Think of forgiving, when treated deeply unfairly by others, as a journey. It takes time and effort and so not all components of forgiving are present at once. If you begin the journey and have reduced some resentment toward the one who hurt you, then you are forgiving to the extent possible right now on that part of the journey you happen to be on now. Compassion may come later. Even if it does not, please remember that you do not have to be a perfect forgiver to give yourself credit on the forgiveness journey.
I have tried cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapies and they do not work in a deep way for me. In other words, I can change my thinking about the situation, try not to see it as a catastrophe, but still I have unsettled emotions inside that need healing. Can forgiveness aid the recovery of more positive emotions and, if so, how does this occur?
Yes, you could include forgiveness in your therapeutic work. In contrast to the therapies in which you have engaged, forgiveness goes beyond the examination of your symptoms in the context of the injustice(s) against you. Forgiveness therapy goes to the root cause of the continued emotional upset by having you do the work of focusing on the one who hurt you, trying to see this person as someone who possesses inherent worth. As you see the other’s worth, this can enhance a sense of empathy and compassion toward the other and this has the paradoxical effect of lowering the temperature of your anger. So, adding forgiveness to your program likely will be beneficial for you. I wish you the very best in your healing journey.
In your Process Model of Forgiveness, you have one unit called compassion. I am trying to forgive someone who passed away recently. Can I have compassion on this person and if so, how does this work?
Compassion includes at least four elements:
1) Sympathy toward the one who hurt you. Sympathy is an emotional reaction to another’s pain. For example, if someone comes to you angry that he just lost his job and now is struggling financially, you have sympathy when you feel sorry for the person. His anger and unfortunate situation leads to a different emotion in you: sadness.
2) Empathy toward the one who hurt you. Empathy is stepping inside the other’s shoes (so to speak) and feeling the same feeling as the other. Thus, when the other is angry, you empathize with that person when you also feel anger.
3) Behaving toward the other by supporting him or her in the time of distress. This could include a kind word or talking about the strategy of solving the job problem, as examples.
4) Suffering along with the person. This latter point is the deepest aspect of compassion. It could involve helping the person financially before a new job is secured; it could involve driving the person to a job interview.
In the case of having compassion for a deceased person, you can have sympathy and empathy (the first two elements of compassion), but you cannot engage in the other two elements because behavior with and toward the other is not possible. Compassion need not have all four elements to count as compassion. You can think of the hard times endured by the deceased person and react with sympathy and empathy. Such compassion may aid your forgiveness.
You emphasize love, compassion, and benevolence as part of forgiveness, but not part of the decision to forgive. Why do you not see these as part of the decision phase of forgiving?
The decision to forgive usually is a cognitive act rather than an expression of the heart, of one’s emotions. One usually makes a decision to forgive without necessarily feeling love and compassion because we are not yet ready to offer these when we make the cognitive decision to forgive.
I can sympathize with my brother who hurt me, but I don’t seem able to have empathy for him (stepping inside his shoes, as the saying goes, and feeling what it is like inside of him.) Will I ever have compassion for him without empathy?
Not being able to empathize with your brother today does not mean you will never be able to do this. Empathy can open the door to compassion. Sympathy, or feeling sorry for him, also may be such a door to the eventual development of compassion. Yet, as you are seeing, empathy is the deeper, more challenging perspective. Here are some questions that might help you with empathy toward your brother: Was your brother hurt by others some time in the past? How deeply was he hurt? Is he still carrying those wounds? Can you see your brother’s struggles in life? Your answers may induce a greater empathy for him as you see his wounds from his perspective.