Tagged: “forgiveness journey”
For decades, our group has been monitoring and trying to correct false definitions of what it means to forgive those who acted unjustly. For example, in defining what forgiving is, some authors have erroneously equated forgiveness with excusing the wrong done, automatically reconciling, and abandoning a quest for justice.
I have come to realize that even the process of forgiveness (how people go about forgiving) can be prone to misinterpretations, to errors in what actually occurs when a person engages in the process of forgiving. To correct these errors, let us consider four responses to these misconceptions.
- As a person walks the path of forgiveness, there is a tendency to say, “I have not done enough; I have not reached perfect forgiveness.” This kind of thinking expects too much of the forgiveness process. As Lewis Smedes said in his book, Forgive and Forget, forgiveness is for imperfect people. We rarely reach a perfect state of forgiving. We must be careful not to disparage ourselves if we still have some work to do on the forgiveness process once we exert time and effort on it. Often in our research, when people are gravely hurt by others and are very low in forgiving, they tend to go to the middle part of our forgiveness scale, not to the higher end. Yet, this progression makes all the difference as people shed excessive anger, anxiety, and depression, and can increase in self-esteem. The message here is this: Try to be temperate. On the one hand, do not expect perfect forgiveness. On the other, do not give it a half-hearted effort, concluding that, since you are not perfect, there is no need to keep trying. Strike the balance between too little effort and too high an expectation for you as a forgiver. You will know you are making progress as your anger lessens and as you wish the offending person well (as Smedes reminded us in his book).
- Here is another worry about the forgiveness process: “My process of forgiveness may create an expectation in the other that he now deserves to be back in my life.” Your engaging in the process of forgiveness may lead to a variety of different reactions in other people. Some may now demand reconciliation. This is not your fault. It is a misunderstanding on the part of the one who acted badly. Other people’s misinterpretation of your forgiving, of your goals in doing so, is not your error. It is the other’s error and so please do not hold yourself responsible (or the process of
forgiveness responsible) for the other’s misinterpretation. You may have to clarify that your forgiving does not necessarily mean that you are ready to reconcile. The forgiveness process, as goodness toward others, remains good even if others misunderstand.
- Here is another: “My process of forgiveness may be so time consuming as to imbalance my full life.” This is another issue of intemperance. We can over-do (or under-do) just about anything. Be careful not to place forgiving so high on the priority list that you spend far too little time with loved ones, or neglect your job, or fail to get adequate exercise or rest. The process of forgiveness is part of a complete life.
- And here is our fourth worry about the forgiveness process: “Even as I engage in the process of forgiveness, I may not end all anger.” This kind of fear is common. People want to be done with anger and discontent which are effects of the unjust treatment against them. Even if all anger does not subside, in all likelihood, as you practice forgiving, and then try again…..and then again…..the anger lessens. You, then, are in control of the anger rather than the anger controlling you.
The definition of forgiveness can be distorted. Understanding the process of forgiving can be distorted. Do not let these distortions deter you from the life-giving practice of forgiving.
I am having a very hard time forgiving my husband and now I am beginning to wonder if I am struggling with this because too often my husband’s behavior reminds me of my father’s imperfections toward me. Do you think this is possible, that I am blocked from forgiving my husband because of my past history with my father?
I think this is a very insightful point. It definitely can be the case that people have difficulty forgiving a partner because of similarities between the partner and the forgiver’s parent. I suggest that you first forgive your father for what you are calling his “imperfections” toward you. Once you have walked the pathway of forgiveness with your father, your forgiving your husband then may be deep and therefore more effective. The fact that you see this connection between father and husband is important and I think this will help you.
You say that the biggest surprise you had when studying forgiveness therapy was its effectiveness when trauma is present in the participants. What was your second biggest surprise?
I think the second biggest surprise is that when people forgive and recover from the effects of trauma, they often develop a new purpose in life. That new purpose is to help others who also are hurting from other people’s mistreatment of them. This new purpose seems to give hope and vitality to those who were carrying a large emotional burden within them.
I have a co-worker who never stands up for himself nor does he even politely confront those who are giving him a hard time. Instead, he gets angry (away from those with whom he is in conflict). Sometimes that anger comes out toward me. He can occasionally bang his fist into the top of his desk. Do you think his actions are sufficient to relieve his anger or does this even help at all?
Your co-worker seems to be using the psychological defense of displacement, which means to take out the anger on something or someone else rather than on the original person who acted unfairly. In the short-run your co-worker might experience some relief from this catharsis, but in the long-run, as I am sure you know, his hitting the top of the desk will not solve the injustice. If your co-worker can do some forgiving and exercise this along with courage and a quest for justice, then he might be able to go to those at whom he is angry and talk it out in the hope of a fair resolution.
I seem to be lost on the forgiveness path. I try and try, but I do not think I have made much progress in forgiving my partner and this has been going on for about a year. Should I just get off the forgiveness path regarding my forgiving him?
Before you give up, I have some questions for you:
1) Have you committed to doing no harm to your partner, even in the context of your having the opportunity to somehow hurt him? If you answered, “Yes, I have committed to doing no harm,” then you are not lost on the forgiveness journey. This is a big step in the process;
2) Have you tried to see his weaknesses, his confusions, his wounds that may have wounded you? If not, perhaps you need to do some of this cognitive work, to see him in a wider perspective than only his injuries toward you;
3) Do you think that your will is strong enough to do the work outlined in #1 and 2 above? If so, that work could lead to your forgiving if you give this time.
So, what do you think? Have you found your way back onto the path of forgiveness?