As I mentioned in a previous article, one of my biggest challenges is forgiveness. I used to be the queen of grudges…holding on to a perceived slight for years! And though I have come a long way in my self-awareness journey, I still find that my immediate response is to become resentful. It’s just so much easier to blame others for our hurting. Today I’m going to suggest to you that forgiveness is a process, not an act or immediate goal. It takes being able to understand the why of forgiving, which is accepting that forgiveness is for you and not for someone else. There is a popular quote about forgiveness that I now take exception to: If you can’t forgive and forget, then pick one.” (James Brault) If we can forgive, we release those negative emotions, but what we forget through repression is still going to affect us. Forced forgetting teaches us to deny feelings attached to the person who needs to be forgiven. And in the long run, this will only create an unconscious resentment or anger toward the perpetrator.
Forgiveness counseling identifies the stages of forgiveness that you will work with, and through, to begin the treatment process:
1. Be specific about who and what needs to be forgiven. You need to be able to identify who has caused the negative emotional or physical attachment. Then, you can recognize the specific behavior that damaged you. Take a moment to write it down and be specific. Try to separate the person from the behavior. This will help to change your perspective when you are trying to understand the situation. You are not looking for excuses, but rather for explanations.
2. Go ahead and feel the feelings. This is where you bring your emotions about the damaging behavior to the surface. Find a safe place to do this. You will be letting out your feelings in order to process and to release the toxins from your system. If you need to cry, do it. If you get angry, find a benign spot to let the anger out. (This is where a professional may need to intervene.)
3. Understand why forgiveness is a healthy option. You have most likely formed anxious and negative attachments to the one who has hurt you. This “cord” to the perpetrator is usually one of resentment, hate, anger, bitterness, or even shame. When you sever this “cord of toxins,” you can feel liberated, lighter, and freer. Cutting the cord allows you to move forward toward the positives of life.
4. Rebuild safely. This means that you create clear boundaries, so that the person who damaged you cannot repeat the behavior. It takes courage to be able to forgive, because we open ourselves up to our vulnerabilities. Facing our emotions is difficult in the beginning, but in the end can be liberating. Forgiveness is a feeling, not a behavior. So, it has to be authentic, for true healing to take place.
Many people are unable to handle personal problems of this type on their own. It helps to have a neutral party to focus on recognizing harmful patterns, address areas that require change, and navigate through the mind’s processing. A forgiveness-trained therapist will allow you to get your feelings out in the open to then work toward understanding and positive action. This type of therapist will actually serve as an extension of yourself. You can then place trust in the counselor to help you forgive and heal. This form of counseling is not nearly as important as finding someone whom you trust to share your intimate life details. Feeling connected to your therapist allows you to trust her advice, and know she has your best interests in mind.
Next step: Do you need to practice forgiveness so that you can move on with your life?
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor