Part Two of a two-part series on Forgiveness. Read Part One here.
The reality of life is that it is not a solitary journey. A lot of different people journey with us. This invariably means that we are all bound to get hurt to different degrees at different times. There is no getting away from it. Life, therefore, offers umpteen opportunities to practice forgiveness.
The process of forgiveness can be uncomfortable, complex and difficult in many ways. It can also take time. However, not making any effort to work through the process of forgiveness with people who have hurt or angered us causes negative emotions to linger and operate within us in ways that are corrosive. Someone once likened it to carrying the person through life on your back. So it is well worth the effort when we have to deal with the transgressions from people who are important to us where the hurt, pain and anger is much more.
Communicate with the goal of problem solving and improving interactions.
With relationships that you would like to improve, it is important to get clarity by talking about what troubled you. Stone, Patton and Heen have pointed out some of the crucial factors that have to be incorporated in such a conversation in their best-selling book aptly titled Difficult Conversations. Some important aspects of the conversation include the following:
- Such conversations can trigger anger, sadness and hurt. The emotions can be overwhelming. Be prepared to walk away and take breaks from the conversation when necessary to help you to calm down and continue the conversation.
- Keeping the tone of the conversation respectful is crucial to be able to make any progress and prevent a breakdown of the communication process.
- Communicate at the outset that the main goals are to develop a better understanding, find solutions and improve interactions. Stress that it would be about identifying what each person is contributing to the problem so that modifications can be made to help the relationship. It is important to emphasize that it is not about establishing blame.
- Invite the other person to talk from their perspective about the incident that bothered you. If there is a history of several negative incidents it would be good to pick one or two particularly troubling ones.
- Listen to the other person attentively as he/she talks. Ask questions to clarify. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Acknowledge their pain even if it was caused by you inadvertently.
- If you did something that you know and recognize as wrong, accept responsibility for your actions and apologize honestly. We have all done or said things to hurt someone. Sometimes it may be the result of a genuine misunderstanding. At other times it is because we are hurting or out of other negative but human emotions like resentment and anger. The more self-accepting and forgiving you are to yourself the easier it will be to acknowledge where you have gone wrong. Acknowledging one’s contribution to the problem tends to also make the other person more willing to do the same and helps the “talk” move forward towards resolution and healing
- Share with them next, how their behavior impacted you.
- The final part of the conversation would involve problem solving and jointly coming up with ways to address the concerns and interests of both parties.
- If needed have a neutral person who is interested in helping the process and act as an arbitrator.
Preparing for the talk.
Working through the process of communicating (as outlined in the last section) in your own head would help to act as preparation for actually talking to the person concerned. Writing it all out helps even more. This would involve:
- Identifying what you could be contributing to the problem and what impact your behavior has had on the other person by placing yourself in his/her shoes.
- Hypothesize the different causes for the other person’s behaviors, instead of only going with assumptions of hostility and harm towards you.
- You could also go on to identifying some problem solving actions and changes which both parties could implement.
When you work things out in your head (and put it down on paper) as an initial step, you may sometimes find that you don’t really need to have a talk and all that is needed is to make some changes in your own behavior. This could even be tried as an experiment initially to see if it improves things.
If the communication process does not go well.
What happens if the conversation does not go too well and the other person is not willing to accept or acknowledge their own contribution to the problem? They decide to go on the defensive and blame you despite your best efforts? They’re not even willing to change things in any way for the better?
The only thing that can be done in such a situation would be to accept the person and situation for what it is and to move towards changing the way in which you interact with the person. This may mean setting clear boundaries, limiting interactions or even letting the person go from your life. Acceptance can be difficult and may cause sadness initially, but in the long run it is the path towards making changes that is likely to bring more peace. Having the conversation helps to bring clarity and makes it easier to make changes that are necessary.
Even if the talk doesn’t go too smoothly initially, I have often found that it makes a difference. The conversation may resume later and keep going in fits and starts, in which case the relationship improves in stages. What helps a lot is keeping the tone of the conversation respectful and the lines of communication open. Sometimes there may be no overt acceptance of responsibility for any contribution to the problem, yet a process is set in motion that may manifest as an effort being made to make amends and cause less hurt in future interactions — although the process then takes longer.
Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.
Don’t let your fear of conflicts hold you back from having conversations about interpersonal problems. Sometimes you may need time, space and distance before you feel ready to have the conversation.
If no attempt is made to work on a process of understanding and problem solving — the unresolved problem will fester. You end up thinking about the transgression often which only nurtures the anger and keeps the fire burning. It translates into a low mood and irritability with negative talk both inside your head and without. All of us have met people who complain endlessly about people who have troubled them and yet done nothing about it.
If all goes well, both parties will at some point accept and acknowledge their own contribution to the problem and find ways to improve the relationship. It is this process of communication and finding solutions (including acceptance) that will help release the negative energy and pain. It also teaches people how to treat you. In turn, you learn how to behave with the other person so you have better interactions.