Forgiveness 101 - What’s 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 wars and created inter-generational family alienation. 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 genuine and healing forgiveness. My favourite section is on bad versus good apologies – too often in our society non-apologies are offered so it is good for both parties to know the difference! For example – “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not taking responsibility and instead turns the blame onto the victim.
Forgiveness is a difficult topic for many people because they believe it implies that the injury didn’t matter and/or should be forgotten. This is not a good idea because it leaves the victim open to invalidation and re-injury. Some people even believe that they are unforgivable – 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.