This is a follow-on to a conversation about resolving forgiveness being digital, rather than analog, with Rob Voyle, a colleague who has specialized in teaching our method for reaching forgiveness. That conversation was a follow-on to two previous posts about scaling: “On a Scale of 1-10, How useful is Scaling” and “More About Scaling.”

Rob sent me an extensive email, and I responded. After sending it, I thought that it might make an interesting blog post. Rob and I reviewed it to be sure it would be clear to a reader, and this dialogue is the result. The kind of detailed comments Rob offers are nice stimuli for me to respond to and learn from, because otherwise they might never come to the forefront of my attention.

Rob: I have been focusing on leading forgiveness workshops teaching clergy how to help someone forgive, and also doing forgiveness retreats where people can bring their resentment and leave without it. I have found the 0-10 scale helpful to track what is going on and what may still need to be resolved. When I ask people to think of someone they resent, they will often think of someone who evokes anger/resentment as the primary emotional response. But upon working with them I have discovered that they actually have several different emotional responses clustered together which they call resentment.

Steve: Yes, sometimes there will be a mixture of feeling responses, and then you need to sort them out, ideally ahead of time. For instance, “You still resent this person; do you have any other responses that are mixed in with that? For instance, some people are disappointed, others have regret about lost opportunities, or grief about the lost relationship, etc.” Once sorted out, each one will need a different method for resolution, and once resolved, my experience is that each one will be digital, so there is no need for the analog SUDs scale.

Rob: I think using an analog SUDs scale is misleading. The change in response is not gradual but in significant discrete blocks. For example, after completing the forgiveness process most will have a very digital response and the level will be 0. A significant number (probably about 1 in 10) will often have a 9 to 3 reduction. However the remaining 3 points of distress are not actually due to resentment, they are usually grief. They still miss the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a desired future because of what the other person had done. On one occasion the remaining distress was residual trauma that needed resolving.

Steve: Yes, exactly. Each response will resolve digitally, so an overall SUDs scale will be misleading

Rob: On the other hand, several have reported a reduction to 3 or 4, they are often unsure about the level and it appears volatile, in that it could easily go back up to a 6 as they think about the situation. In this situation there has not been a digital response. This type of response I have found to indicate that there is an objection to forgiving, or the “relocation” of the image has been unsustainable.

Steve: Definitely find all objections, ideally before mapping across.

If “the ‘relocation’ of the image has been unsustainable,” I always assume that indicates an objection, and typically there are a LOT of objections to forgiving. The other possibility is that the “target” experience of resolution isn’t quite the right one. There is a nice example of this in a previous post about resolving hate.

Rob: One of the most striking examples of an objection was with a man with whom I had done all the steps, satisfied all objections and still had a widely fluctuating level of resentment. Almost as an afterthought, when I was ready to give up an admit failure, I asked him if there was something to learn from the experience. “If he was to encounter a similar situation in the future what would he do differently?” He paused, considered the possibility and said, ‘Yes.’ He allowed the experience to teach him what to do differently and then future-paced that learning. He then turned and very dramatically said, “It is gone.” I was amazed at how his unconscious mind would not let him waste the potential for learning.

Steve: That is a lovely description of the basic task of all change work (including the forgiveness process): to learn from the past and apply it to the future, so that the new response is resourceful and automatic.

Rob: What I found was that many participants had very little clarity about what they were actually experiencing when I would ask them to think of a person that they resent. Some would be angry, others hurt, others afraid they would encounter the person again and be hurt again. Many would confuse hurt and anger and many would be angry that they would encounter the person again tomorrow at work, or in a family situation.

Steve: Yes, the positive function of anger is always to protect against a repetition of the harm that was done. Clients will only be willing to “let go” of the anger when they have a more resourceful response.

Rob: Very few were aware of grief but after resolving resentment they would still have a lower intensity negative emotion, which upon inquiry was grief. They were recognizing a relationship was over and missing the possibility of the good things that had been in the relationship.

On reflection, to be truly accurate, I should say to the client, “As you think of this person and what happened, on a 0-10 scale what is your current level of distress.” And then track the distress as being made up of discrete experiences of resentment, grief, and or trauma.

I tried this in the most recent training. I invited people to rank the overall intensity of distress, (using a general term for their negative emotional experience) on a 0-10 scale and then invite them to break it into how much was anger, how much hurt, or how much was grief. I didn’t really find it helpful and took up too much time in a group setting trying to get specific.

Steve: “Distress” is a very general term that could apply to many different kinds of unpleasantness, so using that word is an invitation to mix different things together. I think it’s better to be specific, after using the forgiveness process. “Do you feel any anger or resentment now?” Assuming a “No” response, then ask, “Do you have any other unresolved feelings or concerns?” and if so, find out what they are. And it’s even better to do this at the beginning if you can.

Rob: On reflection I think my best strategy is to begin with the resentment, especially since that is what was advertised and has drawn people to the retreat or training. As I mentioned, very few are initially aware of grief and only discover it after a layer of anger was resolved.

Steve: Good point, especially in that context.

Rob: Here are several other things that I have found important to be aware of. Often I have found that people will have at least two different resource locations. People I have forgiven and now trust, and people I

have forgiven and still don’t trust because they are essentially untrustworthy.

Steve: Yes, absolutely. You need to keep forgiveness separate from “trust” or anything else the client has combined with forgiveness. Again see my previous post on resolving hate for an example of this.

Rob: Some people aren’t initially aware of that distinction and will put the “untrustworthy” image, in the trustworthy location. Clarifying these objections and finding the appropriate resource location will usually result in a profound digital response and the level will result in a highly sustainable 0 level of distress.

Steve: Yes, I agree.

Rob: Probably a third of the people in my classes also have the added problem that the person they are forgiving is someone that they will continue to encounter such as work mate/boss/family member and will most likely continue in their hurtful ways. Developing and future-pacing additional resourceful responses toward the forgiven but untrustworthy person is crucial.

Steve: Sure. And often they need more than just an emotional state resource. They may need very specific behavioral choices to protect themselves in the ongoing relationship.

Rob: Making the distinction between forgiveness (how I deal with my past) and reconciliation (an agreement between people about how they will be together in the future.)

Steve: “Agreement” requires the cooperation of the other person, which is an ill-formed outcome because it’s not under the client’s control, and may not be achievable. Best to teach them skills and behaviors that don’t require agreement.

Rob: This is a very important distinction, especially for church people who radically confuse the two and naively assume forgiveness means I have to trust everyone.

Steve: Again, it’s crucial to separate forgiveness from trust, or any other belief that is mixed together with it.

Rob: Reconciliation is a huge value in church settings and from my experience in these settings, it needs to be clearly distinguished from forgiveness. Giving people the freedom to forgive and not to be reconciled is extremely important. I have created Rob’s Rule of Reconciliation: “Never be reconciled to someone who does not share your values.” I make the point that while Jesus forgave the Romans as they were pounding nails in his hands he was never reconciled to the mission of Rome. It is amazing how that one point can be a freeing revelation to people.

Steve: I think that “reconciliation” is a word that has many such troubling connotations. I don’t use it, and I suggest avoiding it altogether, unless the client uses it. If the client brings it up, ask them to tell you in detail what it means to them, to discover what they may be assuming.

Rob: I have used three different ways of responding to the grief response to rebuild their sense of the future. I have used the process of having them imagine the qualities of the person as glowing cards in their hands and casting them into the future.

Steve: I love that piece, developed by Robert McDonald, and clients usually love it too. It’s such a nice nonverbal invitation to unconscious processes to scan the future for new opportunities to have the old valued responses that were lost.

Rob: I have also had the person future-pace the specific value that was violated by inviting them to imagine them sharing that value with others they will encounter. This seemed more appropriate when the relationship itself did not seem to have much of value, but a significant value of the client’s had been violated.

Steve: That’s a more conscious-mind way of doing the same thing, as long as “sharing that value with others they will encounter” is sensory-based, and not just intellectual. There is still the drawback that the conscious mind’s selection of “others” will be narrower than the unconscious, so some valuable opportunities may be missed with that approach.

Rob: Depending on the context, in some workshops I do a preliminary exercise in which people remember a series of life-giving values as golden threads that weave through their life and out into their future. If people have that resource I will use it and it has been effective in resolving the grief. In all of these cases the resolution of grief has also been quite digital.

Steve: That’s basically fine. However “golden threads” may not fit for some people, for whom “guiding light” or “compass needle” or “cloud of knowing” would be a better fit. Whenever you offer content, offer at least 3 examples, followed by, “or whatever fits best for you” to give them the option of finding their own metaphor.

Rob: I have found the golden thread exercise to be helpful when resolving trauma. When dealing with trauma I have also found many people will have some “residual” distress, which also is a grief response (“I can’t have a life because of what was done to me”) rather than a trauma response. Again these are very discrete, digital responses and not analog.

Steve: Sure, “I can’t have a life because of what was done to me” has a digital “not” in it, and it is also a prediction about the future. My favorite initial response to that kind of belief is to lean forward expectantly and extend my hand, as I say, “Let me see your fortune-telling license.” That is usually a surprising interrupt that is useful in focusing their attention.

Or you can say, “OK, let’s test your fortune-telling ability. Predict what I’ll say two minutes from now, and write it down on paper; I’ll tell you when the two minutes are up, and we’ll compare what you have written with what I say.”

Or you can ask about several predictions they made in the past that didn’t happen, to build a database of failed predictions.

Rob: Running the golden threads through the person’s history including the distressing event and on out into the future has been highly effective in resolving this residual grief response.

Steve: Can you say more about that? It’s not entirely clear to me how that is useful, and I’d rather not hallucinate.

Rob: In the golden threads of life exercise I invite a person to think of things that they deeply value, especially the timeless and not the temporal experience. For example a specific person is a temporal experience of the timeless quality of friend. I find that distinction helpful when doing Robert McDonald’s exercise of casting glowing cards out into the future. We don’t want to imagine a very specific future with a six foot tall, blond hair, blue-eyed (or other temporal quality) person, but with the qualities of kindness, sense of humor, strength of personality.

Steve: Yes, absolutely.

Rob: So we can take the quality of friendship and imagine it as a golden thread, and watch it go back through time connecting other friends they have had and going back out into the past before they were born, and then out into the future. I repeat the process with other things that they value in their life. Some have woven a band of gold threads in their mind, others a rope or cord. I imagine beams of light would also work.

Steve: That all sounds useful, basically a substitution of golden threads for glowing cards. Threads or cords will help build a sense of continuity, which will be particularly useful for a client who experiences their life as fragmented, broken up into unrelated chunks.

Rob: When people have experienced hurt in the past that wouldn’t qualify as PTSD but is still experienced as a hurt, I’ll invite the person to transform the submodalities of the visual representation of that “hurt” experience to the submodalities of other neutral emotional experiences of that time in their life. I have found trauma pictures are often “fuzzy” or “blurred,” as though the person doesn’t want to see what happened. When resolved they spontaneously become clear. The person is able to see clearly what happened without having a painful emotional response to what happened.

Steve: Yes, that is typical—and very useful when a traumatized person needs to testify to the details of events in court.

Rob: Then from the present moment in time I invite them to look back as they watch the movie of their entire life, with the painful experience in its correct place in their timeline up to the present moment. This will result in a significant change in response.

However, there will be some people who will have a significant amount of hurt remaining. I invite them to then see the golden thread going back through their past, through the event that used to be painful, and back to before they were born. I then reverse their awareness and as it comes back through time and they see it passing through the time that used to be painful they can see it possibly getting frayed, and they can be aware that it was never completely severed and then to watch as they go through their present and out into the future.

Steve: Thanks for all the clarifications. That is basically a way to put the difficult experience in a much larger time context, seen from the perspective of the present. That will tend to minimize the difficult experience, so it’s generally a very useful intervention that will often result in a digital shift.

Rob: Usually I will have used a 0-10 scale of their hurt prior to the exercise. Changing submodalities of the painful event will result in a change in response of say 8 to 3. The golden thread will invariably resolve the final 3 points. From our discussion I see these as digital and not analog, they are discrete steps rather than a gradual reduction in the person’s pain. While the exercise may be reinforcing the dissociation from the painful event, I think it is actually resolving grief by restoring hope of a future life worth living.

Steve: I think that is a nice distinction.

Rob: This past Lent several of the clergy I have taught have run forgiveness programs in their congregations. The best story was of one of a priest’s parishioners going through the process and then went to her work and did it successfully with several of her co-workers.

Steve: Great! Feedback doesn’t get any better than that!

Rob: Once again I am deeply grateful to you for your work and insight.

Steve: Thank you for your diligence in making good use of the method. 

Rob can be reached at: robvoyle(at) or