In September, I had the opportunity to present on The Role of Forgiveness in Suicide Prevention and Recovery. Over the next few weeks I'd like to share some things I learned. Today, I want to look at one of the risk factors for suicide and how forgiveness can help protect us from that risk factor.
One risk factor that has been studied by Joiner, Van Orden and others is the idea of Perceived Burdensomeness. The simplest way to explain this idea is that people begin to believe that the world would be better off without them.
Over my decades on this earth, I have had many conversations with myself about how EVERYONE would be better off if I wasn't here. Sometimes the conversation involves looking back at the people I have hurt and wondering if they would have had better lives if I had never lived. Sometimes it is feeling like I am unfixable: I am broken and I will continue to hurt others and there is no hope in sight. In the past, I have thought about actively killing myself and other days I just wish a tree would fall on me so the world could be better...without me.
One part of the journey of forgiving others is to look at how their choices have effected me. How have the ways I have been hurt changed the way I think about myself and how the world works? If I can recognize that the reason I think I am no good, useless, and a burden goes back to when someone hurt me, then maybe I can at least consider that my thoughts about myself and my place in this world could be wrong. What if that person had not hurt me? What if I had different chances? Is it really ME who is the problem or have I actually survived through some really hard circumstances?
The other consideration is what I believe about self-forgiveness. Do I believe that I have inherent worth? Do I believe I am more than my mistakes? Do I allow myself to see the good I have done? As I begin to forgive myself, I begin to see that I am NOT evil incarnate. I am NOT a destructive tornado ripping through people's lives. I am human. I am not perfect. I have made mistakes-just like EVERYONE else. I deserve forgiveness and understanding and patience, just like everyone else.
You do too.
September was Suicide Prevention Month. If you are wondering if people would be better off without you, take a moment and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. (Quote is from Project Happiness.)
I have learned the power of gratitude along my journey. I am in some groups that recommend a "gratitude journal"--an ongoing list of things to be grateful for. Lately, I have challenged myself to look beyond the obvious blessings and the great things I have going on in life. I am trying to look at the pain in my life and see if it has resulted in anything to be grateful for. Choosing gratitude through pain--that is radical gratitude.
I don't think I will ever be grateful for the pain that others have inflicted onto me, or that I have inflicted onto myself. It hurt. It was wrong. It never should have happened. But as I grow older, I can look back and see if something worth being thankful for occurred because of that pain.
I am not thankful that I am an alcoholic. I was a jerk, unreliable, even dangerous at times. But I am thankful that I hit bottom very quickly and that I have friends who stayed with me through the ick. I am not thankful my dad was an alcoholic. But I am grateful that we were able to have a common language when we both entered into recovery.
I am not thankful for my depression. But I am thankful that in struggling, it brought me to find help. It also helps me connect with other people that are hurting. I am not thankful for disagreements I might have had with spiritual leaders. But I am thankful that now when I meet someone who has been hurt by religion, I have empathy and understanding and not judgement.
Practicing radical gratitude--finding something to be thankful for in the midst of pain--helps me battle my regrets and resentments. The less regrets and resentments I have, the more room I have for forgiveness.
As the October wind continues to gust around my yard, I see more and more colorful leaves dropping, floating, zig-zagging, plummeting to the ground. But not all of them. Some seem to want to hang around. Sounds like my journey.
As I journey through life and attempt to live a forgiving life, I need to change. I can't be satisfied with "well, that's just the way I am." I have to consider some ideas, thoughts, feelings, memories in a new way. If I want things to get better, something needs to change. If I want to feel differently, something needs to change. If I want to think differently, something needs to change.
Sometimes change is brought about by outside forces that blow so hard through my life (like the wind and the leaves,) I have no choice but to change. Sometimes change is brought about internally (like the whole leaf coloring process) where I decide I need to change and I actively seek change.
Change is hard
But sometimes I don't want to change. I want to stay this hue. I want to stay attached to this tree. I want to hold onto my resentments. I want to keep my grudges. I want to stand firm until someone, somewhere agrees with how right I am and how I deserve to be resentful and grudgeful (and in pain) and even then, I may just feel vindicated, but still not let go. I can choose to hang on.
Fall is an opportunity to stop and look at the dead leaves I might have hanging in my life. Am I hanging onto personal failure and clinging to what my life might have been if I had made different choices? Am I hanging onto the hurt someone inflicted on me in fear that if I see it differently, I might lose my identity? Am I hanging onto perfectionism? Am I hanging onto resentments?
We are here today. We can't be anywhere else but here. We are here now. We can't fully exist in any other time but now. In the here and the now, you and I have choices as to what we want to let go of and what we want to hang onto. It is scary to let go. I can't promise a Spring with green leaves, rainbows and unicorns. But I can promise that if nothing changes, it will remain the same. I can promise if we never change, we will never realize the awesome, beautiful, loving, caring, forgiving person we are meant to be. What do you need to let go of? With gratitude,
A Little Extra
Borrowing from my fellow forgiveness laborer with Forgiveness Institute KC (www.yeabut.org ), I too would like to encourage you to check out a "Ted Talk" from Jean Paul Samputu, an advocate for Forgiveness working in Canada. Click the link below to enjoy his most profound 10 minute story. Thanks Chuck! Jean Paul Samputu at https://www.instagram.com/tv/CFKJbXbobG0/?igshid=1k2q6r5ph1f64
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Thanks to Mehdi Babousan for sharing their work on Unsplash.