When you experience a potentially hurtful event, you put the experience through your personal mental filters and interpret it accordingly. This is the second step in creating a grievance story - interpreting the event. The event itself is neither bad nor good, but your thinking makes it so. And, as soon as you interpret the event as bad, you have laid the first brick in building a big, hairy grievance story, which will require the effort of forgiveness to de-construct. Therefore, it is important to challenge your interpretation and don’t believe everything you think at first. You will save yourself the energy of building a grievance story and subsequently having to forgive.
The first instinct you probably experience after a potentially hurtful incident is self-defense. You defend yourself against your alleged attacker and make yourself the hero and the other person the villain. This reaction is terribly human but doesn’t produce the greatest long-term happiness and inner peace. In fact, it just makes you angry, resentful and bitter, which are heavy emotional loads that tire you out and make you grumpy.
Challenge your interpretation. Hold a debate with yourself and argue another point of view. Make a game of conjuring up alternative stories about the situation.
For example, your brother/friend/boss/co-worker (substitute your favorite adversary) does something you think is extremely stupid and inconsiderate, prompting you to get mad and say so. Your first reaction is to defend yourself, labeling the other person the jerk and yourself the angel. Sure, you can fan the flames of that story and create a big bonfire of a grievance story, but you’ll be the one that gets burned. Instead, try to take another perspective and find a different interpretation.
Of course, if the other person did something unethical or illegal, you should not thwart the natural consequences of that person’s behavior. What we’re talking about here is the inside game - the benefit to yourself to consider other interpretations of what happened.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to re-frame the situation, gain a new perspective and stop building a grievance story:
- What would cause me to act in the same manner as the one who hurt me?
- Will I even remember this when I’m on my deathbed?
- If I were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had only 30 days to live, how would I see this incident?
- How can I attribute a positive or benign motive to the other person’s actions?
Don’t believe everything you think! Challenge your self-defensive thoughts the next time you are aggrieved and make up a new story. By expanding your perspective of the situation, you can avoid the need for forgiveness and find more happiness.