The Difficult Part of Forgiveness


Photo By Ryan Stone of Unsplash®

“Actions are the words which pen the story of a contrite heart”

There are few subjects as important as that of forgiveness yet often the solutions provided are vague, not very helpful, or more like catchy slogans. In last week’s article, (click here to read it), the merits of forgiving one’s abuser were explored. Although every circumstance is different, victims must consider their own growth, healing, and mental effectiveness before putting themselves in a situation that may reverse any progress.

But what happens when an abuser from the past asks for our forgiveness? Are we then obligated to grant that request or are there cases which ought to remain unforgiven ad infinitum?

When I cross this bridge with my clients, the first thing they are reminded of always is to keep their own growth and healing as a priority throughout this process. It is a good thing when people see the error of their ways and want to apologize, repent, or atone for their wrongdoings but it’s not always possible to know if they are being sincere.

How can we then be certain this person is telling the truth and deserves our forgiveness? What if this individual had a prior reputation of being a swindler, fraud, or cheat, will this time really be is different? Also, is it absolutely necessary that we forgive that person in order for them to continue on their journey of healing?

Unfortunately, there is no surefire way of knowing if they are being honest. But by remaining vigilant about our own situation, it will help us not to be stuck in a similar predicament again. Your understanding and generosity is not a signal that all is forgotten or retribution for their acts is completed in full. If you choose to forgive that person, it should merely be a sign that you are acknowledging their efforts.

It may be that you need more time for careful consideration. Perhaps you’ve concluded that a particular abuser will never deserve your forgiveness because of the horrible deeds you endured. With so many unique scenarios, it’s impossible for one solution to work in all cases.

For anyone trying to heal from the past, the worst thought possible is that someone else controls this ability for you and it is out of your hands. While their actions may have made the recovery seemingly impossible, we should never accept that someone else is the reason we cannot succeed in this journey.

And that holds true even if it is the abuser who is seeking a change of heart. He can still move forward without your forgiveness; just like you don’t need to be forgiven by your abusers to begin and thrive throughout yours. Ultimately, the only reconciliation we truly need is our own forgiveness. Fortunately, this is the most powerful kind of all.

Thanks to Ryan Stone for the wonderful picture and you can learn more by clicking here. I look forward to your comments.



Reasons for Forgiveness


Photo by Hedy Fischer

“The purpose of forgiveness is to heal and not to cause more grief.”

There is little uncertainty about the importance of forgiveness but there definitely is a lot of misunderstanding on how it ought to be implemented and applied. Last week’s article (click here to read it) was the third in a series on its importance and strategies for applying some of those techniques. All too often, many so-called remedies only leave victims more confused and ashamed for trying to do what they thought was the right thing.

While working with my clients, I constantly remind them that forgiveness has a purpose and its main function is healing. Forgiveness, nonetheless, should not be interpreted or understood as an acquittal nor should it be a signal for the abuser to resume the mistreatment. The principal reason victims forgive a perpetrator is not to allow the horrible episodes to confine, inhibit, or obstruct their progress and keep them from a life full of possibilities.

Several of the comments from last week’s article revolved around the concept of “how far should we go to forgive our abuser” which is a legitimate question to ask continually throughout the process. It is not a cut and dry answer because what works for you may not necessarily apply to everyone else.

At times, others may offer well-meaning advice which most often is something they’ve heard and not actually put into practice. This solution typically implores us to begin by forgiving the abuser which by the way, may be the worst advice given to any victim. The idea of a face-to-face encounter of an abuser being the only way to move forward has the potential of creating even more destructive and debilitating anxiety. Nevertheless, can healing occur without this face-to-face confrontation?

Always keep in mind that the primary goal is healing and growth.  This helps make clear most answers from a personal perspective. In some cases, the culprits may be deceased or their whereabouts unknown. Perhaps there are other extenuating circumstances which may reverse or weaken any progress and even cause additional damage. On the other hand, what if challenging an abuser could be a therapeutic experience?

What if unexpectedly our perpetrator experiences a change of heart and now is asking our forgiveness? This again, is no simple answer. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may feel that it will never be appropriate. Or, is it possible this encounter can have healing effects for the both of you? In the end, whoever is pursuing healing and growth cannot and should not be stifled by the actions or inactions of another.

Forgiveness is vital. But it can also be difficult to sort through. Having someone who understands the value of healing and has helped others through these difficult steps can be instrumental in your own journey. Always keep in mind that forgiveness is primarily for our healing and growth; no matter for whom it was originally intended.

My thanks to Hedy Fischer for the original art work. You can find out more about her by clicking on this link. I look forward to your comments.

How far should forgiveness go?

“Forgiveness is important when there is a purpose behind it.”

In last week’s article, forgiveness was shown to be an effective means for the healing process (click here to read it). However, it was presented in a way that is rarely discussed and that way is self-forgiveness as the first step. The emphasis is generally concentrated on one’s ability to forgive others which often includes those who’ve harmed or abused you.

This can be difficult for many and the reasons are completely understandable. Especially when this remedy is spoken by someone who has earned our respect. If we’ve deemed them virtuous or devout, we don’t question their words but rather examine our own fortitude and determination when we can’t seem to fulfill that command.

So let’s start by asking the question “why should we forgive”?

There are at least two reasons which come to mind. The first, and I believe most valuable, is to heal and restore ourselves. Harboring an inordinate amount of anger, hate, or other destructive emotions can figuratively tie our hands creating mental boundaries and barricades. The second reason to forgive would be to help the offender. Perhaps his guilt  prompted a change in behavior and forgiving them can help facilitate those efforts.

However, forgiving others – especially those who have brutally abused you – can be a complicated and problematic situation. One thing I will NEVER do is tell my clients that they MUST forgive their abusers in order to heal. Personally, I think this is the worst counsel you could ever tell someone who was terribly mistreated.

I cannot nor would I want to imagine the appalling events some have suffered especially as an innocent child. Having the audacity to tell someone they MUST do anything of this sort would in truth, be using a shaming technique on them. “If you do not forgive them, then you will not be able to move forward.”

Think about that statement for a moment. Saying that to someone IS abuse!

What I am not saying is that they should never forgive their abusers. It will happen if it needs to. At fourteen, I was verbally rebuked by someone I highly respected. That incident had a drastically negative impact on me for the next several decades. When I discussed it with my therapist, it became clear to me that I needed to forgive myself for believing what I was told.

The man had passed away several decades earlier and frankly, if there were an opportunity to forgive him, I don’t think he would accept it. However, I no longer blame him for the negative impact so forgiving him really is a moot point.

In many cases, we prolong the damage by believing harmful and destructive thoughts about ourselves. This is why it’s crucial to start by forgiving us. If eventually it becomes crucial to forgive others, we can then work on that. It is not always an easy answer but it is crucial for our own healing.

Thanks to Will Stewart for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.


The Road to healing


Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden

“Remember that no matter what the goal is, your journey will always be unique.”

Healing is such an important topic for me because of the impact it made on my life.  Last week’s article (click here to read it) touched on the concept that forgiving ourselves should be one of the first steps. However, the exact reasons for self-forgiveness can be easily misunderstood and difficult to recognize how they are applicable to our individual situations.

When I work with clients, the concept of healing may take 3 or 4 sessions before it starts to become clear how self-forgiveness applies. It is easily misunderstood because the initial damage is always perpetrated by another person. The victim never participates in the actions so why would it be imperative to forgive oneself?

If you asked this question or something comparable to this, you are precisely why this article was written.

When the word “forgiveness” is used in these situations, it’s frequently in the context of forgiving others which often includes the abuser; rarely is it directed towards ourselves. Some even teach that self-forgiveness is somehow egotistical or arrogant. Let me assure you that it most definitely is not. But it is important to understand the reasons why you are forgiving yourself.

Think about the reactions most people have – especially very young children – after these horrible events. “Why me?” or “I must have done something to deserve this”. It even goes to further extremes with thoughts of “God is punishing me because I’m bad” and many more you’ve come across.

Consider how many times you may have had similar thoughts. The truth is NOTHING was done to deserve it. You weren’t bad and you weren’t being punished. But you began punishing yourself the moment you started believing you did.

The original abuse was bad enough but by believing somehow it was deserved, phase two of the abuse begins. However, this phase is often far more damaging because of the shame we put on ourselves. After years of conditioning and acceptance, they are now perceived as immutable facts; ultimately taking on the idea that nothing can change that about us.

It does change. The very moment we forgive ourselves for believing those lies. We understand in many ways, there was no choice but to believe them. Everything influenced, and to a degree, forced us to believe them and this realization makes it possible to forgive ourselves for believing them.

Once the healing begins, the next step is to build self-confidence. Years of false beliefs established patterns of thinking and it will take a concerted, cognizant effort to change it. Overcoming the shame in my life was a struggle; even after I understood the concept of self-forgiveness. But I reminded myself that these memories which once were devastating, are now transformed into moments of healing, renewal, and growth.

The ability to forgive ourselves is perhaps the biggest step we can take in healing. Next week we’ll discuss forgiving others, but in the meantime I look forward to your comments. Thanks to Aaron Burden for the wonderful and very fitting picture.