Forgiveness is a process that includes several steps along the way. The first step is to Examine the Hurt. In previous blogs we have discussed what we forgive, what we don’t forgive and the different types of hurt. These are all part of the process of examining the hurt. We have to identify the offending behavior, evaluate if it is sin, and categorize the hurt. As we do this, it is important to examine our emotions.
Emotions, especially anger, are a barometer for what is going on inside us. They give us clues about what we are thinking and believing because our feelings are produced by our thoughts and our thoughts stem from our core beliefs. If we are believing negative things about ourselves, we will think negative thoughts. We will feel negative emotions and then behave in ways that correspond to those emotions. If we are believing positive things about ourselves, we will think positive thoughts. We will then feel positive emotions and behave in positive ways. For example, if a friend cancels plans for the evening, you might think, “No one really likes me,” which is a result of your core belief “I don’t matter.” You start feeling rejected and depressed. Then you start to isolate, which, in your mind, confirms your belief. However, if you have a core belief, “I DO matter,” you will think positively when the friend cancels plans, and the result can be very different. Suppose your thoughts were, “That’s too bad, but I have other friends,” the feelings might include some sadness but also hope that someone else may be available. The behavior that follows might be phone calls or texts to see if someone else can join you for the evening.
A great way to figure out what you are thinking is to do a Daily Mood Log, created by Dr. David Burns. (Check out the log and an example here.) It is kind of like a journaling exercise but instead of writing all the details of the event, you write a brief summary of the event. The main focus is to figure out your internal processing of the event. The next step is to identify your emotions, which are listed in groups, and to rate how strongly you feel those emotions. The next step is to identify your negative thoughts. If you don’t know your negative thoughts, complete the sentence: I feel ____________ (one of your identified emotions) because _______________. Whatever comes after “because” is your negative thought. There may be more than one negative thought for each negative emotion. After identifying your negative thoughts, rate how strongly you believe those negative thoughts. Then identify the cognitive distortion(s), which are ways our thinking can get twisted, as they relate to our negative thoughts. They are listed at the bottom of the Daily Mood Log. Seeing how our thoughts are distorted helps us to let go of the negative thoughts and begin to look for more positive thoughts. (Positive thoughts are not necessarily warm, happy feeling thoughts. They are thoughts that are true, rational and realistic.) After identifying the cognitive distortions, try to identify positive thoughts to combat each negative thought. In order to do this, you must believe your positive thought more strongly than you believe your negative thought. After listing your positive thoughts, rate how strongly you believe your negative thoughts and how strongly you feel your negative emotions. If the rating has decreased, you are making progress.
Our level of feeling offended has more to do with what we believe about ourselves than it does the actual offense. The more positively we think about ourselves, the easier it is to let go and forgive. So try doing your own Daily Mood Log on your most recent offense.