Forgiveness is NOT saying “It’s okay.”

We’ve all been hurt by someone. Perhaps it happened today, or it might have been 50 years ago. And just maybe you’ve been consistently hurt and been walked on by people throughout your life. (If you are continuing to be harmed by your perpetrator you need to take steps to extract yourself from that situation, even if temporarily. This is another conversation, but I would encourage you to consider learning more about enhancing personal boundaries, self-esteem, and self-respect as potential starting points for your journey toward safety in your relationships.)

It may have been someone close to you. It may have been a complete stranger. It may have even been an impersonal event like a natural disaster. Whomever or whatever you identify as the perpetrator of your pain, you may have never been able to completely move on. Perhaps there are unpleasant feelings that linger on the fringes of your daily existence. It may be that those feelings are strong enough to direct your every movement in life and relationships. If this sounds like you, chances are there is someone you need to forgive.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “Why should I forgive him/her? They don’t deserve it. They were inconsiderate. They insulted me. They embarrassed me. They took everything from me.” These may all be true. The problem is that as much as that person is all those things, or at minimum had a weak moment in which they hurt you, the event is in the past. By continuing to live in pain in the present and refusing to forgive him/her you are allowing that person to continue controlling your feelings. If you can bring yourself to forgive them, you free up yourself to take back control of your emotions.

If this last bit sounds unfair, you may have an inaccurate view of what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness does NOT mean condoning, agreeing with, or being okay with an event in which someone harmed you. It does NOT mean forgetting the event, its significance, or its consequences. Some dictionaries define “forgive” as, “to stop feeling anger toward someone/thing that has done you wrong” or “to stop requiring payment of/for” something (as in the government forgiving/eliminating your student loan debt once you have worked a certain number of years in an underserved area).

What does this really mean for you? It means acknowledging the event, making peace with your personal reactions to the event, and telling yourself (and possibly the perpetrator) that you’re moving on. You stop thinking that someday the perpetrator will pay you some penance to make you feel okay. It may never happen. You thus refuse to let the perpetrator/event control your feelings from this point forward, you let go of the desire to have them pay for what they did, and you stop thinking so much about that person/event.

Forgiveness can be an internal experience. It can happen when you are alone, and the perpetrator need not know you have forgiven them. They do not need to be present, or even alive for you to experience the freedom of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about acknowledging, learning from, and moving beyond the unwanted event so that you can begin living in the present. Every moment spent dwelling in the past is a moment of today that cannot be regained.

So why do you continue to refuse to forgive? Because you are still angry? Because they don’t deserve it? You may be punishing yourself, thinking that if you suffer constantly the perpetrator will see your suffering and understand the magnitude of their wrongdoing. Maybe they will finally grasp the depth of your pain and feel remorse. Maybe they’ll even change their behavior. Perhaps you can teach them a lesson and prevent harm to someone else?

The unfortunate truth is that, in all likelihood, the person to whom you are desperately trying to demonstrate your pain may be unaware of or indifferent to that pain. This is why your decision to forgive cannot be about the person you are trying to forgive. Once you stop hoping that they fall into a manhole walking down the street and decide to forgive them, you can choose to wish good things for them, pray blessings on them, or simply live as though they no longer exist. The thing is, forgiveness may be end up benefiting the perpetrator, but forgiveness is really about the forgiver.

Waiting until you feel like forgiving is another way to prevent moving forward. Given the degree to which you were (are) upset by this person, chances are good that you may never actually want to forgive them. It needs to be a conscious decision. However, it does not need to happen all at once. To be successful, you may need to move forward in small increments. It is okay to forgive a bit at a time, as you are ready (for instance, you may initially decide that you can forgive someone 10% and bump that number up over time). Remember that this process is about you moving forward, and it can only happen at your pace.

Finally, forgiveness involves grace, which must be given, not earned. In this sense, you never forgive someone because they deserve it. You forgive them because you deserve it. Ultimately you need to square yourself with the idea that you deserve to move on. That it’s better for you to move on. That it is okay to leave the past in the past and live in the present. The people you love will be grateful to have you back, no longer shackled to the emotions of yesterday’s drama and trauma, fully engaged in the moments spent with them. It’s time to think differently about forgiveness. Not as a way for your abuser to escape responsibility, but as a way for you to escape resentment and live in emotional freedom.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

(Dr. Everett Worthington has written several works dedicated to helping people achieve forgiveness. He speaks out of his research and personal experience (his mother was murdered years ago and he has worked to cultivate forgiveness in his own life). His books are definitely worth a read if you are looking to move forward with this process.)

Why Therapists Go To Therapy

As a professor in a Marriage and Family Therapy training program I have had the pleasure of working with countless developing therapists. One of the things that has always struck me about many of our students is the diversity of reasons for which they joined the program. It is no secret that most therapists are, to use Henry Nouwen’s phrase, “wounded healers.” We mental health professionals are no different from the rest of the population when it comes to experiences of brokenness, hurt, remorse, doubt, and generally difficult life experiences.

One of the traits that often does separate mental health professionals is the specific training we have received in how to cope with and alter difficult feelings and circumstances. Unfortunately, all the training and schooling in the world are not enough to give us the experience that our clients have of being brave and vulnerable in sharing the darker, more troubled portions of our stories. This is where the idea of therapists going to therapy may start to sound less odd.

One of the many reasons therapists seek out personal therapy is to gain the experience of being “on the couch.” There’s really nothing like it. It’s exhilarating. It’s nerve wracking. It’s calming. It’s frustrating. It has the potential to be nearly everything you want in a relationship and at the same time, it’s not intended to last, however beneficial it may be. At minimum, it helps therapists to have empathy for their clients in a more direct, experiential way. This is invaluable clinical experience because they will regularly ask clients/patients to go through that same personal stretching.

Aside from the professional development reason above, personal therapy (whether individual, group, or couples/family) has the indirect consequence of helping clients by healing the healer. I’m a firm believer that it is not entirely necessary for a therapist to have been through the exact experience that their client has, but I do believe that it is important for a therapist to have struggled. With something. Someone. Anything.

People seldom come to therapy because life is going exactly as planned. I often say that in therapy there is no growth without tension or resistance. If everything is comfortable at all times, nobody is changing. Things will stay the same, and goals will not be met. It is important for therapists looking to join with their clients in their struggles to have wrestled with their own demons.

When it comes down to it, therapy is just people in a room talking, working out the details and struggles of life, trying to manage the difficulties and maximize the joys. Therapists who have successfully explored and endured their own hardships can feel more confident in their ability to connect with and facilitate healing for a wide variety of clients who may call for an appointment.

Bottom line: If we have learned to struggle with and manage our own difficulties we are typically better prepared to help others to do the same. The specific issue struggled with is less important than that we have struggled. If you are a therapist and have not experienced therapy from the couch side of the treatment room, you might want to check it out. Maybe get a recommendation for a therapist and get some unbiased feedback during sessions. Or perhaps join a therapy group for therapists and benefit from several experienced sets of eyes and ears every session. It will be great for you and help you to be even more effective as a clinician than classes, books, workshops and even clinical experience could ever do by themselves.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Are you worth a second chance?

I watched the movie, “Seabiscuit” yesterday, and for any of you who have not seen it, I’d highly recommend it. While the film is well-acted, -directed, etc. it’s really the story that jumps out. At face value, “Seabiscuit” is a horse racing movie. I understand that 2/3 of you may have just tuned out, but stay with me for a quick minute here. If you look past the action/drama of the come-from-behind horse racing story, a much clearer picture emerges.

The foundation of the story is the constant struggle to overcome. The characters have all experienced a significant loss and are dealing with the powerful emotions of grief, depression, remorse, anger, self-doubt, and uncertainty. One of my favorite lines from the film is, “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” This is said at times when characters are experiencing others giving up on them because of their failures, flaws, losses, even poor state of health.

Surely most of us have felt pretty low at times. Perhaps you’ve gotten to the point that you wanted to (or did) give up on an important relationship, career, education, business venture, or marriage. Maybe you’ve felt “banged up” in life. If you’re at all like the characters in “Seabiscuit” you’ve probably felt the need to have a second chance at something, maybe at life in general.

One of the hardest parts of this whole “second chance” business is the need to be able to give yourself one. It won’t really matter how many chances others give you if you are unable to see yourself as worthy of receiving them. If someone gives you a new lease on life by forgiving you, asking you on a date, hiring you, etc. there’s not much chance that you’ll fully take advantage of the new opportunity if you haven’t first taken a crucial internal step.

It is imperative that, regardless of how many times you have let yourself or others down, you forgive yourself, accept yourself, or at minimum, consider that you just might do better the next time.  See the possibility of a different outcome. You may need to lean on someone else for this at first. This is about hope, and sometimes hope can be hard to come by.

The bottom line is that when it comes to second chances, to make the most of them you’ve got to start with yourself. Whether you ask for one or it’s simply given to you, a second chance is easy to waste if you haven’t personally entertained the thought that you can be, feel, relate and live better.

“Seabiscuit” is about overcoming. It is about community. A coming together of broken people finding their wholeness by being vulnerable with each other and trusting that they are better together. However banged up life has left you, remember that you’re still here. You’ve made it this far! I don’t know what your second chance looks like, but since you’re reading this, it seems life has given you one. It’s up to you how you use it.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

A Place to Start

Hello! Welcome to Dr. Pate Says, a space for exploring the myriad issues of life. Topics will include everything from relationships to parenting, work difficulties to family conflict, surviving trauma to self-care, and anything else that may relate to how we get through the daily grind.

I’ve been in the field of Mental Health in various capacities since 2004 and my hope with this site is that you will leave with something every time you visit. Each post may not directly relate to something you are personally struggling with, but chances are, someone you know is probably dealing with the issue right now. You just might be able to give them the feedback they need, or at least point them in the direction of someone who can. The point is that information related to mental health is relevant for everyone. This is true because we interact with so many people everyday and we all have things that we wrestle with.

For some, it’s a broken relationship that is taking a long time to heal. For others, that relationship has simply never materialized in the first place. Many have experienced one or more traumas. Though you have survived it, you may not have thrived beyond it. For some, the simple act of expressing a want or a need may seem impossible. For others, starting a relationship may be simple, but maintaining it can seem like a futile pursuit. For some, emotions like anger, fear, or depression can take us prisoner for hours, days, weeks, or even years at a time. Perhaps others’ expectations may seem impossibly high. Maybe your own expectations are unrealistically high!

Whatever your situation, I hope you will join in by checking back regularly or, even more simply, by clicking the “subscribe” button to receive an email when I write about a new topic (typically landing in your “Social” folder in your inbox unless you specify otherwise). The posts you read will be geared toward helping make sense of difficult relational, emotional, and psychological issues. Hopefully you will walk away with something to apply to your life. Or, you may simply marinate in the information for a time until it becomes more personally relevant.

Thank you for checking out the site, and buckle up! Life is a bumpy ride, and it’s easy to get banged up along the way. Check out some of the other posts and leave feedback to encourage other visitors who may be on the same journey with you. Welcome aboard!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.