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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin



Not forgiving someone who has injured us may be doing more damage to us in the present than that person did to us in the past. We know that high blood pressure, heart problems and other physiological aliments may be a result of our not choosing to forgive someone who has wounded us.

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What keeps us from forgiving may be that we are finding pleasure in telling our hurt story. Marty Philips, Assistant Director for Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services, shared that when some people share their grievance story their brain pleasure pathway is ignited. There is pleasure for them in sharing their hurt story.

Consequently, there are some of us who enjoy telling and retelling our grievance story because we are getting something from it. Of course, some of our friends who have to hear it over and over aren't getting any pleasure by hearing it!

On the contrary, our friends are probably frustrated because it is obvious that the person telling the grievance story for the tenth time is really not interested in moving on or forgiving the one who hurt them. Lind-Kyle, author and therapist, writes "We become addicted to our bad moods and worry. Thus negative emotions start to feel safe, and we unconsciously latch on to our bad moods... It is easier to wallow and grumble than to take action to make things better."

Our brains actually get hot during conflict and when we are dealing with our hurts. Probably, this is where the term "hot head" comes from. Cooling the brain can be done in two ways. First, as author William James suggested:  "Change our thoughts to change our feelings to change our body's response,"  and "Not things but our thoughts about them that disturbs us."

The second way is change our body's response by learning to relax our bodies. When our bodies are relaxed we see our hurts in a different way. One of the ways to relax the body is relaxation exercises.  Breathing with our abdomen is a wonderful way of soothing ourselves. When we breathe in, say, "I am breathing in peace." As we exhale, say, "I am breathing out stress." Say what works for you. Another way of cooling the brain is by listening to meditation tapes or soft music.

Not only do relaxation techniques help cool the brain, but if we do the exercise before we think about our grievance story, we are able to see the hurt in a different light. We are not as upset and are able to reframe the story. When we are relaxed we stop focusing on what that person did that was hurtful and see some of the good things he or she is doing or has done.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 757-623-2700

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