What forgiveness really looks like

BY KATHRYN CASEY

There are times when forgiveness seems a simple thing. And times when it seems impossible. Across many faith traditions, forgiveness is upheld as important and necessary for well-being. The Enright Process Model of Psychological Forgiveness by focusing first on what forgiveness is not. This is an important place to start.

Forgiveness is not forgetting what took place. It is not condoning or excusing the offense, and that you no longer feel angry. It is not giving up on efforts to obtain legal justice. Lastly, it does not require the wrongdoer to admit his or her offense, ask for forgiveness, or be willing to change.

Forgiveness occurs when you choose to let go of resentment or revenge even though the wrongdoer’s actions don’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve it. But you deserve the freedom of letting go.

Forgiveness starts with acknowledging that someone has done something wrong to you and that they do, in fact, deserve your anger. It may be a long and difficult process of gaining understanding of what forgiveness means. It can take longer depending on the seriousness of the offense and the length of time you have lived with the hurt caused.

Holding a grudge can have a toxic effect on your body, raising blood pressure and increasing risk of stroke or heart attack. It can impair the functioning of the immune
system and increase stress hormones. A lack of forgiveness often hurts victims, whereas it makes no difference to those who have wronged.

Although forgiveness begins with an act of will—as in, “I choose to forgive this person”—to think of it as an on–off switch of either being forgiving or unforgiving doesn’t help. Real forgiveness is a journey.

How does it work? There are four phases of forgiveness. Awareness of them can help us to be more patient as we heal and as we deal with wounds that open again.

In the first phase of forgiveness, which Enright calls The Uncovering Phase, those seeking to forgive must “learn how the wrongdoing has compromised my life, confront and clarify the nature of the offense, and uncover the consequences that have followed.” It will take reflection and a willingness to face what you have lost because of what another person did.

In the second phase, The Decision Phase, you learn more about the nature of forgiveness and make a decision to commit to forgiving. This is the phase where you state your will. Even if my feelings do not match up with my desire to forgive, the act begins here with a choice.

In the third phase, The Work Phase, you work to reframe your view of the wrongdoer— see his or her side of the story, so to speak. As a spiritual person, I may work to pray for this person and ask for guidance to see him as God sees him. These steps, in time, may change your feelings toward the wrongdoer.

In the final phase, The Deepening Phase, negative feelings decrease, and you are able to find meaning in the suffering you have experienced. Helping others becomes a way to find good out of a terrible trauma. Freud called this “sublimation.” No longer weighed down, you can transcend suffering.

No matter one’s approach to forgiveness, the facts remain that it is never simple, and real forgiveness is never quick. Anniversaries of trauma and new similar experiences can make victims of wrongdoing revisit wounds from the past. But thanks to the many resources out there, we live in a world where we can grow and learn to forgive, let go, and move forward on the path to freedom.

— Kathryn Casey operates The Good Life – Life Coaching in Hughson.

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