Unforgiven Pain

 A Guest Post by Judith Besserman, Ph. D. 

Imagery can help us find the key to forgiveness and compassion that appears to be beyond our reach.  Through imagery we see that we can extend our hands, that we can open our hearts, that we can dispel our misconceptions, and that we can find the way to release the haunting memories that enslave us.

Every one of us has memories of past experiences.  We remember the people we have met and the obstacles we have confronted.  We remember our successes, and we remember our failures.  Often, though, it is the memories that are weighted with emotional pain that recur that arise in our minds unbeckoned, and that remind us that someone we really trusted has betrayed us. 

These memories linger in our consciousness, influence our experience of life, and burden us emotionally and spiritually.  Sometimes these memories become our identity and we see ourselves as victims.  These debilitating memories are tinged with pain that is connected directly with our unwillingness to forgive.

Several misconceptions inhibit our ability to forgive.  Contrary to reason, many of us believe that it is the past event that is hurting us.  We find it uncomfortable, if not impossible, to acknowledge that we are causing the pain ourselves by keeping the hurtful memory alive in our consciousness.  We also fear that if we let go of the pain, if we forgive, we will be condoning what happened to us. 

Rather, if someone has wronged us and the wrong remains unforgiven, then surely we must be right.  Slowly, the hurtful feelings of being injured are transformed into powerful feelings of righteous indignation.  Although angry thoughts of revenge seem to offer relief from the pain, such thoughts also have an emotional price.  Such thoughts foreclose our future and keep us bound to past experience.

For some of us, remembering what happened may seem to serve as a protection against its recurrence.  We assure ourselves that this will never happen again!  Actually, quite the opposite is true, for this notion ensures the presence of the same feelings and we continue to re-experience what happened as though it were still happening. 

It is only when we release these memories and allow them to fade from consciousness that we free ourselves to face what is in front of us; only then do we see fully without prejudice and can allow life to unfold.  This releasing is called Forgiveness.

The imagery exercise below can help us gain a different perspective.  It is one of a series of exercises that can enable us to see our experience in a more human and philosophical way.

Imagery Exercise: Forest of Forgiveness

Intention: To Forgive Another

Frequency:  Do the exercise three times a day, from several seconds up to a minute, for 21 days.

  • Close your eyes and breathe out slowly three times (e.g. long slow exhalations from the mouth, followed by normal inhalations through the nose) 
  • See yourself walking on a country road.
  • You are dressed in blue or white. 
  • Walking along you come to a forest.
  • Approaching the first line of trees surrounding the forest, you see the people who have caused you much pain in your life emerging one by one from behind the trees one at a time.  
  • Breathe out.
  • Identify each of these people and approach each one. 
  • Ask each one why they cause you grief.  
  • Ask each one what makes you vulnerable to them.
  • Hear their answers.
  • Look at each one straight in the eye and see them disappear. 
  • Breathe out. 
  • Walk through the trees to a clearing in the center of the forest. 
  • Feel the warmth of the sun shining through the trees.
  • Smell the flowers and listen to the sounds of life around you.
  • Enjoy the nourishment that comes to you from your surroundings.
  • Breathe out and open your eyes.

Judith Besserman, Ph.D., is co-author of The Jerusalem Diet: Guided Imagery and the Personal Path to Weight Control.