Coping Strategy: Forgiveness

We see it all the time played out in movies and on television. Revenge or vengeance seems appropriate when it makes for a good story line. However, what does our hero always learn in the end? In the final act, when they’ve reached their target and it’s time to pay the piper, what does our hero do? In some cases, they exact their revenge. In others, they turn the offender over to the authorities so that justice might be served.

In any case, our hero learns a valuable lesson and we can too. It might not feel as satisfying at first, but eventually we see the light and hopefully realize that mercy plays an important role in healing. It’s just as important as justice.

You don’t have to be religious to understand the concept of forgiveness. In fact, the best explanation on forgiveness that I’ve read can be found in an article published by staff at the Mayo Clinic. The article is titled, Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. 

There are many articles relating to the topic of forgiveness posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website. The article mentioned above provides a formula for reaching a state of compassion and understanding. I think the most meaningful statement in the article comes near the end under the header, What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?

Changing your offender’s behavior is not the point of forgiveness, paraphrasing what the article says. Rather, paraphrasing again, forgiveness is about changing your life and bringing YOU peace and happiness.

I think it’s worth repeating, but this time in my own words. Forgiveness is not something you do to someone else. You cannot expect your offender to change their actions because you decide to forgive them. Neither must you condone their actions, rather, in order for you to move forward and find peace you must let go of feelings of resentment and a need for reconciliation and simply forgive. It’s a process you do for yourself in order to find peace.

I heard a sermon this past weekend by a friend and neighbor, Patrick McGee, which inspired me to write this blog about forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness is the key to our own personal freedom.”

This follows right in line with the closing statement by Mayo Clinic Staff in the article referenced above. They reiterated, “Remember, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.”

There is a film that my wife loves to watch every Christmas Eve as we stay up late wrapping gifts. It’s called, You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron and produced by Warner Brothers in 1998. It stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as book store competitors who unknowingly are email pen-pals. There’s a dialogue in the film where Meg Ryan’s character finally develops the courage to insult her rival, Tom Hanks. To this point in the movie she feels that if she could say the right thing at the right time and put her enemy in his place then she might feel better about herself, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself she immediately feels remorseful for being mean.

It’s so poignant and to the point that I’ll share it with you. I’m quoting from the writers of You’ve Got Mail.

Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox writes, “Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts-your arrogance, your spite, your condescension-has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them. ‘Hello, it’s Mr. Nasty,’ I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly responds, “No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous! What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said.”

Later on in the movie, Kathleen Kelly is confronted by Joe Fox and she has a breakthrough. She easily insults him, but immediately regrets her behavior.

Just before the final act there is a turning point in their contentious relationship where Joe Fox talks about forgiveness which sends Kathleen Kelly on a personal journey of hope and peace and eventually, forgiveness.

I recommend the film. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s a great family film for the holidays and a great object lesson in forgiveness and healing.

In my closing remarks, I’d like to reiterate two points from the Mayo Clinic article, “You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.” Do yourself a favor and learn how to forgive and let go of resentment. Imagine a world where everyone forgives.

Site references:

Other posts on coping strategies by brandcall:


Coping Strategy: Accepting Change

Expect difficulty in coping with change unless you accept the power to acknowledge weaknesses and endure trials. Sometimes it is thrust upon you by external sources out of your control and occasionally you must surrender to change from an internal perspective. You may be faced with the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one; in most cases you may be powerless over the outcome. This type of struggle requires energy. It requires you to be proactive, to get out of bed in the morning. Even reliance on a benevolent power requires determination. One can’t simply wish on a star and hope for a fairy godmother to make everything right.

I was deeply moved by a friend who positively and openly managed a disease that ultimately claimed his life. He and his wonderful family remained upbeat despite his grim prognosis. He once shared in a public forum that his disease had afforded him a long goodbye; time to put affairs in order and focus on loved ones. I don’t doubt that his struggle to remain upbeat was grievous, but I admire his resolve to try.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I do not cope well with change or trials in my life. My wife lovingly refers to me as, “The Worst Case Scenario Guy.” I’m beginning to comprehend why she calls me that. It’s unfortunate that not too long ago I was the guy who would have said something like, “It’s not so bad,” or, “It could have been worse.” What has happened to that guy?

I’ll share an experience that happened to me one afternoon when I stayed late at the office to finish some administrative work that generally gets neglected due to our daily autopsy caseload. (Autopsies take first priority in my schedule.) I visited with one of our night shift morgue clerks to ensure that she was current on protocol and was aware of any recent changes to processes. As a side note, we call this particular morgue clerk, Atari, because when she was first hired and was introduced to the group someone didn’t hear her name correctly as it was announced and asked, “Did you say Atari?” That nickname has stuck whether she likes it or not.

I had made some comment about increased workload and burnout. Her response was, “Mr. Pessimist, when did you become so cynical?”

That comment struck me hard at first and I wanted to respond with a comment to justify my sour demeanor, but I stopped myself. I thought, “What nerve. She hasn’t known me long enough to make such a statement.” I sat back in my chair and looked straight at Atari. She beamed back with pearly white teeth and dark chocolate eyes. Her simple act of grinning melted my frigid heart and caused me to smile back. It also caused me to think, “When DID I become so cynical?”

I can’t identify the exact moment when I decided to see the glass half empty, but I can tell you that I will remember the moment when I decided to start seeing the world again in a better light. Thank you Atari.

No matter how long the work day or how difficult the struggle, I’ve resolved to handle one thing at a time instead of trying to take on the world. Trying to do too much too quickly can only set one up to fail. Strategic planning and careful prioritization is essential to gaining success. Most importantly remaining positive and accepting challenges that are presented to you will empower you and lead to further success.

Happy Friday the 13th everybody!

Coping Strategy: Charity

It is argued that a meaning-focused coping strategy is positive. I agree since this technique requires a person to find meaning from tragedy. You ask, “How do I apply this when I’ve lost a loved one to death?” I answer, “By combining your focus with social coping strategies such as support groups and charity work.”

There are many organizations available in which you can participate in fund-raising activities for research and prevention along with health care treatment and awareness. There are groups that specialize in substance abuse, mental illness, and local bereavement support groups. There are also local victim’s advocate groups that can be contacted through your local police department or sheriff’s office.  Every year Utah Department of Health provides a list to its employees regarding the myriad of charitable organizations to which they can choose to donate. I cannot list them all, however, I would like to mention two that I’m most familiar with.

First of all there is National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) whose mission is to build better lives for those affected by mental illness. I have had an opportunity to participate in their annual walk that focuses on raising money and awareness for treatment and recovery for people with mental illness. I’m affiliated with this organization for two reasons. My initial purpose is personal as I’ve experienced the loss of several friends and family members by suicide due to mental illness: depression, bi-polar disorder, and substance abuse. Secondly, I’m associated with the University of Utah, Dept. of Psychiatry where I’ve been working with a team of researchers and doctors searching for understanding into suicide behavior.

As mandated by state legislature, Utah State Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) is responsible for investigating and examining every suicide death in the state. I take part in research at the University of Utah with hope that we might understand suicide behavior to a point that we can prevent intentional death with a substantial rate of success. It is hope that motivates me and helps me cope with the loss of friends and family as well as all the many people examined at the OME every day.

The best example I know for charity work is known locally as The Festival of Trees. If you’ve never attended this event please consider it for next year. In fact, now is the perfect time to begin planning next year’s donation since all Christmas decorations including artificial trees are on clearance to sale for the season. Everything displayed at the festival is donated and for sale. This includes elaborately decorated christmas trees, door wreathes, gingerbread houses, and homemade crafts. The best part is that 100% of the proceeds are returned to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The money helps families with little means provide medical treatment to their children.

Each tree is donated and accompanied by a heart-touching story. The stories express gratitude and love, hope and humility, and sometimes happy endings.  It can be difficult for me to read the stories as I walk through the forest of brightly decorated trees. Most of time I leave the reading to my wife who becomes flushed and tearful while I enjoy the plethora of Pez dispensers hanging from each branch of a white, artificial Christmas tree, or the Lego tree that must have cost a bundle of money to put together. You see, one of the coping mechanism I use while at work, besides humor, is dissociation. The stories that are familiar to me become real as I read them and the emotions I suppressed earlier (during the autopsy) come rushing back with a vengeance. That being said it is a good experience overall to see so many people come together to give hope and promise to others who may experience similar tragedy. (Speaking of myself, it isn’t healthy for a person to suppress so much emotion. My walk through the Festival of Trees is therapeutic for me. It helps me properly process each situation by witnessing positive resolution to tragedy. As I mentioned before, some of the stories have happy endings.)

Let us begin this new year with resolution that we will look for opportunities to help others. If we are the ones requiring help, then resolve to search it out. Allow others to help you. You may be surprised to find somebody who understands what you’re going through. You may find that by serving others you forget yourself and your own problems become secondary or even forgotten.

Happy New Year!