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FORGIVING OUR

PARENTS
By Fred Luskin, Ph.D., Jed Rosen, M.S.W. and Ken Silvestri, Ed.D.

Many of us baby boomers were born small group of researchers and psy- mother, as if his sense of self would
into the age of therapy. We learned to be chotherapists have studied forgiveness simply dissipate as he related to her.
well versed and articulate about our based on The Stanford Forgiveness Despite his successful life, Frank was-
thoughts and feelings. Prior generations Project and have worked with Dr. n’t comfortable avoiding his mother.
might have repressed the disagreeable Luskin to adapt this work into a He dreaded how he would react when
feelings they had about themselves and “Forgiveness Therapy”. This approach he learned of a serious illness or her
their families. The consequence of this we have applied to help people deal death. One time Frank said “I knew
repression was a lingering estrange- with aging parents and others who may deep inside that when my mother died I
ment from our own experience. Part of have hurt us. would feel upset that I let her slip away,
what we baby boomers learned was to like I wasted an important relationship,
distinguish ourselves from our parents Frank is a case example of how a man but I didn’t know what else I could do.”
by learning about and expressing our mired in a painful grievance was able to Like many of Frank’s baby boomer col-
anger instead of hiding these feelings. learn to forgive. Frank, a baby boomer, leagues, Frank had learned in his previ-
By consciously differentiating our- had severed all contact with his wid- ous therapy about his anger, upset, inse-
selves from our parents we aspired for owed mother for at least ten years. curity as a youngster growing up with a
greater freedom and this freedom Frank had declined all of his mother’s mentally ill mother. Frank was articu-
became a hallmark of our generation. entreaties and demands over most of his late and well versed in his thoughts and
adult life because he felt his mother was feelings. Yet he had to admit that in all
Now that the baby boomers are aging so toxic that he feared he would risk of his years with the most noted thera-
they face the old age and ultimate death everything he had worked for (his mar- pists, Frank had not learned of any way
of their parents. This painful time riage and career) if he interacted with to forgive his mother. Frank had no idea
remind us that our parents, like our her. Frank recalled a childhood in how, but he asked for help with teach-
planet, are not inexhaustible resources. which his mother and her depression ing him how to forgive.
We need to come to grips with our par- and suicidal attempts all but engulfed
ents, their good and bad aspects. When his sense of self. Frank felt as if he Frank was very busy in his early adult-
I discussed forgiveness of parents with could drown in his mother’s needs. hood trying to not be his mother. “I
my acupuncturist, he said that if you “I’m not sure many people could under- remember freaking out if I noticed that
don’t forgive your parents you don’t stand it but I stayed away from my I laughed in a way that reminded me of
forgive yourself. Each parent, he said, mother to protect my relationships with my mother. Any subtle attribute that
is fifty percent of you. my wife and children. I actually feared bore her influence threatened me,”
that if I had a relationship with my Frank said. In trying to excise his
The problem is most of us do not know mother I would endanger my relation- mother from his life he not only rid
how to forgive. We have ideas about ship with my immediate family,” Frank himself of the negative traits of his
what forgiveness means that we have recounted in one of our earlier sessions. mother, he also rid himself of many of
taken from religion or the guidance Frank remembers losing all of his self the positive aspects of his mother and as
from our early socialization period. A confidence when he spoke with his a result he remembered feeling a deep
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level of emptiness in the midst of his wary of the traumatic memories or of mother for hanging in there and said he
success. The scary truth was that as dif- trusting her he started to make contact wanted to ease her suffering. Frank felt
ficult as Frank’s mother was, on a deep with other memories. He remembered as if a hundred pound weight had been
level he knew that she loved him and watching movies with her as a child or lifted and that he might live an extra ten
that he loved her. This was difficult to laughing with her when life seemed years.
reconcile with how toxic he found her. funny. Frank had memories of his
Frank remembers being confused when mother’s generosity when she was feel- Several months later Frank’s mother
he would accomplish something in his ing secure and happy. Frank remem- was diagnosed with lung cancer. While
life and find that he was imagining how bered, “My mother had a softness and the blow was immense, both Frank and
proud his mother would be if she only sweetness when she was feeling good his mother expressed gratitude for their
knew. that I enjoyed. I used to like just chat- opportunity for forgiveness and recon-
ting with her or sometimes watching ciliation. “Frank’s mother, after learn-
Frank needed to access the positive movies on the TV in the evenings when ing of her terminal diagnoses, said to
feelings he had for his mother without I was a teenager. I had all but blotted Frank, “I know this is bad Frank but can
causing him to deny his negative feel- out these memories in my attempts to you imagine how bad it would have
ings. Frank also needed to be support- protect myself from her crazy periods.” been if we never got to speak to each
ed in his need for safety which is what other again?” Frank was moved and
his physical detachment from his moth- Frank was still not ready to resume con- Frank was healed.
er had provided him. To help him Frank tact with his mother because he feared
was asked to take some deep breaths their relationship would revive and that Forgiveness is the true resolution of the
into and out of his belly. As he inhaled he would not be able to handle the grief process. Grief begins with pain
he allowed his belly to expand. On the regressive pull it would exert on them. and ends in peace. We all need to learn
exhale he consciously relaxed his belly But, something had changed. Frank how to be our full adult selves. In order
so that it stayed soft. After two or three wanted to forgive his mother. He wrote to do this we need to differentiate from
of these deep breaths Frank thought of several letters to her that he did not our parents. It is necessary to acknowl-
an image that brought him nothing but send. In these letters, Frank expressed edge our upset at the failings of our par-
pure love and joy. This image could be his sorrow that he had to sever the way ents in order to see them clearly. If we
a person, a pet or a beautiful scene from they did. He affirmed his love for her fail to see our parent’s flaws we will
nature that filled him with awe and and he sincerely wished her well. remain stunted in our growth and may
wonder. He was asked to bring this lov- Although Frank felt badly that he didn’t not realize our potential. The problem
ing image into his heart and then begin feel up to contacting his mother, he was is that too many of us stay reactive to
breathing into his heart. He observed relieved to be able to wish her well. He our parent’s flaws. The process of
how he now felt which was consider- was beginning to forgive. becoming who we fully are begins
ably more relaxed and peaceful. when we see the flaws of our parents
Six months later Frank received a call but is not completed until we forgive
From this relaxed place Frank could from his aunt saying that his mother them for those flaws.
widen and gentle his perspective. was quite ill and that she had suffered
Frank pictured his mother as a young greatly in the past year. His aunt felt
Fred Luskin, Ph.D., Jed Rosen,
child so he could see her in a vulnerable Frank had a right to know. Frank was M.S.W., and Ken Silvestri, Ed.D
state. He held the struggles she had with jolted in a way that was completely dif- are all principals of the New Jersey
her parents, siblings, peers and with life ferent than what he expected. Rather Center for Forgiveness Education.
He pictured his mother dealing with her than dread or fear contact with his Dr. Luskin also serves as the
mother’s repeated violence towards her. mother, Frank felt a deep, compelling Director of the Stanford Forgiveness
He saw his mother struggling with ill- need to help his mother in her suffering. Projects and is the author of the
ness and periods of poverty. He imag- He found to his surprise what he want- best selling “Forgive for Good and
ined his mother frightened and lonely, ed was for her to be at peace. Frank’s Forgive for Love.” Jed Rosen is the
Clinical Director of The New Jersey
not comfortable in her family or with wish for his mother to not suffer
Center for Forgiveness Education.
her peer group. Frank was able to see exceeded the anxiety and dread that he Mr. Rosen has taught forgiveness
what she was up against in her life, the thought was his truth. throughout the country and helped
considerable hardships and fears that originate forgiveness therapy, a psy-
burdened her. Frank also imagined that Frank called his mother who promptly chotherapeutic process promoted in
underneath all the pain and struggle was answered. His mother sounded weak articles and training seminars.
a person whose deepest positive and but she was joyous at hearing from him. Dr. Silvestri is the Forgiveness
loving hopes were the same as his: to be She told him that she felt nothing but Education Director of Education and
happy and to be loved. love and gratitude to receive his call. has collaborated with Dr. Luskin and
Mr. Rosen in the development of for-
She added that she had waited for this
giveness therapy and the establish-
Frank softened from the practice of this day and that she had never given up on ment of a certification program for
kind of guided imagery. Although still him. Frank, quite moved, thanked his forgiveness trainers.

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