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.
Does the forgiveness process require that one feels empathy toward the other person, or is sympathy sufficient?
Empathy is the process by which one “steps inside the shoes of the other” and feels the feelings of that person. Sympathy is more of a reaction to the other. For example, suppose a teenager comes to you and he is very angry about failing a test. You show empathy if you try to feel the student’s anger. In contrast, you show sympathy by reacting to the student’s anger, for example, by feeling sad for the person.
When you forgive, we need to realize that this is both a process in which we start slowly and it is an imperfect process in that we do not always reach the deepest parts of that process. Thus, one can feel sympathy toward the offending person by feeling sorry for that person. Yet, a deeper response is “stepping inside the person’s shoes” with empathy and seeing, for example, the person’s woundedness, the person’s fears and confusions. I say this is “deeper” because you are developing more insights into whom the other actually is. As you see people, in all of their humanity, this more likely will lead to compassion for that person. The compassion can lead to forgiveness, or loving those who have not loved you.
Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .