Q&A with LeAnn Thieman on Forgiveness

In my previous post, I spoke about one of my learnings for helping the nursing profession grow more resilient and introduced the concept of forgiveness. I can tell you this is not an easy subject matter to discuss in the workplace or beyond. What I can also tell you is that the energy of being angry and judgmental wears on the individual, team and organization. I have watched departments implode between shifts or amongst team members due to these emotions. As I shared in the last post, I have also watched nurses leave the profession, because they felt they could never measure up or meet the required needs. They were exhausted, and tying a knot at the end of their rope with the hopes of hanging on was not a viable action.

In thinking through this subject, I wanted to share insight from someone who is actively working with nurses on self-care. LeAnn Thieman is a nurse and co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Here, she shares tangible actions you can take to help you in this crazy chaotic world we call healthcare.

Martie: Why is it so important to forgive?

LeAnn: We waste a lot of our energy, our health and even our lives when we fail to forgive. Religious, spiritual and medical leaders have taught the practice of forgiveness. Research shows that it is not only good for our souls but also for our hearts and bodies. Those who fail to forgive have increased cardiovascular disease and lower immune-system function. Forgiving people have lower divorce rates, less clinical depression and better social support.

Organized religion and 12-step programs have long recognized the healing power of forgiveness. It has helped people break through intergenerational cycles of revenge, anger and bitterness and resolve resentment within relationships.

Martie: Starting is the tough part. Especially for those in healthcare.

LeAnn: It is tough but needs to begin—starting today. First of all, we must forgive ourselves. For any past mistakes or indiscretions, we exonerate ourselves. What we did back then was who we were then, based on what we knew then. It has nothing to do with who we choose to be today. And starting today, we must forgive somebody else, no matter how horrific the offense. And I know some are horrific.

It took me too long to realize that when we refuse to forgive someone, it doesn’t hurt them; it only hurts us. Why would we give someone who wounded us so deeply the power to continue to harm us with sleepless nights, upset stomachs and headaches?

We must forgive them. Whether they deserve it or not, we do. I know people who are mad at others who don’t even know they’re mad at them. I know people who are mad at past administrations that are long gone. I know people who are mad at dead people. We must forgive. It is freeing and healing.

Martie: As an author and nurse how often does this topic come up?

LeAnn: I’ve had the privilege of writing 14 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, including three for nurses, the most recent “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Inspiration for Nurses.” In every one of my books there are stories, often full chapters, on forgiveness. When I do presentations or launch SelfCare for HealthCare afterward, people consistently come up to me and say, “Thanks for talking about forgiveness.” It is one of the most powerful healing tools.

Martie: Tell us how you encourage nurses to start the forgiving process.

LeAnn: There are four basic steps to begin this therapeutic journey. First, realize you have been unjustly treated and have a right to be angry.

Second, decide that forgiveness is an option of choice—and a positive one. Forgiving does not equal forgetting, and sometimes there is no reconciliation. A widely accepted definition of forgiveness is to pardon or release from further punishment. For the offender and you.

Third, reframe the one who hurt you. Acknowledging how they were raised and treated helps reveal how they were probably victims of similar conduct. In this step we are not condoning or excusing their behavior but examining and understanding it from another perspective.

The fourth stage occurs when you begin to develop feelings of empathy or even compassion for the offender; not because of what they did but in spite of it.

Finally, you can forgive, often breaking the cycle and putting to rest feelings of revenge, anger and guilt.

Martie: What other actions can folks put into action to forgive?

LeAnn: Positive visualization is another effective tool. Visualizing a quarrel ended, a relationship restored, the pain and alienation eliminated is amazingly effective.

Sometimes you can confront the offender directly, but sometimes that is not possible or advisable. Then it may help to imagine, vividly, the face of the person who has wronged you and say out loud, “I forgive you.” Writing a letter, whether you send it or not, releasing the other person—and you—can promote healing.

Forgiveness sometimes feels like a short-term loss for a real, long-term gain. Some confuse it as a weakness, but it demands great moral courage and spiritual strength both in granting and accepting it. When someone apologizes to you for wrongdoing, use the four steps to pardon them, releasing yourself and them from further torment.

Forgiveness is an empowering choice and sometimes one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

How can forgiveness help you be better for yourself, colleagues and patients? Share your thoughts below.

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