You discuss in the Uncovering Phase of forgiveness that a person should examine defense mechanisms. For example, might I be in denial that the other truly was unjust? Since defense mechanisms usually are hidden from the one who is denying, how are we to uncover these defense mechanisms?
I think there are two keys to uncovering the defense mechanisms.
First, if the one who is considering forgiveness does not think that there is a solution to the inner pain, then this fear can prevent an opening up to reality, to the true conclusion that “I have been wronged and I am in pain.” When this potential forgiver sees that forgiveness is a safety net to getting rid of that inner pain, then opening up to what really happened is more likely.
Second, as the potential forgiver sees the extent of the inner pain (which can be deeper than is first discerned), then this realization of deep inner pain can be a motivation to move forward with healing. This courageous decision to move forward helps people to see even more clearly now that the pain must be confronted, which can weaken the defense of denial.
To “bear the pain” does not mean to resist sadness. Instead, to “bear the pain” includes accepting the sadness as it comes without running away from it. To “bear the pain” is not to deny pain and sadness, but instead to courageously experience these. The wonderful paradox then is this: As you stand in the pain, allowing yourself to feel it, and deliberately not pass it to the one who hurt you or to others, it is you who begins to heal. In other words, the pain begins to lift.
One of the paradoxes of forgiveness is that as we give mercy to those who showed no mercy to us, we are doing moral good. Another paradox is this: As we bear the pain of the injustice, that pain does not crush us but instead strengthens us and helps us to heal emotionally.
When we bear the pain of what happened to us, we are not absorbing depression or anger or anxiety. Instead we realize that we have been treated unfairly—-it did happen. We do not run from that and we do not try to hurriedly cast off the emotional pain that is now ours. We quietly live with that pain so that we do not toss it back to the one who hurt us (because we are having mercy on that person). We live with that pain so that we do not displace the anger onto others who were not even part of the injustice (our children or co-workers, for example).
When we bear the pain we begin to see that we are strong, stronger actually than the offense and original pain. We can stand with the pain and in so doing become conduits of good for others.
Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.
When we visit the doctor’s office, oftentimes there is a chart on a 1-to-10 scale that assesses one’s level of physical pain. A 1 shows a smiling face and a 10 shows a tormented, crying face. Nurses and doctors know that we can judge our level of physical pain by this 10-point scale. I recommend the same scale for your emotional pain index. Let a 1 stand for no-emotional-pain-at-all and a 10 for excruciating emotional pain. Try to keep a log of how you are doing. As the emotional pain, over time, reduces, this can be motivation for your continuing with the forgiveness process. Even if your pain intensifies at times, that is part of the healing process. Try to see the overall trend.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
To accept the pain is not to put up with abuse. One first has to protect oneself by seeking justice from abuse. To accept the pain is not to live with this pain for the rest of one’s life. To accept the pain is to stand with that pain, to not run from that pain (because the injustice did happen). To accept the pain is to make a commitment not to pass that pain back to the one who offended or to anyone else. As one stands this way and commits to not passing the pain to others, the paradox is that the one who accepts the pain begins to notice that, over time, the pain begins to lessen.
For additional information, see the Four Phases of Forgiveness.