הסליחה הוכחה כמפחיתה כעס, כאב, דיכאון ומתח ומובילה לתחושות של אופטימיות, תקווה, חמלה וביטחון עצמי. עבודתו של ד״ר לוסקין יושמה ונחקרה בהצלחה במסגרות ארגוניות, רפואיות, משפטיות ודתיות
Fred Luskin, Ph.D., is the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, a senior consultant in health promotion at Stanford University, and a professor at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, as well as an affiliate faculty member of the Greater Good Science Center. He is the author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (Harper, San Francisco, 2001) and Stress Free for Good: Ten Proven Life Skills for Health and Happiness (Harper, San Francisco, 2005), with Kenneth Pelletier, Ph.D.
Dr. Luskin presents lectures, workshops, seminars and trainings on the importance, health benefits and training of forgiveness, stress management and emotional competence throughout the United States. Dr. Luskin and other's research has confirmed the virtues of forgiveness in the promotion of psychological, relationship and physical health. Forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress and lead to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self-confidence. Dr. Luskin's work has been successfully applied and researched in corporate, medical, legal and religious settings.
Dr. Luskin, what lead you to engage with the subject of “forgiveness”?
As a Jew who was born in New York and grew up with generations of Jews who fled Russia a 100 years ago, some of the inspiration for the work that I did came from having parents who were anti-German, because of the Holocaust. I knew that it was unfathomable what people did to the Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Europe - I mean unfathomable and horrifying. As I grew up, I realized that the world could be an incredibly horrid place and that for no obvious reason - people are mistreated unfathomably! But I also came to understand that as human beings, both individually and tribally, we need some statute of limitations. After generations, we need some detachment from the perpetrators. That’s what I couldn't articulate growing up. Did the Germans and the Austrians and the Poles mistreat Jews? Of course. But when does the identification with that stop? With this generation, the next generation, the generation after that?
First, I didn't have the skills, and second, I realized that there had to be some kind of spiritual power. I am semi secular as a person, but I really respect and understand that there is intelligence way beyond mine, and so there had to be some information, data awareness that wasn't just rooted in the individual grievance or the group grievance but was a method of healing. Again, I couldn’t articulate this to my mother or my father or my aunts, but it was always in me and so that's one reason in terms of the work I do.
In addition, I have practiced meditation since college, and I know personally, but have also having studied this field, that there is a way to attain some degree of peace around your own life. The realization that, yes Jews and blacks and untold numbers of people have been horribly treated, and the world has used Jews all over the place as scape goats - but that’s not the only reality – is important. There is also an inner release of that that comes from maybe something spiritual or maybe a higher kind of awareness. About 25-30 years ago, I started to recognize that I was interested in the interface between that suffering, which is legitimate, and the possibility of a higher-order integration that stops the suffering. So I started to practice and teach and research the interface which is forgiveness, but we teach it from a secular point of view. You can teach people anything from a secular point of view or a religious point of view. I believe that it is the same thing, just from a different source of affirmation. So that that has been my reason for doing the work that I do- so that people can grasp the different way of holding their woundedness, their sufferings and even their grievances.
Since you mentioned with the Holocaust, I was wondering: if it is possible to use this practice when you're using it between two people, can you use it also with groups and a collective memory? How do we forgive as a collective? Is it possible?
It’s possible, we have done small amounts of it.
Years ago I did so many trainings for mediators like this. I gave a keynote address maybe a decade ago to the American Bar Association alternative dispute resolution section on forgiveness. Mediation or dispute resolution without some infusion of forgiveness is some degree of malpractice. You can't force it, but it's also part of the purpose of this process – understanding that dispute resolution doesn't really end until people don’t identify themselves as a victim, so that disengagement of victim status should be part of all of dispute resolution. Yet some people are simply incapable of that, and some people are too rooted in their identity as an aggrieved person to work through that. But I believe that to not have that as a part of the menu sells the whole process short. It's very tricky because with group stuff, that tribal identity often is more important to people than their own personal wellbeing, and so it becomes really weird - people do really weird and dangerous things for the good of their troop or the good of their tribe. Individually I think it can be framed as “the only real revenge is a life well lived.”
I would think that part of a mediation’s framing would be a successful resolution of this means – realizing that you don't have to think of each other in this way. We are not just resolving the external conflict or disagreement, we want to also resolve your holding of each other as the problem rather than all of us trying to resolve the problem. That would be my long-winded answer.
I heard in one of your interviews that you had said that you were hurt by somebody really close and it affected you and gave you motivation for the research. Did you forgive this person eventually?
Oh yes, I did.
Second: How did this affect you? How long did it take you to reach that place and to be after the process of forgiveness?
I will tell you something interesting, because that person is a close friend now and there is zero energy at all about what happened. I forgave them before we got back together, so the forgiveness process was internal and it was a process out of desperation because my life didn’t work.
I was just bitter and frustrated and the world didn’t’ feel safe anymore, it was just horrible. But I released that and I released his power over me. Then we reconciled. The forgiveness came first internally and by the time, I saw him I didn’t need to talk about it much because I was at peace, and even deeper than that and more frightening than that - I saw how much of my suffering I had caused and how little of my suffering he had caused - and that was not pretty. It was like “Fred – you didn’t shepherd your own life very well.” He did a not so good thing, no doubt about it and then you made it ten times worse. That’s the other piece of why forgiveness is helpful to people – because otherwise, people can take difficult life events and then make them so much worse [by not forgiving].
So why is it so hard for people to forgive? We know that it would make our lives much easier if we just forgive, yet we still find it so difficult to do so.
I don’t believe that people think that their life would be so much better if they forgive, because if they believed that then they would forgive much quicker. People do what they believe. What they are telling you when they don’t forgive is that holding the bitterness will keep them safe. People don’t lie with their actions, they lie with their words. So what most of us are experimenting with is that since life is difficult, and since every one of us has suffered at the hands of other people, and we have caused other people to suffer, it’s a bi directional thing. We are all experimenting what to do with it and for many people, holding some type of resistance to that makes them feel safer: they are on guard, they will never be sideswiped again. This is something which they are telling themselves. When you forgive, you recognize that there is a different kind of safety, which comes with not holding on and amplifying the bitterness. It involves offering the world a little more trust, and also having a little more trust in yourself that you can be hurt and go through it. So it’s a different kind of safety and different kinds of people choose different kinds of safeties - but we are all looking to be safe.
When would you say it is easier forgive, when we are more mature and have more life experience, or when we are younger? When is it easier for us to learn to trust again?
Generally, people do become more forgiving when they get older, also because you have had so many experiences of people being “crappy,” you recognize that you can’t just hold on to it all, and mortality makes it seem stupid to hold onto the past: if you will be dead in 8 years, what are you holding onto? But you said the word trust and that’s a crucial part of this. When you teach forgiveness or when you look at forgiveness what you’re saying is: ”I need to trust myself to heal, to be able to hold suffering“ and let’s say to be magnanimous. When you look only to trust other peoples’ behavior before you’re safe, you feel very vulnerable. If you have a partner and you spend every day worried that they are going to have an affair, then their behavior owns you. If, instead, you think to yourself that unless they show you the contrary, we’re together and I am going to trust them, and if they do have an affair I have the same belief that I can deal with it - that is a much more emotionally healthy and available place. People that don’t have any faith that they can believe in, people who don’t believe that they can help themselves, are very vulnerable and dependent on their partners’ behavior. It makes them much more anxious and it makes them much more hostile when the behavior isn’t what they want. But that is true for all of life. People who can forgive stuff develop a kind of trust that they don’t have to be quite as guarded and defensive and hostile. It is a process that we are all experimenting with. There is no definitive answer. Many of us will have been savaged by life, and then we practice letting that go and healing. And then we get this understanding that “Wow! There is a resource in me that can deal with this!” And that makes us stronger.
Is that related to a person’s level of self-confidence? Are more self-confident people able to forgive more easily?
We all misuse the word trust because you can never fully trust someone else to have your best interests at heart. You must trust that other people will have their best interest at heart, and you are going to be better able to have them behave well towards you if you behaved well towards them. But they are going to be focused mostly on their self-interests just like you are going to be mostly focused on your self-interests. The more kindness there is, the more likely the self-interests will align - so when somebody says I can’t trust somebody again, in fact, they never could fully trust them in the past either, and this has shown them that, but they don’t know what to do with that, so they think being hostile or defensive will keep them safe. But being hostile or defensive will actually make it less likely that the other person will relax and behave differently. Again, though, this is the safety factor, and we are very vulnerable in this world, and we all struggle with that.
How do you define “forgiveness”? Could you clarify the difference between forgiving oneself and forgiving others?
Forgiving is making peace when you didn’t get what you want. That’s all it is. When you disappointed yourself because you didn’t get what you wanted, when your partner disappoints you, when your parents disappoint you, when your group disappoints you… it’s acknowledging that disappointment and taking action sometimes. But it’s making peace with the fact that you were disappointed or hurt or abandoned, or whatever it is - it’s returning to equilibrium.
Is it possible to predict from a young age which child will have a tendency to forgive and which child will have a tendency to feel victimized? Or are there any character traits to look for in child that will tell us the child future tendency?
You can see very clearly how children react by throwing a hissy fit because they didn’t get what they want. You see lots of adults throwing a hissy fit because they didn’t get what they want, and when you come down from the hissy fit and let it go – well, that’s forgiveness! That’s reality, but the hissy fit that we all throw, that’s what forgiveness works on. The one quality that researchers have shown that really matters, a bi directionally quality that really matters, is some degree of narcissism, or how self-centered you are.
The less empathy you have, the harder forgiveness is, so if you are all about a “me” person, you don’t forgive much at all. If you have less narcissism and more empathy for other people’s suffering, then of course you forgive more.
The other quality that has been linked to the ability to forgive is gratitude. The more grateful you are, the more you are able to balance the painful things in life with the good things in life, and you move on much more readily. The people who are weak in gratitude, who don’t notice the good and only notice the bad – those people really struggle with forgiveness.
You know the saying, “time heals all wounds.” Do you believe that it is really necessary to train ourselves to forgive, and would it be better to simply let time heal?
Time is useful in a lot of things, and for many of us, time makes you look back and say: ”What was I so upset about? I can’t even remember…” But for other things when the grievance is really ingrained, I think time doesn’t have an impact at all. Look at the issue Israel has with the Palestinians, for instance. Time is not making that any better. I did work with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and sometimes it really depends how the grievance is fed. How much you keep saying how evil they are, how much you keep reminding yourself about things they did. That makes it impossible for time to heal it.
One of the narratives mentioned when the Holocaust is discussed, is to forgive but never forget. We are not allowed to forget the event we call the Holocaust, so is it possible at all to forgive somebody without forgetting what they did?
It’s a wrong proposition. You don’t want to forget, but what you want to do is remember it differently. When people say that they want to keep carrying the grievance and the victimhood, they have not forgiven. But to tell somebody whose family was wiped out or that their home was destroyed to forget - that in its self is an atrocity. But there are different ways of remembering.
Dr. Luskin guided me through a meditation exercise to feel the power of forgiveness. The short exercise expanded and warmed my heart. “That” said Dr. Luskin, “is where forgiveness lives. You have the capacity to bring love, forgiveness, kindness, to you, and then you don’t need the bitterness quite as much. If you remember that space in you, let’s say you and your partner had a fight but if you do what I said and relaxed a moment, then you don’t want to do this to your partner. That is what we have available in us, if we want to find it.”
Do you mean we should be writing a new narrative to this story?
That’s correct. I am not telling you that this is easy, but you can remember that as one side of a bad situation, you can only remember it from that side. That’s not a kind of remembering that is going to help that much. But if you remember that we have been in conflict, we have been combatants and we haven’t figured out how to heal it, then that kind of remembering doesn’t bring the same kind of bitterness. What forgiveness tries to do is to put a little “pixie dust” on the remembering, but you never want to forget. There are lessons in memory, even just remembering how cruel human beings can be to other human beings, if you take out just your tribal identity, it should spur people to be doing everything they can to make sure they don’t participate in that, so you want to remember it. Here in the United States, with renewed emphasis on how black people are treated, for everyone’s memory so to speak, it’s a good reminder how badly we behaved. It doesn’t mean that we have to have contempt for people now, due to the behaviors a hundred and fifty years ago, but if you don’t remember them, then you lose the wisdom that you can get from that experience. And if you are not careful, it could happen again, and that’s part of the wisdom in “never again.” If we are not careful… But it isn’t just our little group, it’s the human species, so that is the key aspect of forgiveness: transmuting the memory, not forgetting.
Could you share with us the various methods you use, while working as a couples’ counselor? How do you really help them to forgive each other?
It depends on if they are willing. I always recommend a brief meditation session to get them to center and to remind them that when you are angry, the thinking part of your brain has shut off.
You can’t do creative critical thinking in that state, it is impossible. So you want to quiet then down and remind them that this is your brain in normal and angry is your brain filled with adrenaline. They are both useful, but adrenaline is what the brain releases when you are threatened, and normal is what you do when you want to resolve conflicts. So you go back and forth depending on the situation, but they have to know that inside them, there is a choice. That’s one option to solve conflicts.
Second is that every couple should be taught the basics of CBT. Your anger is not just from what they did but from what you tell yourself, and you could give a quick lesson in 5 minutes, like the example of driving along on the freeway and someone cuts you of and almost kills you, and you give them the finger and some one tells you they are on their way to the hospital. You may not like it but you are thinking differently about it. Every couple should have some brief training in emotions follow thoughts.
The last piece of advice is what we talked about before: you want to be careful about the story that you are constructing. Do you want to come out of this experience hating your ex, with a story that they were terrible? Or do you want to come out of this with a story of “we screwed up our marriage, but we survived and we are creating a future where we don’t hurt each other.”
But those are all under their control and you may have to give them very basic psychological skills, and it doesn’t mean you spend an hour working on them, but those are thematics that anybody can grasp.
One more thing: Stephen Covey has a practice that at the beginning of something he asks people to stop and think where they want to end up. His second habit is start with the end in mind.
We will be celebrating Yom Kippur in a few days. What would you recommend people do to make Yom Kippur effective for them, and perhaps easier for them.
I think Yom Kippur is a very powerful holiday and the most important part about it is that it normalizes the fact we harm others and ourselves. If you honestly look at your own behavior and see where you have missed the mark, and you try in any way you can to make amends to G-d or to people, you become a better person. You become more humble, more sincere and if you really do it you become less defensive. It can be presented as a practice of great mental health. Normalizing it is really important. This is good human practice, and if you actually do it, your relationships will benefit.
Even though it is only once a year? Despite that Catholics go to receive forgiveness for a few minutes every week?
Yom Kippur is different to the Catholics who might go to their priest once a month for a few minutes. On Yom Kippur, you are not eating for 25 hours, not doing any of the things that you would normally do which distract you – that’s a pretty deep dive. It’s a ritual yes, and you could say that 364 days I am an idiot but if you really, really look at your behavior and probably start with the people you love - you will have sincere regret and sincere desire to do better. So it may be once a year, but if you grow up in that tradition, and you have started doing that since the age of 12 or 13, and you are 40 years of age, that is a powerful practice, if you actually do it. I also don’t believe that the Jewish tradition is that you observe Yom Kippur once a year and that gives you a license to behave any way that you want all the other days. It does not. It is a very pro social phase, but that one day, looking at yourself honestly in the eye, is not like going to a priest and having them absolve you. This is you looking yourself in the eye and if over the years you get more honest with yourself, then the process gets deeper, so I think it a wonderful process.
Is there something you would like to share with us mediators, a tip, some advice?
One, I think you have to have some psychological understanding to do mediation. It can’t just be legal – I don’t believe that’s enough for mediation.
Two, you need to practice on yourself so whatever it is you want your participants to do, you must practice this In your life. Otherwise, they won’t trust you, because they know you are not sincere. If you have a mediation with a couple and you bring some of your experience and you tell them the process you went through of not talking with your partner for a month, and really hating each other and that now you are past it, and that you’re are nor burdened anymore with what he did - you bring that with you. One of the biggest obstacles people have teaching other people aspirational things is that they don’t do them, they lack a personal conviction. I know having really painful experiences, I know the difference between what it feels like to forgive or not forgive, and I don’t wish not-forgiving on people in the long term, but if you don’t practice, if you don’t use those skills you are much less effective teaching them to others.
That is the “the tough love” truth that I think is in this work. In order to get people to buy what we are selling, we have to do a little of it ourselves.
Thank you very much for your time and everything you shared with us! Thank you and Shanah Tovah – a Happy, Healthy, Sweet and Successful New Year!
Nine Steps to Forgiveness by Frederic Luskin, Ph.D.
1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
4. 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 two minutes – or ten years -ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
6. 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, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
7. 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.
8. 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. Forgiveness is about personal power.
9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.
For more information on Dr. Frederic Luskin, please visit his website, www.learningtoforgive.com.