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Doctor Debug was published in the Seattle magazine Tekbug

Now published in Montana's Natural Life News and Directory
Published in July/August 2003 Edition

Finding Forgiveness

    Dear Dr. Debug:

      One of the most difficult things for me to deal with is my parents' new-found desire to make amends for past wrongs. They both drank too much alcohol and were very "hard" people. Somehow, I survived their craziness. They "discovered" Alcoholics Anonymous a few years ago and have been trying to make things right with people. I am upset by their "last-minute" attempts at reconciliation. They weren't there for me when I was young, why should I be there for them now? It seems so phony, older people getting fearful about dying and suddenly trying to fix things. How do I handle this? -- Signed: Not Ready for Reconciliation in Livingston.

    Dear Not Ready:

      Thank you for writing! After many years of dealing with parents who have hurt us, it is no easy task to take down the important walls we have built to protect us from their insults and behavior.

      The fact that your parents may be following the AA 12-Step process in which Step 9 requires making direct amends to people they have harmed, except when to do so would injure someone, probably means they are not trying to "push" their apologies on you. If they are, then they need to learn more about Step 9. As for the fact that as we get closer to death we often try to fix things with folks we have hurt, this is only natural. Impending death affects all of us this way, and it often allows the meaner, more self-centered folks among us to tap into their better selves. They may try to do the right thing, maybe for the first time in their lives. It can be a change that is difficult to believe in.

      Here is the most important thing to consider about the process of dealing with people who have hurt us in the past, but who are not hurting us now: forgiveness can be very good for us. In the last 20 years, scientists have discovered how much forgiveness can lead to emotional and physical healing and wholeness. In your situation, it may allow you to significantly decrease the emotional background noise in your life. Resentment eats up a lot of energy, even when it is well locked-up.

      What is interpersonal forgiveness and why is it so powerful? Lewis Smedes, one of the early thinkers about forgiveness, defines three steps to the process of forgiveness: (1) surrendering the right to get even with the person who wronged us, (2) reinterpreting the person who wronged us in a larger format (letting go of the caricature we have created of them), and (3) allowing the emergence of a desire for the welfare of the person who wronged us. In forgiving, the forgiver gets to benefit from reducing their own negative affect (resentment), negative cognition (harsh judgments), and negative behavior (revenge-seeking).

      Although forgiveness can be seen as an unconditional gift given to someone who may not deserve it, it is also a huge gift to our own mental wellness. As we let go and forgive a person who has hurt us, we experience relief and healing. It is impossible to describe all the important details of the forgiveness process in this short column. I invite you to visit www.AllAboutForgiveness.com for more information. I hope this helps. -- Best wishes, Dr. Debug.

    Feeling bugged? Write to Doctor Debug and ask him about mental wellness, personal, relationship, medication or sexual concerns. E-mail sent to Doctor Debug is read only by Ron Sterling, M.D. No identities, whatsoever, will be revealed in any published answers. Disclaimer: The content offered by or through Doctor Debug is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Copyright 2003, Ron Sterling, M.D. All Rights Reserved. E-mail: deardoc@doctordebug.com. Back issues: doctordebug.com.

    Ron Sterling, M.D. (Dr. Debug) is an award-winning psychiatrist in Seattle, Washington. He has been writing for newspapers and magazines since 1998 on subjects ranging from good manners to senior mental health. He hosts and maintains the well-known Internet mental health center, DearShrink.com. The Doctor Debug column is dedicated to assisting with the "debugging of malfunctioning elements in our own personal programming."

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