Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Finding Strength in Forgiveness

Forgiveness is difficult. From the driver who cuts you off in traffic to the spouse who has betrayed you, forgiveness is nearly impossible for some to achieve. Some might ask “Why should I forgive?” Some see forgiveness as a sign of weakness, of not being assertive but rather allowing oneself to be taken advantage of. Some feel that forgiving a person is giving in to them or overlooking their behavior.

Forgiveness is none of these things. Forgiveness is something that we do for ourselves, not the person who harmed us. Withholding forgiveness for the sake of punishing someone is like holding on to an old, dirty, uncomfortable couch that is no longer being used simply because you don’t want anyone else to have it. It makes no sense; it takes up too much space, holds little value, and prevents you from creating a space for a new couch. Resentment is the same. It is holding onto something long after it has lost its value and purpose, and it impedes our ability to move forward with new, more useful things.

Forgiveness is a choice and a process. We cannot move forward until we have chosen to move forward. This means that we must make a conscious effort to let go of anger, hatred, hurt, and resentment. We must begin to work toward empathy and understanding in order to forgive. It certainly does not happen immediately and may take years to do. But, it is worth doing.
Why forgive? So someone else can use the old couch? No, so that we can create room for a new one. Forgiveness is not done for the benefit of the offender, it is for the benefit of ourselves. We don’t forgive someone because we want them to feel better; we forgive so that we can feel better. We can feel release and rejuvenation. Forgiving does not mean that we have to tolerate the offense of another, it simply means that we are willing to let go and move on.

Finally, forgiveness is a sign of strength. Any time we choose to do something difficult and succeed at it, we gain strength. It is much easier to be content with the anger and hurt that becomes a part of us when we’re resentful. It takes strength to push ourselves to do something that is difficult, but it is worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Stages of Change

Human beings are generally resistant to change and will repeat familiar behaviors even when they are no longer beneficial and even harmful. However, human beings are also very adaptable so we can change if we put our minds to it. Psychologists Carlo DiClemente, PhD and James O. Prochaska, PhD have identified five stages to making change.

Pre-contemplation: This stage represents the period before the individual realizes that she is in need of change. Others in the environment may identify the problems and the change required to solve them but the individual is not yet on board. Attempts to provide solutions or admonitions to change are likely to be unsuccessful at this stage and may prolong this period as the individual asserts her right to make her own decisions. Empathy, understanding and support to come to her own decision to change are much more effective at this stage.

Contemplation: At this stage the individual has recognized the need for change but is not yet able to do anything about it. He is weighing the pros and cons of change and may be distressed at the prospect, especially about potential losses. Alternatively, he may find hope and some excitement about his possible future as he thinks things through. At this point, empathy and understanding are still the best approaches, as the individual must articulate his own desire to change.

Planning: At this stage the individual begins to collect information about change, may talk to others who have made similar change, but has not yet committed to a particular plan of action. The type of support is that most effective at this point is providing information without pushing the individual in a particular direction and allowing her to articulate her own approach to change.

Action: In the action stage, the individual has decided on a course of action and is willing to commit to new behaviors in support of change. This is the stage at which the person is the most receptive to advice, suggestion and direction, although the onus is still on the individual to articulate and act in the way he believes will be best for him.

Maintenance: Once action has been taken and changes made, the focus turns to maintenance of the new behaviors and circumstances. In many ways this stage is the most difficult because the novelty of change has worn off but the individual is still at risk to return to previous behaviors. The work required to maintain changes may seem like “a grind”, with little apparent reward.

Relapse: Although not a stage of change per se, relapse is a normal part of change for human beings. At any stage, the individual may “backslide” and engage in behaviors or resume an attitude she has attempted to change. After relapse, the individual may cycle through all the stages again. Relapse is disheartening to the individual but relapse is normal and change is still possible.

Nancy R. Soro, PhD