You’ve no doubt heard (probably from me) that practicing regular meditation or attention training will help you stay in control of your thoughts. However, there might be times when you feel you need something else. Feeling like you can’t forgive someone often results in you being caught up in feelings of anger, resentment, hopelessness or revenge. If you’re stuck in an unhealthy obsessional thinking or thought pattern, and you can’t get yourself to stop, try these steps to re-direct your thoughts:
- Think of something that brings you peace and happiness when you’re NOT in a bad place. It can be absolutely anything: walking hand-in-hand with your child when they were young, sitting on a boat, taking a bath, whatever. I need it to be a specific event, not something general. So, it might be a time you were sitting on a boat on your vacation in Bermuda seven years ago, totally relaxed while you were feeling the warm sun on your face. Be very specific.
- I want you to put yourself in this memory for a moment and “feel” yourself there. Play it like a movie in your head. In the Bermuda example, you’d be smelling the salt water, hearing the gulls calling to each other overhead, feeling the rhythmic rocking of the boat as you listen to the water splash against the sides. Do you see what i mean? Really put yourself there, in state, for just a minute or two.
- Name this memory. In this case, I’d just name it “Bermuda Boat”.
- Practice this memory daily, for one week.
- Now, let’s say you’re at your desk at work and you just keep replaying that fight you had with your partner, that bad conversation with your boss or the misunderstand with you best friend. You can’t concentrate on your work and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it.
- Don’t berate yourself. on getting pissed at yourself for not being able to control this.
- Stop what you’re doing and take three cleansing breaths: that means breath in through your nose for a count of four, holding it for a count of five, and exhaling through your mouth for a count of eight.
- Say the name of your relaxing memory (in this case, “Bermuda Boat”_ out loud while you do something physical like stomp your foot on the ground or punch your fist into your open hand. Say and do this with a little force and confidence.
- Now put yourself in your Bermuda scenario. Just picture yourself there and play the movie in your head (again, the more you’ve been practicing, the easier it’ll be to bring it forward).
- Once your system feels more calm and relaxed, allow yourself to come back to the fight with your partner, boss, or whoever you need to forgive. Do this gently, with no judgments or anger. Just allow it in.
- Say to yourself, “even though X happened, or Y is going on, I’m going ot figure this out. I can allow myself to have hope. I will figure a way out or through this and I’m going to be OK. My life is really OK.”
- Say this however you need to, in your own words. The idea is to take all the heat, hopelessness and resentment out and put your hope and self-efficacy in. Don’t BS yourself, but give yourself some credit. You’ve faced a lot in your life and you’re here now. You’ll figure this out, too.
- You might need to do this a few times during the day if you mind keeps returning to the fight or resentment. It’s OK to stop and give yourself this time. The whole exercise only takes a few minutes and, for sure, you were wasting a lot more time than that with your negative and destructive thoughts anyway.
Getting out of your fear-based amygdala (which only knows hot to fight, run or freeze) and into your prefrontal cortex or your problem-solving brain allows you to think things through more clearly and come up with an action plan. Ultimately, it’s taking action and control back in your life that will make you feel happier, hopeful and more confident. Taking action will help you forgive.