Fred Luskin Discusses the Power of Forgiveness, Shares Forgiving Practices
Forgiveness is the ultimate resolution of unwanted loss and grief. The power of forgiveness was the theme of a talk by Fred Luskin, PhD, in a powerful session at the Phoenix Society’s 2013 World Burn Congress. A leading teacher and researcher on the topic of forgiveness, Fred also provided guidance for basic forgiving practices.
Fred acknowledged that life has so many ways to disappoint and even seriously hurt us. He explained that research and clinical examples clearly demonstrate that those who can forgive fare better both physically and emotionally than those who don’t. His discussion addressed forgiveness of self, forgiveness of others, and forgiveness of God (nature) as a helpful means of dealing with suffering and traumatic events.
During his talk, Fred covered several key points about suffering—and recognition of self in the process of suffering. Fred stressed the understanding of suffering within the human experience. “Is my suffering really unique? Or is it just my flavor?” he asked. “And don’t we all try to make our own the worst flavor? Or rather, is it really a part of the human suffering of being part of this earth?”
Fred then described the vast communication networks within the neurological systems of the brain, saying, “The survival portion of the brain (to protect yourself) is like an 8-lane super highway. Your brain is designed to make certain that any information or circumstances that are threatening to us can be delivered to the brain instantly—no matter what—to protect us.” He then explained that “the left-hemisphere of the brain is designed to keep us alive—to survive—not to keep us happy.” The “fight or flight function” is such a primitive function of the brain that other functions, such as being happy, require practice.
“However,” he explained, “the portion of the brain that provides information that makes us happy is less direct—almost a bumpy road. Therefore, we need to practice being happy. The more we practice, the more the brain recognizes that route.”
Fred led the entire group through an exercise of “quieting down” the information being processed through a set of breathing and inner focus techniques. He explained that the practice of being happy needed to be done in conjunction with quieting down the defensive communications in the brain.
“Open the pathways of good stuff,” he suggested, “flowers you stop and smell, stars that we gaze at, things that are wonderful, so your brain can grow positive pathways.”
In summary, he directed attendees to take charge of their own stories and to move from a grievance story to a story of forgiveness and the heroic choice of moving forward. He advised the audience to “put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met, rather than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.”
It was a powerful session that provided motivation and hope for many Congress attendees on their journey to recovery.
9 Steps to Forgiveness
Fred Luskin shares the following “9 Steps to Forgiveness,” which can also be found in his best-selling book, Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness:
- Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a couple of trusted people about your experience.
- Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. No one else even has to know about your decision.
- Understand your goal. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that upset you or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace.
- Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you 2 minutes—or 10 years—ago.
- At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management techniques to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
- Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, friendship, and prosperity and work hard to get them. However, you will suffer when you demand these things occur when you do not have the power to make them happen.
- Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.
- Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you.
- Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive. Move from victim to hero in the story that you tell.
Fred Luskin, PhD, teaches people all over the world to forgive. He directs the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and is the author of the best-selling Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002).