Relationship Workshop: Ruminations drive your anger
How do you know you haven’t forgiven your co-parent?
Frequently, co-parents I’ve worked with have easily answered this question:
“I feel this intense hatred toward him,” Jasmine said.
“Sometimes I think I have let it go and forgiven her, but sometimes when I get so angry with her then I know that the anger I feel is way out of proportion. That’s how I know I haven’t forgiven her,” Matt said.
“I think about all the ways he‘s hurt me and the kids so often,” Joselyn said. “That’s how I know I haven’t been able to forgive him.”
Joselyn seemed to really nail it for her and many other co-parents who haven’t forgiven their ex. We refer to this constantly thinking of the hurt as “chewing the cud” or in less colloquial terms, rumination. Constantly going over in your mind the offenses or the hurts done to you by your co-parent is a sure sign of a lack of forgiveness.
And that is confirmed by research. Studies have shown that rumination increases anger, increases thoughts of revenge, and increases unproductive behaviors. In fact, some researchers have concluded that rumination may be the key cognitive process that interferes with forgiveness. If you look at other troublesome behaviors and feelings, such as depression, substance abuse, and anger, rumination has been implicated in them, as well, as an important cognitive process.
When your anger is fueled by rumination, not only do you find it nearly impossible to forgive, but those intense and obsessive thoughts can lead to you thinking about -- and carrying out -- vengeful acts.
While forgiveness of your co-parent may take a long time to complete, there are some forgiveness behaviors you can do that will help in the meantime. One of the things you can work on is reducing your rumination while trying to eliminate the kinds of things unforgiving co-parents tend to think and say, such as:
“I can’t stop thinking about what he did to me.”
“It’s impossible for me to forgive what she did”
“How could I forgive her after what she did to the kids?”
The very first thing to do to try to reduce your obsessive thinking is to challenge your negative thoughts.
Byron Katie in her book “Loving What Is” and in her work, which she refers to as “The Work,” talks about a four-step process for doing “turnabouts” in your life. The steps she suggests involve asking four questions:
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.). For example, “Is it true that I could never forgive my co-parent?”
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true? (Yes or no.) Can you absolutely know that it’s true you could never forgive her or him?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What feelings, reactions, or behaviors result when I believe that I can never forgive him or her?”
4. Who would you be without the thought? Who would you be if you could give up your thought that you could never forgive him?
This process can help you challenge you negative thoughts and can lead to contemplating the idea that you could possibly forgive your co-parent, and that if you did you might be a different person.
Forgiveness is the letting go of things that hurt you. But it is often your thoughts that drive how you feel. With concentrated effort, you can begin to give up the thoughts that make you angry.