Forgiveness is the triathlon of psychological work. When someone completes a triathlon we can fairly conclude that that person is in top physical condition. Likewise, if someone is adept at forgiveness that person likely travels on a high road often.
We families are so close to each other, it is inevitable that we will inflict wounds, whether accidental or intentional. Without forgiveness, such wounds, especially as they mount, can cause relationships to break or to exist across large chasms. For this reason it is difficult for a family to be healthy, over the long haul, without developing a sound forgiveness practice.
There are three sections to this entry: (1) a listing of what forgiveness isn’t, (2) a description of a three step forgiveness process and (3) a description of some behaviors that can augment and support forgiveness work.
What forgiveness isn’t
• Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the offense. While the passage of time may cause a forgiven injustice to fall out of mind, forgiving someone does not require forgetting what happened.
• Forgiveness does not equate with leaving oneself open to continued injustice. We can forgive another person without allowing that person to hurt us again in the same way.
• Forgiveness does not mean excusing, minimizing or justifying the injustice. We’ve been hurt. Acknowledging and being aware of the fullness of that is often part of a healthy forgiveness process.
• Forgiveness does not require the offender’s participation. Resentment is a poison within us. Sure, if the perpetrator authentically and effectively asks for forgiveness, it is easier to remove the toxin. However, it’s best for us if we proceed even if that isn’t forthcoming. (Imagine a patient telling a doctor that they would only have the doctor remove the venom from a snake bite if the patient’s partner would first expresses a wish for that to happen. Sort of a silly image isn’t it?)
• Forgiveness does not require communication with the offender. We may wish to let the offender know that we have forgiven him or her; and, in family life, this is can be a very helpful thing to do. However, there are instances when that could lead to other painful complications; in these instances, forgiveness can occur privately.
The forgiveness process can proceed differently across people. However, if you’re looking for some guidance, I can suggest this tight summary:
Step 1: Let yourself become fully aware of how you’ve been hurt. Examining your wound(s) is often a part of good self-care.
Step 2: Try to empathize with the human condition in the offender that promoted the infraction against you. This is very, very hard to do (just like it can’t be easy to run a long distance after having swam a mile). But, even the most tragic of attacking behaviors has a human condition behind it with which we can empathize.
Step 3: Try to forgive the offender. If you are a spiritual person, taping into your Higher Power can be very helpful here. It can also help to imagine that you are cleansing yourself of a toxin (i.e., resentment).
How long these steps take will vary tremendously. And, there can be a looping back across them over time.
Forgiveness may be facilitated in families by the following activities:
• Appreciating that I’ve been an offender also and taking appropriate steps to seek forgiveness and make reparation as I become aware of such.
• Try to avoid aligning yourself with friends who would have you stay trapped in resentment. Instead, seek out those who will support your desire to live on a high road.
• Pointing out what the offender does well. (Search above for “gratitude letter” for a great exercise along these lines.)
• Getting clarity on what my vow and commitment to my family members means to me (e.g., how much they are conditional and, if they are, under what terms).
• Having regular and enjoyable rituals with my family members.
• Using the problem solving exercise to get past problems and conflicts (use the search engine above or see my parenting book for a full description).
• Seeking out therapy when forgiveness work bogs down or seems impossible to do. For a referral click here.
Good luck! This ain’t easy, for sure.