CLICK HERE TO SEE ME TALK ABOUT “FORGIVENESS”
When it comes to “forgiveness” I am always faced with personal discomfort. Forgiveness is closely correlated with increased happiness and improved mental health. Hey, give me some more of that! It is also associated with good moral behavior and is heavily emphasized in many religions. The notion of “forgiveness” is lauded as the panacea to releasing pain and trauma.
Yet I weigh up the personal cost-to-benefit of offering forgiveness.
Here are some questions I ask myself to guide my decision making. If you are currently struggling with a “forgiveness” conundrum, feel free to ask yourself these same questions:
- Am I required to condone the behavior of the perpetrator?
- Does it mean that the behavior was okay? (I should put up with it, because there was no real injury)
- Must I develop selective amnesia and simply forget all about it . . . or at least pretend to?
- Must I pardon this person—allowing him/her to continue causing more damage?
- Must I reconcile with this person? Or get back into a relationship, where I’ll get hurt all over again?
THE ANSWER IS NO TO ALL OF THEM
Forgiveness is a voluntary decision to acknowledge the offense, move through the resultant feelings, set aside the resentment, and release the anger, so you may move on with your life. You need not condone, excuse, forget, or re-establish a relationship with the perpetrator.
Here is a Forgiveness exercise for you to do. As with any exercise I send to you, notice sensations of dis-ease or discomfort that arise. And if too overwhelming, please stop. This is called “self-care”
STAGES OF FORGIVENESS
STAGE ONE: IDENTIFY PERPETRATOR AND TRANSGRESSION
- I know who it was that has affected me negatively.
- I know what specific behavior(s) it was that has been physically, emotionally, or spiritually damaging to me.
STAGE TWO: IDENTIFY, EXPERIENCE, AND PROCESS THE EMOTIONS
- I have felt the emotions associated with the offensive, damaging behavior. I have found a safe place to process these feelings.
- If it was safe to do so, I have spoken to the person regarding the adverse effects I endured as a result of his/ her behavior.
- If it was not safe to do so, I was able to do it in therapy using an imaginary technique (e.g., role playing, psychodrama, the empty chair, etc.).
STAGE THREE: UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS
- I understand the benefits of forgiveness
- I have reached a point where I recognize what has transpired, have begun developing compassion for myself, and am now able to see the perpetrator as a human being.
Important Distinction: Many people, including clergy members, philosophers, psychotherapists, and psychologists, erroneously believe that full forgiveness requires the victim to accept the perpetrator back into the relationship. What is actually required of the victim is that (s)he accept the perpetrator back into the human race (i.e., (s)he is no longer stripped of his/her humanity, regardless of whether the victim chooses to re-establish a personal relationship with him/her).
STAGE FOUR: SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
- I have set clear boundaries with the perpetrator:
- I understand the need for and my right to protect myself.
- I feel competent in setting and maintaining these boundaries to keep me physically and emotionally safe.
STAGE FIVE: INTEGRATE THE PAST AND BEGIN RECREATING THE FUTURE
- I have made an internal choice to forgive and have a willingness to recreate a meaningful life for myself.
(Adapted from Linda Curran https://www.thetraumatherapistproject.com/podcast/linda-curran-bcpc-lpc-cacd-ccdp-d/)
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