Chapter Five

Mastering the Art of Forgiveness

Coping with our Resistance to Change

By Dr. Robert Leichtman

All personalities prefer stability rather than significant changes. We want to dwell in our comfort zone where we thrive in our traditional beliefs and activities. This state is where we feel in charge of who we are and what we do. Any disruption of these practices will likely provoke resistance.

This resistance can apply to our attempts to become more tolerant and forgiving. When we seek to reduce our grievances, we may discover that parts of us do not want to be more charitable. For example, if forgiveness requires that we admit we were mistaken in our judgments about others, aspects of our personality may consider too painful to contemplate. Suggestions about being patient and less demanding can easily provoke fierce objections, especially among those who feel ignored.

Anger may have crept into our core beliefs and habits

Anger can quickly become part of the tone and style of expressing ourselves in ordinary activities. For example, many fail to recognize how often we use traces of fear, doubt, or resentment to “protect” ourselves from possible harm or embarrassment. We might, for instance, enjoy being mildly righteous about our opinions and moralistic about our expectations. We may use a tone of mild outrage to defend ourselves from criticism. Our worry that we will be seen as weak may cause us to be more assertive than is necessary. Our concern that we may lose control may cause us to be more rigid in our standards than is appropriate. Or our fear of deception might cause us to limit our confidence and trust in some situations.

It is always easy to substitute anger for the strength of our convictions and then use small amounts of anger to defend our judgments and dignity. However, this use of anger will complicate our efforts to master forgiveness.

Common ways we excuse our anger

Many people work intensely to develop adequate excuses for their anger. They are masters of the fine art of resisting the urge to forgive. When we seek to master forgiveness, we must cope with these common ways we protect our anger and oppose forgiveness.

One of the easy ways we shield our angry habits is to rebrand how we use intimidation as a constructive and appropriate communication method. For example, we may decide that being aggressive makes us more persuasive and authoritative. But using anger to boost our importance also makes us appear demanding and rude. In the long run, this behavior will provoke resentment and opposition in others. Bullying people often repels the very relationships we strive to develop. We urgently need to consider alternative methods for achieving our aims.

Others assume their spontaneous outrage at an event is a sign of their intuitive wisdom guiding them. This burst of rejection blows away our capacity for reason, leaving only firm judgments in place. This angry righteousness originates in the wish-life and prejudices of our subconscious, not the wisdom and guidance from our higher self. It is a mistake to blindly follow beliefs and urges that appear in this impulsive manner.

Some will claim that being offended automatically shifts all responsibility for distress to others and gives them a license for endless protest. This interpretation of events is their excuse for denying all responsibility for resolving conflicts. The chronic recriminations that follow only keep the offended stuck in permanent distress. Waiting for others to apologize to fix our annoyances is not our best choice. Sometimes we must proceed in life without these apologies. Otherwise, we will remain stuck in righteous indignation.

Sometimes the urge to be accepted and valuable leads individuals to join groups that claim to work for good causes. However, many of these groups work primarily by attacking injustice, prejudice, and oppression. The binding dynamic energy of the group is a collective hatred of what they oppose, not a love for what they claim to champion. Hating evil seems to have a greater appeal and is more empowering than loving the good. The false idea that hating what is terrible is an honorable way to support good traps many people into excusing large amounts of hostility in their beliefs and behavior.

Finally, some assume that avoiding criticism and rejection (and hostility) is their top priority. This view drives many to be constantly agreeable and submissive to the opinions and decisions of others. The assumption is that this passive approach will help them bypass all conflicts. However, they fail to recognize that abandoning their values will mean others will fill the vacuum and end up controlling their lives. The consequence will be significant resentment and blame directed at those who seemed to ignore them. The underlying problem will be that they failed to assert themselves at critical times and allowed others to take control. Unfortunately, the reluctance to admit their mistake results in many unjustified grievances.

Those struggling to master forgiveness need to review how they often fail to recognize how they secretly protect and defend their use of anger to manage their challenges.

Managing our resistance to change

Overcoming our resistance to reforming our habits requires skill and artful persuasion. Neither blunt demands nor extensive wishing will be effective. This practical approach begins when we admit that we have a problem relating to people, situations, and large portions of our memories. Learning not to care about them is not a real solution because the core of the issues behind many of these problems is not all due to external factors. Our attitudes and behavior may well be a large part of the problem behind our annoyances and disappointments.

The second step is to evaluate which beliefs and habits contribute to our difficulties. Is it impatience, prejudice, intolerance, righteousness, or other qualities? Perhaps we are too sensitive about being criticized or reluctant to admit we could be mistaken in some of our judgments.

The third step summons the mature parts of our character to counsel our troublesome parts. We need to recognize that we can use our character’s compassionate and encouraging aspects to manage our anger-based beliefs and habits. Acting as a coach and friend, we can mobilize our capacities for correct thinking, encouragement, self-control, and compassion to persuade our problem parts to accept healthy modifications.

For instance, we can call on this inner coach to help us recognize where we are stuck in attitudes and beliefs that originated in old, troubled times. Thus, the coach can help us update our habits and assumptions. For instance, maybe we can safely drop some defensive practices because our life situation has changed, eliminating many old annoyances. In addition, recent experiences have added to our knowledge, skills, and confidence. We are now stronger and more creative in our approaches to challenging situations.

For example, some individuals have distrusted authoritative people for years mainly because a parent was too demanding. They must realize it is foolish to equate all men to be like their controlling fathers or that all women are like their manipulative mothers. It is important to reassure our subconscious that it is time to tolerate a gentle modification of this old insecurity. We need to understand the chronic cynicism that once protected us from manipulation is no longer required. The echoes of this distrust sabotage our ability to accept and cooperate with others. We need to eliminate these beliefs.

When our subconscious rejects our attempts to do this, we may need to remind it that both of us (our subconscious memories and the rest of our personality) must live in the same body and life. This insight means neither of us can achieve comfort or effectiveness unless there is some compromise. This approach usually leads to more cooperation.

This communication between our mature parts and our negative habits must be on the wavelength of firm support and encouragement for healthy habits. Many confuse this process with feeling sorry for the distress of the wounded part. Sympathetic concern for our wounds may seem suitable, but it is only an act of self-pity that can keep us trapped in our suffering. This caution is especially crucial for those who see themselves as victims. Too much sympathy for the suffering of the “heroic victim” in us will only reward and energize this status instead of promoting escape from it.

Do others try to discourage our improvements?

A few may trace their resistance to change to a source outside themselves. Consider what would happen if you took back your power and became more assertive, independent, and healthy. Would this change threaten a person or group? Perhaps someone prefers you weak, submissive, and distracted by minor problems. They may not want you to overcome these difficulties. Or possibly others are threatened by your abilities and do not want you to be more successful or happy.

If this type of pressure is a factor in your life, it must be carefully resisted by quietly asserting your right to determine who you are and what you will do. Refuse to surrender to intimidation and manipulation from others, even in its most subtle form.

Some will also need to check if certain groups oppose your independence, strength, and opinions. Groups often impose the energy of their collective beliefs and attitudes on their followers. Those who dare to doubt some of their ideas and entertain alternative views may feel a backlash for their “disobedience.” The rejection by a controlling group is often experienced in subtle forms such as increasing self-doubt, uncertainty, and free-floating anxiety. Physically, there can be headaches, mental fog, and mild malaise.

These symptoms may clear up as soon as you drop your independent thinking and return to accepting the group’s beliefs. This dramatic cure of your symptoms would be evidence that the cause of your distress has been a psychological attack by the group mind.

The effective way to resist these dark influences is to affirm your right to think for yourself and develop your own beliefs and choices of behavior. This assertion must be robust, leaving no doubt about what you mean about your independence. Do not assume this is a trivial matter or that this dark psychological pressure will disappear with a casual flick of your thoughts. Be firm and persistent.

Commentary

Significant changes in our beliefs and habits can upset the status quo of our personality. Considerable resistance to our plans can occur as a result.
Changes to our mental household are comparable to remodeling our kitchen. There will be short-term disruption, but the long-term improvements will be worth the inconvenience.

One of the keys to minimizing the difficulty of significant revisions to our old comfortable beliefs and habits is to focus on the solid reasons why specific changes will be worthwhile. Think of these changes as evolutionary upgrades for our mental household. We are simply applying
recently gained knowledge and skills to modify who we are and how we act. Old traumatic events may have limited or aborted our growth, but now we can make essential reforms in our beliefs, sense of identity, and expectations. Our road to healing and growth is open once more. 

Summary

  • Our personality will seek to preserve our comfort zone and all our familiar habits, including some dysfunctional habits and attitudes. It will automatically tend to resist even the improvements we want.
  • We must learn to recognize and manage this subconscious resistance with gentleness and understanding. We need to communicate with our subconscious in tones that encourage and support helpful change instead of criticizing it.
  • Some of our bad habits and beliefs will try to defend their presence because we can use them to protect us from various risks of failure, loss, or other disasters. Being skeptical helps us to avoid being deceived but at the risk of being uninformed. Slight hostility will keep away the manipulative types but repel perfectly good people. We need to recognize how our aggressive defenses normalize our anger and can prevent healing reforms.
  • The lure of correcting old injustices can trick us into aligning ourselves with groups that bond together on the wavelength of hating these old crimes. They believe the right kind of hatred builds peace and harmony but this only creates new injustices. These types of propaganda should not deceive us.
  • We must strongly affirm our right to think for ourselves and engage the beliefs and convictions that will keep us separate from these hate groups.

 

Think on these things

Written by Dr. Robert Leichtman