THE BLOG
06/27/2013 12:36 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2013

How Forgiving Are You?

For-give-ness: Pronunciation: \-ˈgiv-nəs\ -- noun -- The act of letting go of one's anger towards someone for having hurt, wounded, betrayed, injured or harmed one. Forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting the harm someone has done, your disappointment in them or giving them a second chance to harm you, but it does mean letting go of the anger one attaches to the hurtful incident and of begrudging the person for it.

With so much wrongdoing to own up to, forgiveness, either asking for it or giving it, is in the air.

One of my favorite and most revealing openings in my talks, that I owe to Dave Hibbard, founder and CEO of Dialexis, who learned it from Caroline Myss, author of Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason (Hay House, $24.95), is to ask: "If I could give you the secret to happiness and peace of mind in one word, would you want to know what it is?"

Even to skeptical groups, most people are intrigued enough to reply, "Yes."

"If you don't agree with it, you can summarily reject it; but if you do agree with it, do you promise to embrace it and put it into action in your life?" I continue.

Since they are given a way out and since this seems like a logical request, this often triggers a "yes" from the group.

I then take out a piece of paper, write a word on it, fold up the piece of paper and hand it to someone in the group. The message is then handed from one person to the next.

One by one the majority of the group will read the word, pause, take a deep breath and give out a big sigh of agreement.

The word is forgiveness.

The exercise does not stop there.

I ask them next:

  1. "With a show of hands, how many of you when you read the word 'forgiveness,' rejected it?"
  2. "How many of you immediately thought of people you needed to forgive?"
  3. "How many of you immediately thought of people you need to ask forgiveness from?"
  4. "How many of you thought a combination of forgiving people and asking forgiveness from them?"
  5. "How many of you thought more about forgiving than asking forgiveness?"
  6. "How many of you thought more about asking forgiveness than forgiving others?"

I then explain to them:

  1. If you rejected the word, you are most likely a "dyed in the wool" narcissist, because you feel entitled to hold onto negative feelings towards anyone you choose to and you are very poor relationship material. You shouldn't be in a relationship, and I would advise others to not be in a relationship with you.
  2. If you thought either exclusively or more about people you needed to forgive than to ask forgiveness from, you are most likely someone that has narcissistic features and feels entitled. You can be in a relationship, but you are high maintenance. I would advise people to try a relationship with you, but to be on the lookout for getting burned out being with you, at which point they need to stop deluding themselves that you'll change and just get out.
  3. If you thought more about asking forgiveness than being forgiving, you are not narcissistic, are willing to take responsibility for your actions that hurt others. You are low maintenance and the best relationship material. I would advise others to be in a relationship with you.

Where are you when it comes to forgiveness? If you want to improve your relationships share this blog with your partner, children, parents, siblings and friends and ask them where on the continuum of "unforgiving to forgiving" they see you. If they see you as being more unforgiving than forgiving, ask them the effect it has had on them regarding being in a relationship with you. If they see you as more unforgiving than forgiving, stop it.

If you are so unforgiving and don't care about any of this, realize that there is another word that is synonymous when you get to the end of your life. That word is "bitter."

For more by Mark Goulston, M.D., click here.

For more on forgiveness, click here.

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