As a brief reminder of what we have covered in the last four parts of this forgiveness series, let us remind ourselves what forgiveness is and is not:
Forgiveness is letting go of resentment, anger, and hostility toward someone who treated you unfairly, even though you are justified in having these feelings.
Forgiveness is recognizing the wrongdoer is human, and treating them decently despite what they did.
Forgiveness is a chance to amend a relationship that was damaged, if you choose to do so.
What forgiveness is…
Forgiveness is a mental shift, or a change of heart, that develops over time.
Forgiveness is a process that can start at any time. You can even forgive a person who is no longer in your life.
Forgiveness is an opportunity to heal. Forgiveness can reduce symptoms of trauma, anger, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, it can increase hope and self-esteem.
Forgiveness is a personal decision that only you can make for yourself. No one can make you forgive another person.
What forgiveness is not…
Forgiveness is not condoning, approving of, or excusing what happened.
Forgiveness is not forgetting how you were wronged, or pretending like nothing happened.
Forgiveness is not an agreement to continue a relationship as it was. After forgiving someone, you can choose to resume, modify, or end the relationship.
Forgiveness is not simply saying “I forgive you” without meaning it. In fact, you can forgive without ever saying so.
Forgiveness is not something you do for the other person. Forgiveness is for you.
Forgiveness is not getting even or getting revenge. Getting even might feel good in the moment, but unlike forgiveness, it does not resolve anger and resentment.
How do I know that I have fully forgiven? What is the final goal of forgiveness? The final goal of forgiveness, which you will not experience immediately but as you go forward on this path to freedom, is:
To reduce negative thoughts (believing that the offender had evil motives, is an evil person, insensitive, uncaring),
To reduce negative feelings (annoyance, frustration, hatred, rage) and
To reduce negative behaviour (Avoiding, refusing to talk, plotting revenge or badmouthing the offender) towards the offender
To have positive thoughts (simply wishing the person well, understanding that the offender is human and deserves respect on that ground alone),
To have positive feelings (mild sense of liking, respecting, loving and caring)
To have positive behaviour (smiling, helping) towards the offender.
Personal Work: The Path Itself
Robert Enright proposed a four-phase path to freedom that forgiveness offers. Think of an offence that you have experienced and reflect on it in using the following structure. It would be good if you could go through the following four phases by reflectively writing on your journal:
1. Uncovering Phase
In this phase, you will focus on improving your understanding and memory of the offense and how it has impacted your life. Use the following questions to help you write your reflection:
- Describe in as much detail as you can, the injustice or offence that you have endured. What happened?
- Why was this treatment unfair?
- How have the offence affected you (physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually)?
2. Decision Phase
At this stage, you will now focus on deepening your understanding of what forgiveness is. Part of the healing process is admitting that you possibly did not understand forgiveness fully and you need to change your conception. As you deepen your understanding, you will make the decision to choose or reject forgiveness as the path forward for you.
- Without looking online or elsewhere or asking anyone, how would you describe or define forgiveness?
Many people struggle with the decision to forgive because they know that they have the right to be angry, while the offender does not have the right to be treated with kindness. Making the decision to forgive means letting go of these resentments—which you have every right to hold—so you can heal.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of deciding to forgive the person who wronged you?
- Whether or not you’ve made the decision to forgive, describe how things might be different if you decide to do so. Be as specific as possible.
3. Working Phase
This stage assumes that you have chosen the path of freedom through forgiveness. In this phase, you are trying to understand the offender in a new way. This will help you to have positive feelings towards the offender and yourself, without which, forgiveness cannot be fully attained.
Learning to view your offender as more than just what they did wrong to you is important in the journey, even though it is very difficult to do. Understanding does not mean excusing or condoning what they did in any way. I can understand why someone acted in a certain way without accepting their actions. Use the following questions in your reflection:
- As much as you can know or even imagine, how would you describe the life of your offender as they grew up? How was their childhood and parents like? Might this have impacted their behavior?
- During the time they offended you, what was their life like? Were they going through a rough time? Were they so successful that it had gone to their head?
- Mention the feelings you have towards the person who offended you.
- Did you mention any positive feelings towards them? Kindly describe them. If you did not, describe how your negative emotions towards them have changed over time? Have they decreased or increased? What are some of the reason that could have led to increase or to decrease?
4. Deepening Phase
In this final phase, you will work towards decreasing your negative emotions associated with the offence as much as you can. As you do so, you may find meaning and lessons in the experience. These lessons might help you to improve in your dealing with offences in the future and you might realize how you have grown and a matured due to the experience.
Describe the benefits of forgiving your offender that you have experienced so far.
How has forgiving changed how much time and energy you spend thinking about the offence and the offender? How has it improved your emotional and spiritual/religious health? Has your behavior changed for the better? Describe.
Would you say you have grown as a person due to the offence you endured and also because of your efforts to forgive? Describe how you feel this is the case.
One of the aspects of us that can change due to being hurt is the way we view others, the world and even God. How has your view of the three changed since you chose to forgive? Do you feel that you are stronger now as a person, have better view of people, experience the world as a home and God as strength and comfort?
Feel free to share your experience with a friend or a guide.