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   Dr. Menahem invites you to enjoy a specially selected chapter from his acclaimed book, All Your Prayers are Answered.

All Your Prayers are Answered
by Dr. Sam Menahem, Ph.D.

Chapter 7 - HOW TO FORGIVE YOUR ENEMIES

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    Forgiveness is a way of life.  It is an attitude that conflicts violently with what
is taught in our society.  Although we may pay lip service to the idea of forgiving others, when it comes right down to it we frequently want revenge and justice when we are hurt.  The issue of revenge vs. forgiveness comes up in virtually every patient's psychotherapy.  All of us have been hurt in one way or another in life.  Thus, we must decide how to deal with it.  Frequently, we try to avoid the issue by repressing our anger or not thinking about it.  Then, it comes out in some backhanded way like panic attacks or physical illness.  I have never seen a person with panic attacks that did not have major issues with anger and fear.  Yet, without therapy, the connection between fear and forgiveness is rarely made.  To most of my patients, the idea of forgiving others seems to have no connection to their symptom.  Forgiveness is not seen as a path to peace, but it is.

    Some people are aware of their anger and resentment at others, but are completely unwilling to forgive them.  Their attitude is, "Why should I let him get away with it?"  They want the other person to suffer as they have suffered, preferably even more than they suffered.  At the very least, they want the other person to acknowledge their hurtful actions and apologize.  The object of revenge isn't to get even, it is to win. 

     Still other times, people come in all too willing to forgive.  At the first session they state that they know their parents did the best they could.  So, they have forgiven them.  This is premature confession.  They are avoiding the real pain of their childhood traumas by pretending to forgive.  True forgiveness involves several steps; admitting the hurts, feeling the pain, understanding where the other people were coming from, then gaining strength and self confidence, seeing the problem from another perspective (re-framing), finally forgiving the other and forgiving yourself.

It Was That Bad: Admitting the Hurt

It is amazing how many troubled people try to minimize the agony they have gone through.  Even in the safety and comfort of a psychologist's office, they try to minimize the pain they have gone through.  This is especially true of wounds from parents, though it certainly holds true for spouses and significant others. It is impossible to truly forgive anyone unless you admit that something went wrong.

     In general, what was amiss is that we were raised without enough compassion by people who were too wrapped up in their own troubles to give the unconditional positive regard we all need.  Perhaps, you recoiled in fear and shut yourself off from the anger of retribution and punishment.  Shutting yourself off from bad feelings alienates you from your unconscious and in some cases all feelings. The Godly part of your unconscious may have been shut off along with the repressed memories in your personal unconscious.  Thus, you felt alone and isolated in a harsh world.

     Somehow, however, there is a vague sense of guilt about all this.  You aren't really sure what the guilt is about.  It just feels like is that there is something wrong.  Rarely will it ever occur to anyone that what is amiss is that they are cut off from their feelings and from God.  That would be tantamount to believing that the entire neurotic system of fear and layers of defense--our very feelings are wrong.  Instead we weave tangled webs denying our fear, anger, guilt, resentment and deceit.  We convince ourselves that our egoic prison must be defended at all costs from the dangerous outside world.  We convince ourselves that only this difficult material world is real and the best we can do is make ourselves comfortable within it.  The more we were hurt, the angrier we are. 

     The only solution seems to be defense, revenge and denial of our feelings and anything beyond the physical observable world.  The anger, hate, guilt and fear harbored in the unconscious are too much to face.  We think we must deny, repress, project and intellectualize such feelings to get them under control. In order to gain control over these feelings about significant others as well as ourselves, we repress the entire unconscious.  In order to become unaware of our true feelings about others in the world we repress both the lower unconscious (where personal feelings and memories reside) and the superconscious (where God resides).  This creates a separation from God, which is the biggest tragedy of all.  Fortunately, there is a solution to the vague guilt that nags at us.  It is a spiritual solution, God's solution, forgiveness.

     Forgiveness is an important part of the path to true peace.  However, to most people, there seems to be too much danger in these powerful feelings (guilt, fear, anger) to even think of forgiving.  To most of us, forgiveness just means that the bastards got away with it.  We are too cut off from God to even consider the reconciliation of forgiveness.

     Robin Casarjian, in her enlightening book, Forgiveness: A Bold Choice For A Peaceful Heart, has many suggestions to help people get on the path of forgiveness.  She notes that many people are just not ready to forgive those who hurt them the most.  In this light, she suggests that her readers begin to forgive on neutral ground.  That is, she has them first replace their usual judgmental thoughts about strangers with positive loving thoughts.  She presents the idea that instead of thinking ill of these strangers, we can remember that they are all part of the greater humanity, and as such are part of God.  This is often easier to do than to forgive those closest to us, who have really hurt us.  The benefit is that we begin to undo the harmful defense system we have erected to protect our fragile egos (false selves).  We tend to judge others relative to what we don't like about ourselves. If we fear getting fat, we may dislike any fat person.  If we don't like quiet people, we may dislike anyone who is shy, and so on.  This exercise helps us see that whatever we don't like about ourselves we project onto others.  When we refuse to judge and instead forgive others, we are forgiving ourselves. 

Feeling the Pain

     Alice Miller, in her many books including, The Drama of The Gifted Child, For Your Own Good, and Breaking Down The Wall of Silence, exposes the cover-up of childhood pain.  Miller's main hypothesis is that parents inflict both physical and emotional abuse on their children, thinking it's "for their own good."  In actuality, they are displacing the brutality that was done to them by their parents and others onto their own children.  Thus, generation after generation of abused children keep the cycle going.  The repressed, denied and projected feelings of anger, fear, and guilt continue to cause individual misery and worldwide chaos.  Miller's solution is to admit that "it really was that bad", and allow yourself to acknowledge the feelings that were too painful and dangerous to feel in childhood.

     Miller believes that forgiveness arises naturally once you have admitted how bad things were in your childhood and allow yourself to feel the pain and grieve for the unconditional acceptance you didn't get.  You cannot go back and get that kind of love from other people now that you are an adult.  But you can forgive, and unconditionally accept yourself.  This process will re-awaken all the feelings that have lied dormant while you were emotionally frozen in defense of your fragile ego.  As the process continues, it becomes more possible to interact with the Spiritual side of yourself.  This Spiritual side will then aid you in continuing this growth process.  Thus, allowing yourself to feel the pain leads to forgiveness, which opens you up to the tender side of yourself that you have long buried.  This newfound tenderness may lead you toward a new understanding of the other and why he or she hurt you.  You can now see that it had little or nothing to do with you. You are now able to give and accept love, due to your willingness to forgive others and yourself.

     A brief prayer will help: Thank You God for helping me to see that my parents were too damaged themselves to show me the love I needed. I forgive them.  I forgive myself.

Why Your Parents Didn't Love You Unconditionally

     Under ideal conditions all parents would love their children unconditionally.  Unfortunately, this is the exception.  Most people are so caught up in their own neurotic need to be loved enough, good enough or successful enough, they don't have unconditional regard for their offspring.  Some may love helpless babies but become more critical later.  Others may hate helpless babies (hating their own helplessness) and gradually accept a more mature child.  At every step of the way, as parents, there are new needs of the child that must be recognized and dealt with.  Unfortunately, each stage unconsciously reminds the parents of their own issues at that stage.  Then, not wanting to remember the pain, the parent reacts harshly toward the confused child.  Further pain ensues, painful emotions are aroused, defenses are erected in the children and the process continues.

     In the process of psychotherapy, the person is encouraged to remember the hurts.  This helps because it releases energy and paves the way to forgiveness.  But sometimes the process omits understanding the hurts of the parents as they grew up with their self-centered parents.  Understanding can lead to true forgiveness.

     I have sometimes joked that my problems started in 1921.  People look at me blankly, knowing I'm not that old.  Then I tell them that was the year my mother was a two-year old.  I picture my grandparents mishandling my mother at that time, which led to her rage which she later directed toward me.  This imagery process helps me to forgive and love my mother.

     A good exercise to practice is imagining your mother or father as a child, being dealt with uncompassionately by their parents.  This helps you to see that your parents have unconsciously acted out their feelings on you.  They were hurt too.

       A brief prayer can help again: Thank you God for helping me see that my parents were just doing to me what they were programmed to do. It had nothing to do with me.  They were just projecting their feelings toward their parents onto me.

Feeling Strength from Forgiveness

     It is interesting to feel how you gain strength from being more forgiving.  A tremendous amount of energy is wasted defending yourself against fear, anger, resentment, guilt and other emotions.  The energy is spent repressing fear that these emotions might emerge and be experienced.  Once you allow them to be experienced and forgive your tormentors there is nothing left to fear.  You are now free to forgive (though you won't forget), and to use your energy to help others.

     Those early hurts and rejections may seem to be the only cause of your latent inferiority feelings.  You thought you were bad or not good enough because of the cruel way others reacted to you. Actually, these hurts were only part of it.  In pushing away your hurt feelings, you also pushed away God.   And that is the biggest problem.  With the release forgiveness brings,  you realize that they were just acting out their feelings.  They also shut off their hurt feelings and shut out God.  It had nothing to do with you.  You actually were and are good enough. You are good enough because you are part of the oneness of God. You are a holy child of God.  Your natural feelings are good. It is right to feel happy and energized.  As one patient put it, "I feel good. Is this the way you are supposed to feel?, This is unbelievable."  He was feeling the energy that was released as he began to forgive his bosses, his parents, and ultimately himself.

     A brief prayer: Thank You God for helping me see that I am good enough, my feelings are good, I am just as good as anyone else. 

Reframe Your Life through Forgiveness

     You cannot consciously choose the events of your life, but you can always choose your attitude toward them.  A forgiving attitude paves the way for a Spiritual outlook on life.  This means that events are looked at as challenges rather than insurmountable obstacles.  It means that hidden within even the most dire happenings are the seeds of Spiritual awakening.  A serious illness can lead to the blossoming of mature love.  An earthquake can lead to selfless devotion to helping injured victims.  Internment in a concentration camp can lead to writing books on the importance of meaning (Dr. Victor Frankl) or the superconscious mind (Dr. Roberto Assagioli).  The overall goal is to stop blaming others as the reason you can't do this or that.  Instead you can look at others as characters within the play that you are writing.  Your (so called) enemies were put there to challenge you to develop all the positive Spiritual qualities you can.  You are supposed to be working on becoming more loving, forgiving, kind, non-judgmental, faithful etc.  If you didn't run into problems you wouldn't be able to develop fully as a Spiritual being.

     A Course in Miracles advocates this reframing method, telling us that the only purpose of life is to join with others in forgiveness and prayers for guidance.  This enables us to perceive the true oneness of all creation.  At the human level it helps us solve problems by seeing things differently.  All we really need to do, says The Course, is to go outside the ego system and ask the Higher Power for a way to see things in terms of a "win-win" situation. Gradually, we learn to choose peace instead of insisting on ego goals like being right, winning, or getting revenge. Only the Higher Power can give us the strength and insight to make the obvious choice of peace.  The ego will always encourage us to compete, win, take revenge and pursue some perceived absolute justice.  Thus, the ego is the enemy of peace. 

     We must forgive ourselves and others in order to find peace.  Realization of the true oneness of all creation is behind the idea of forgiveness.  We forgive not because we are condescendingly superior, but because we are all part of the same source and are therefore guiltless and blameless.  If we continue to follow the egoic path, we will continue to suffer as we have for thousands of years.  If we appeal to the Higher Power in prayer, and follow the path of forgiveness, we will develop a sense of peace and strength.

Forgiving Others

     We are still left with the problem of justice.  How can we let those bastards get away with what they did?  From the ego's point of view, the idea of retributive justice makes sense: we cannot let those who hurt us get away with anything.  "If we give them an inch, they'll take a mile."  This holds true as long as everyone is thinking on the ego's level.  However, there is another level-the spiritual dimension.  Here, everything is different, miracles do occur, pointing the way to a new, forgiving world.

     Psychologist Carolyn Miller, in her book, Creating Miracles: Understanding the Experience of Divine Intervention, recounts many stories of people who found themselves in dire, life threatening situations.  Instead of responding with fear, anger, hate, and struggle, they responded with calm acceptance, peace and forgiveness.  The result was invariably a miraculous rescue or recovery.

     For example, Miller tells the story of a woman who was approached by two men on a dark street near her beach home.  When they threatened to rape her, she had an unusual reaction. Rather than getting angry or afraid, she surrendered to the awful situation.  Her thought was that as awful as rape was, it would be even more awful in a gravel parking lot.  She suggested to them that they come with her to her apartment so she wouldn't rip her new dress.  Her accepting, paradoxical attitude confused them but they followed her.  On the way home, talked to them in such a calm manner that they decided not to rape her.  Instead, they admonished her to be very careful out in the world, as everyone was not as nice as they.

     Miller concludes that a surrendering, accepting attitude actually changes the circumstances of any situation.  The victim's calm acceptance took her right out of the attacker-victim dyad.  When faced with acceptance instead of fear and anger, the rapists changed their attitude and let her go.  Rape is not about sex, it is about fear and power. 

     This is only one of many examples Miller gives.  In each case, however, the "victim" changes the eventual outcome via a surrendering, accepting, forgiving, peaceful attitude.  Am I suggesting that all rape victims just submit to their attackers?  No.  A careful study of Miller's cases suggest that the key element in transforming the situations is lack of fear.  Rapists thrive on fear.  They are intimidators because they themselves were once brutally intimidated.  In psychology we call this "identification with the aggressor."  Rapists have something in common with dictators.  Hitler, for example, was brutally beaten by his father.  He learned to laugh at the beatings and took his pain out on the whole world.  Rapists have internalized their brutal tormentors and are acting out their rage on others who they want to fear them.  In the examples Miller presents, the victims surrendered to what seemingly was going to inevitably happen.  This made them relax and confused the attackers who expect fear and struggle.  The result was the termination of the attacks.

     It remains to be seen how widespread the effects of such an attitudinal shift might be.  What is clear is that anger and fear do not help people survive dire situations. Forgiving an aggressor does not mean you condone his actions though.  The medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides suggested that you must tell the person who hurt you what they have done.  If you do not do this, you become the "sinner."  What this means is that the smoldering resentment in you makes you miss the spiritual mark.  You can strongly express and assert your rights along with forgiveness. This is your part in the process.  You may hope for an apology and a change in attitude on the part of the wrong doer but you can't control others.  They may be clueless, and never understand how they hurt you.  In cases with people you actually know, your job is to tell them how they hurt you in the past , set limits on the unacceptable behavior and then forgive them. In cases involving serious crimes like rape, you undoubtedly have to go through the rage and grief described earlier.  Only then could you possibly develop real forgiveness.  A different, more forgiving, peaceful yet assertive attitude toward wrongdoers will help bring you and the world toward peace and harmony. 

Forgiving Yourself

     Forgiving yourself could be the most important form of forgiveness.  How many people do you know who are too hard on themselves?  Are you too hard on yourself?  Do you find it hard to let go of guilt for past misdeeds or omissions?  If so, you might be a victim of what Dr. Karen Horney calls "unconscious self hate."  Such self deprecation can take many forms.  It can appear as panic attacks, depression, physical illness or generalized anxiety and fatigue. 

     Self hate is based upon the ideas that we are not good enough, or that we have done something wrong.  Thus, we attack ourselves, sometimes unmercifully, as punishment. In doing so we are both the sadist and the masochist, the torturer and the tortured. Just as legal guilt requires punishment, unconscious psychological guilt requires punishment.  Chronic dissatisfaction with life and psychological and physical symptoms are all ways of punishing ourselves for real or imagined misdeeds.

     Forgiving ourselves implies a softening of the attitude, and accepting the ideas that we are good enough and that whatever we did in the past is over and done with.  The only time we can change and correct our faulty attitudes is in the present. We are guiltless and blameless because we are part of God.  The softening and letting go of self-condemnation allows us to be kinder and gentler towards ourselves and others.  The more we experience God, the better people we become. If we like ourselves better, we like others better.  This gives us less reason to come down on ourselves or others the next time.

     Horney (1950) says that we all have an inner "idealized image" of ourselves.  This is our version of how we should be: perfect.  Then, whenever we fail at perfection we berate ourselves and punish ourselves.  Horney urges us to let go of how we should be, forgive ourselves and accept how we really are.  This opens up the possibility for us to get in touch with our "real self."  The real self is composed of all our inner attributes, talents and potentialities.  Our real self is a Spiritual self.  It connects us to the divinity within.  God does not want us to do what others have convinced us we should. God doesn't demand perfection.  God wants us to develop our true selves in an accepting and forgiving manner. 

     Piero Ferrucci, in his delightful book, What We May Be, urges us to turn inward in forgiveness.  The many psychosynthesis exercises in the book show us how to use our imaginative faculty to heal all levels of the psyche.  Forgiveness is an attitude that enables us to approach these healing exercises.  We must decide to let go of self-hate and approach our own divinity through the healing faculty of mind. The prayers and exercises enable us to come to terms with our emotional pain and inner conflicts as a prelude to finding our divinity. 

      Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, was aware of his Godly side. When he was fourteen, he had what he calls a cosmic consciousness experience.  A "voice" told him, "You will always be present to yourself."  He vowed then to devote his life to understanding this experience, and to share it with others.  Thus, he was the first to develop a psychological system that addressed both the personal unconscious and the superconscious.  He saw that a gradual clearing away of a person's past traumas could reopen our connections to God.  For Assagioli, God resided in the superconscious and could provide the power to heal the wounded self. The nature of God will shine through us when we work on all levels to become whole and holy.

A Hypnotic Trance to Develop Forgiveness

Just sit back and do whatever you need to do to become comfortable.  You might want to move a bit...tense and relax each muscle group or just follow your breathing....Take whatever time you need to develop a deep sense of comfort...slowly let the warm relaxed feeling envelop your body and mind...feel your breath cleansing each and every cell in your lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas....cleansing every cell in every organ...you might want to picture a healing light, flowing around your body, relaxing your body and mind......all your nerves are calming down now...enabling you to slow down.....as you slow down, you are aware of thoughts flowing through you...but you are much more than just thoughts, much more than just the feelings you observe, what kinds of feelings are flowing through you ?  Is there any fear? anger? guilt?  Can you connect these feelings to any events or people in your life?  Let your mind follow the images, sensations, remembrances that lead you through your feelings into an event that seems to be the start of it all....Who is there?  What is happening?  How do you feel about it?  Have you held onto those feelings?  Would you like to let go of those feelings and move ahead with your life?  Are you ready to forgive those others that may have hurt you? Would you like to ask the Higher Self or holy spirit to help you forgive?  Can you feel the Higher Self as a source of love, faith and strength?  Can you picture the holy spirit helping to turn you toward forgiveness?  Can you see yourself forgiving someone?  Would you like to experience the oneness of all creation by merging with the Higher Self?  When you experience oneness, cosmic consciousness, you are naturally willing to forgive, are you not?  Allow the oneness experience to give you the insight and strength to develop a new, more forgiving attitude toward others and toward yourself....Would you like to go still deeper into your soul...would you like to heal the guilt that was created when you thought you were separated from God....recognize that this separation was your own illusion...created to protect you from fear...Do you realize that you no longer have to protect yourself?  You were never really cut off from God...All is one...You live in a safe universe...So you can forgive yourself ..You just made a mistake...You can correct this mistake now...by recognizing the power of forgiving yourself and others...All is one...So much peace and forgiveness grows out of that thought....remember to thank God for all the help in leading you to forgiveness, the true forgiveness you are choosing now with your new understanding...nobody meant to hurt you...they were afraid too...now you know...now you can forgive...now you can choose peace....feel it ..experience it...and when your insight is sufficient to begin the forgiveness process your eyes will open and you will come back to the room, feeling good.

 

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