Forgiveness 101 - What is Forgiveness Anyway?
Over the years I have contemplated the importance and difficulty of forgiveness at a personal, societal and national level. Lack of forgiveness has perpetuated strife, conflict and wars, as well as Inter-generational family alienation and self conflict.
Truth and reconciliation efforts have been made to mend the effects of historical abuse and oppression as a way to give voice to injustice and help make peace. Social justice mediation is a well-established and potentially healing process towards forgiveness. So what does this look like at an inter-personal level?
In her book “How can I Forgive You” Janis Abrahams Spring defines forgiveness as “a hard won transaction, an intimate dance between two people bound together by an interpersonal violation”. She shows how seeking and granting forgiveness is a responsible and authentic response, even when the offender is not involved. This makes great sense in my work with couples and individuals. Both parties have a role.
”As the offender works hard to earn forgiveness through genuine, generous acts of repentance and restitution the hurt party works hard to let go of his/her resentment and need for retribution.” Together they redress the injury. There are always advantages and disadvantages of not forgiving.
We are not responsible for the harm done to us, but we are responsible for how we respond and whether we transcend and thrive. The book covers 10 steps of working towards a genuine and healing forgiveness. A particular section that I found to be of interest touches on 'Bad vs Good' apologies. Too often in our society 'non-apologies' are offered so it is imperative to recognize the authentic and genuine from the not for both parties to know the difference and how that affects the healing process. For example – “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not taking responsibility for action and instead, turns the blame onto the victim and devaluates the emotional connection.
Forgiveness is a difficult topic to discuss and the steps involved in the process of forgiveness can be overwhelming. Many people, naturally tend to believe that forgiveness can imply that the injury in whatever form that may be - has been forgotten and no longer hurts. This mindset, or belief, inevitably leaves victims open to invalidation and re-injury. Some people even believe that they are incapable of forgiveness- which becomes a major obstacle to life and relationships.
As a counsellor I have often had the privilege to support people in this journey. The following is an example of how one client found her way:
I get to decide what’s right for me.
I can make the decision in my own time.
When I make a decision the outcome only matters to me.
When someone gives unwanted feedback I don’t have to justify myself.
I am wise because I care about people, but I know where to set boundaries.
I don’t even like you, so why would I care what you think about me.