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John Del Grosso MFT

Archive for March, 2011

Forgive and Forget?

A very important part of dealing with life is learning to forgive past hurts. But many people that I meet live under the axiom;”forgive and forget”. But what does that entail? Here is a little information I received from the marriage Sherpa.
Has your spouse ever told you to “get over it?” Maybe the affair was 6 years ago, or 6 weeks ago and they expect you to forgive and move on.

From what I’ve read, brain research reveals that “getting over it” is virtually impossible. You also may be interested to hear what this means for the age-old idea of “forgive and forget?”

Until recently, it was thought that the hippocampus was the most important brain structure involved in memory.

New studies suggest that there are different types of memory, and that different brain structures play prominent roles in these different types of memory (LeDoux, 1994).

Your hippocampus is responsible for declarative memory (memories about facts and details), but the amygdala, which is the small almond-sized structure located at the top of the brain-stem, is mostly responsible for emotional memory (LeDoux, 1996).

Neuroscientists have long suspected a brain structure that triggers emotional reactions quickly and independently of the thinking brain. This explains why a Vietnam veteran who experienced traumatic situations in combat may experience a surge of anxiety years later when a helicopter flies over head.

This also supports why you experience feelings of anxiety when your spouse comes home late (even with good reason) after you are trying to rebuild the trust after an affair.

The amygdala (or the emotional memory) will actually detect features from current circumstances to decide if they are close enough to past emotionally significant events to warrant an emotional alarm (Atkinson, 2005).

So, if you are struggling with anxiety when a thought comes to mind or something reminds you of the painful event, the good news is that you aren’t going crazy.

But that’s not all…

If that’s not enough, research at New York Rockefeller University, led by Bruce McEwen showed that excessive and chronic exposure to stress hormones may lead to the death of neurons in the hippocampus (Siegel, 1999). This supports why some people forget the details of a traumatic experience.

But in contrast, stress enhances the function of the amygdala. What this means is that while someone may forget the details of a stressful event, they still may be emotionally hyperactive to future events.

So even if we may want to “forget it” and we may… we may not be able to “get over it”, at least not without a little help.

Me Again …

Forgiveness can be accomplished. Current work through EMDR has recognized that memories can be healed of the emotional negative charge, or pain, as I see it. In working with my clients, I have experienced total removal of the pain in a memory through receiving the truth into that memory. It is the negative beliefs that cause that pain. Beliefs such as “I am worthless, or I am nothing.”

Forgiveness involves working out the negatively painful material, or beliefs. Forgiveness takes place when we no longer are angry or bitter at the person or situation that caused our pain. Since unforgiveness is sin, this necessitates repentance of our resentment in order to attain forgiveness. I must learn how to forgive others. In my work with people I have noticed that resentment is a habitual life pattern of hardening our hearts in order to protect us from the pain of the lies that the events in our lives caused us to believe. These lies cause us to react emotionally to current circumstances. In this study above, the lies would be what they consider to be the emotional memories.

One thing that I teach is that we as human beings learn to resent in order to self protect. As we give up this pattern of resentment and begin to live in patterns of forgiveness, we eventually retrain our brain, and self to respond differently to others. We become more like “Jesus”. This ability is given to us through the power of His Holy Spirit.

End of their rope

I often have the task, or should I say the pleasure of working with marriages at the end of their rope. One or both of the persons is “done” with the other. So much anger and resentment present, killing any chance of reconciliation. But, is this the best course for these marriages?

I have seen marriages reunited and successfully put on course. It takes work. It takes hope and it takes faith. We must be willing to put feelings aside and believe that God can restore long lost love.

I recently was sent information on a study from the University of Wisconsin’s National Survey of Family and Households.

They followed 645 couples who were extremely unhappy. Five years later they re-interviewed the couples. What they uncovered was amazing.

AmericanValues.org, in its executive summary of this study listed the following three conclusions that shocked so many.

1. Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier, on average, than unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

2. Divorce did not reduce symptoms of depression for unhappily married adults, raise their self-esteem, or increase their sense of mastery, on average, compared to unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

Here’s the best part…

3. About two-thirds of unhappy spouses who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later. The unhappiest marriages experienced the most dramatic turnarounds: 78% of adults who said their marriages were very unhappy and who avoided divorce ended up happily married five years later.

These findings are very surprising in a culture that teaches us divorce is an easy way to end your problems quickly.

What I have recognized in working with marriages is the marriage is healable is the parties are willing to follow Jesus’ advice to remove the plank from their own eye. This is the first priority in any healing. Whether from the hurts of marriage, or the trauma of the past, our pain comes from what we believe, and is further aggravated by our years of resentment.

Following the plain directions of scripture moves us toward decreased pain. Low self esteem gives way to increased God esteem. My book identifies simple ways towards this healing.

But first we must stop the choices to leave and turn back towards our spouse and toward our God. Are you one of the 78% of those that can find renewed happiness? By just sticking it out. It is time to work just as hard to restore our relationships as we have worked to get out of them.