I am a passionate and dedicated professional engaged in the treatment of addiction and other mental health disorders and especially the heart of those who I engage in my work and life. Recently, I was a featured speaker at a Family Systems Symposium speaking on “Demonstrating the Power of Forgiveness and Restoration of the Family System.”
My pre-prepared powerpoint and notes took an entirely different turn. The symposium was primarily attended by clinicians and a few clergy. What I recall is that I was led strongly in my Spirit to invite vulnerability in and to be transparent about certain life experiences - the kinds of experiences where I have chose to harbor un-forgiveness although I believed I had forgiven many who had harmed me. Obviously, there was residue in the nooks and crannies of my heart.
For a visual image, consider a heart scattered with little stones of concrete that is non-flexible in my thoughts, emotions and deep in my heart where only God and my children and deepest loved ones are to dwell.
What I spoke about set deeply into the hearts of everyone in attendance. There were endless tears and the hand of God was surely upon each and every individual. I shared about deep harmful, abusive, adverse life changing situations stemming over my early childhood years and eventually into my adult life. I was an ACE kid and eventually grew up to become an ACE adult a survivor of adverse childhood experiences.
I genuinely encouraged others to consider forgiveness as love in action. It is our inherent capacity to accept what is happening, no matter how terrifying and painful, and then advocate for change, and choice to begin taking action in the opposite direction; to redirect your mental energy towards thoughts that bring about peace and seek divine justice, not revenge. The first step, is revisiting the painful parts and consider what I encouraged others to do to also do it for myself.
Our choice to develop a capacity to forgive, capacity to love deeply and genuinely allow ourselves to be set free. That was a transformational goal for those in attendance, and again, for myself.
Forgiveness happens when we choose to offer compassion for ourselves and one another to recover from the offenses of hurtful acts, and then learn how to do better holding ourselves and one another with empathy and grace.
Based on the endless responses that continue to be spoken of, I believe I offered a few very helpful and practical insights about forgiveness that can be put to work in your own family.
Here are five steps I want to offer to others to effectively deal with the painful narratives that are memories living in the body and in the mind.
● First, remove your judgment and thoughts of condemnation from the story of your childhood or your life experiences. It’s not about being good or bad; it’s about being true to oneself.
● Secondly, confronting a painful narrative involves recognizing what forgiveness is not. It is not about forgetting, it is about forgiving ourselves and this is grace that gives us hope.
● Third, we must recognize what painful narratives fuel shame, guilt, self judgment, resentment, hatred, self-pity, etc. I strongly suggest that we stand firm and do not be in agreement with these emotions and/or thoughts.
● Fourth, when you recognize the negative emotion that keeps these painful narratives alive, and replace judgment with grace then you no longer seek to punish people who hurt you. Ultimately we punish ourselves.
● Fifth, make a conscious choice to no longer identify with the past.
One of my spiritual sons and colleagues, Clay Rojas was also a co-speaker at the symposium. He shared three disciplines of forgiveness which make it possible to reflect back the goodness of God in the middle of hostile circumstances within the family system.
● Purpose-driven thinking. It takes discipline to think correctly because the brain is processing a ton of information. We have the power to cultivate a hopeful and empowered perspective to resist the urge to continue feeding the hostility of being offended, or enticed into risky and/or meaningless habits. Whatever you give your attention is your power. “Think about what you are thinking about.” Rojas said. “Whatever you feed your mind, manifests in the physical as words and actions. If you struggle with a person, it triggers the hurt. Give it to God.
● The practice of being grateful. “God dwells in a thankful heart,” he said. “Complaints stink and leave a stench in your heart, sucking the life out of you. Only God has the complete eternal perspective, which is different from our own perspective. God will never cut you short. He inhabits the praises of his people. When you don’t feel like it, thank God on credit”.
● Reclaiming your loves. When being in alignment with God is on top of your list, life gets easier. When you make God your first priority, then it is possible to change your perspective from victim to victor, whatever the circumstance or people involved. “Offense is an action; offended is a choice.”
I have treated addiction, mental health, trauma and the disconnected family system for many years. As a family systems and intervention expert, I want to share that a most powerful experience for a family system is when they promote forgiveness, recognize the full scope of possibilities and consequences of what un-forgiveness will not afford them. True forgiveness affords us grace and the freedom of choice to break the pattern. It lets everyone off the hook. Very often, the choice to forgive and trust breaks multi-generational patterns. Families as a whole establish and live out distinct cultures reflecting patterns of unspoken assumptions which communicate the way to think, feel, believe and act. One of the most powerful demonstrations a family can do is to create a culture of forgiveness and take the next step into trust, strengthen and restore the family system.
It is up to us to consider our ability and power to chose how we show up in this life, how we impact our loved ones, our clients, colleagues and others. In the end what really transitions us beyond the veil is that our heart is right, that God fully dwells within us and that we have had the capacity to forgive and love. Love is fluid, has movement and I believe, it is all we truly take with us to our eternal destination. Psalm 16.
About Dr. Jessica Rodriguez:
Dr. Jessica Rodriguez "Dr. J" is currently the CEO and Clinical Director of Gateway Corp, Clinical Consultant and Educator for Onsite Strategies and Lead Trainer for Gateway Interventions. Her primary focus is promoting evidence-based programs and practices that foster and build assets at the individual and community levels. Her work in the field of co-occurring treatment, Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, Cultural Competency, Integrated Treatment Approaches for Complex Addiction and Family Systems, Trauma and more has presented at national conferences. Her body of work includes workshops, published writings and digital media that includes; Mental Health, Tele-Health/Tele-Therapy, Law and Ethics, Cultural Diversity and Relational trainings. Dr J’s PhD focus is Integrated Psychology. She specializes in addiction, trauma, spiritual integration and family resiliency. In 2004, she received her second doctorate in 2008. Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Recovery Matters published her story, http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/jessica-storyfeb14.page. She is a powerful speaker and trainer on a national level at conferences, symposiums and webinars.
See DrJ’s itinerary at: http://www.onsitestrategies.com/drjs_itinerary
www.gatewaycorp., www.onsitestrategies.com, www.gatewayinterventions.com