I was upset at him for years. It was in the midst of that, that I realized I had a real problem here. That there is something just not good about not being able to get over something and being stuck in it for so long.
How has that understanding of forgiveness changed for you over the years?
In so many ways. Probably the biggest way that is has changed for me, I am now so aware of how the human mind finds enemies to explain it's suffering. Rather than looking at itself or it's processes to try to ease suffering, we find reasons outside of ourselves to blame for our unhappiness.
Unforgiveness is that quality of being stuck with a mind that has found a problem, but can't solve it.
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So what do you think the most self-destructive misunderstanding about forgiveness is? I know there are a lot of misconceptions out there, but what do you think is the biggest offender doing the most harm to people?
That forgiveness somehow lets somebody off the hook. That if I forgive them I'm somehow condoning their bad behavior.
The biggest obstacles to forgiveness, is that people have no idea what it is. They think that if they forgive, then they have to go home and have thanksgiving with dad who is horrendous. Or that if they forgive then they can't sue somebody. Or if they forgive that they are required to think that somebody did something that was OK. Those are all very different things.
If your husband or wife owes you child support. You can forgive them and still go back in front of the judge and say that they didn't pay their child support. That the forgiveness piece is not the justice piece, they are different.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. It doesn't mean you need to go make nice to them.
What it means is that in your heart you are clean, and you are no longer blaming them for problems in your life. You are just choosing to release the bitterness that I have created in me, to just take care of my life.
One concept you stress a lot, is that forgiveness is for you and nobody else. That's not necessarily what they teach you in school, it's more like, "wait until someone earns your forgiveness, then give it to them like a gift." But what you're saying is pretty opposite, so can you explain that a little?
Well... Not everyone wants to be forgiven, first of all. Secondly, many people that one might think they need to forgive, don't think they've done anything wrong.
There are all sorts of relationships, where people disagree with what's right. Where both sides feel grief. Where both sides feel the other was terrible.
When you offer forgiveness to someone, it's not necessarily that they are buying what you offer. But you do it because it frees yourself from a prison that you have created.
I mean, when you're hurt about anything, it destabilizes our sense of fairness and right and wrong, it disturbs our homeostatic balance very very much. And so the grief experience, is the experience of re-stabilizing.
When you don't forgive everything, mind & body are disrupted. And so that's giving the offender huge power over us. Forgiveness, actually is taking our power back and that's what people don't grasp.
[This was only an excerpt. Listen to the full podcast above]