The Process of Forgiveness, Part Two

Relationship Design

forgiveThis is part two of our conversation about forgiveness. If you missed part one, it’s here.
Forgiveness is not a one time event.
It is a process and too many people get this point confused.
We often hear, “If he forgave me, then he would be over this by now!” This is just not realistic. If we’ve done something extremely hurtful, and are needing to seek forgiveness, then we can’t expect for the healing to happen immediately. Your mate will not get over the hurt right away, it takes time. Just because you have earnestly sought forgiveness and forgiveness has been given does not mean that their will not be consequences for your actions.
In fact, depending on the severity of the hurt, we may never fully recover from the pain. This is not to say we will always be suffering, but it does mean the pain might show up periodically after years by some event that sparks a memory. The pain isn’t as severe as when it first happened, but it still hurts.
If you think about it, the memory is a great way to keep you humble. It is hard to get on your “high horses” when you can remember some of your more ridiculous mistakes. Remember, your pain only makes you better.
The process of forgiveness is just that, a process. It’s part of the journey toward wholeness. <— Click To Tweet
We know we must forgive, so how do we go about the business of forgiveness?
Let’s use Carl Meninger’s model of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is entirely in the hands of the victim, although offenders can seek forgiveness, they are not ultimately in control of whether or not the victim forgives.
If you choose to follow these next five steps in the process of forgiveness, understanding that you may move in and out of each level throughout the process, we know you will greatly increase your ability to forgive. It is an ability, not a feeling, emotion, or accident.

Stage One – Claiming the Hurt

The first step in the process of forgiveness is claiming the hurt. This might seem obvious, but realize that living in denial and or forgetfulness is much easier than admitting something has happened to us that is painful. We often try to avoid the painful experiences in our lives, because they are painful. All humans behave in a manner to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. We don’t want to experience pain, so we avoid it by ignoring it, disguising it, hiding it, stuffing it, and a whole host of other defense mechanisms all designed to protect us from pain.
Sometimes avoiding the pain is a direct consequence of our laziness. We don’t want to devote the energy necessary to deal with the issue, so we avoid it. M. Scott Peck has said that laziness is the biggest sin and the path toward human pathology.
See what the pain has done in your life. It’s about opening our eyes to our lives, and not living in denial. This is important because we’ve admitted that something needs to be done. How can we forgive someone if we don’t acknowledge that something needs to be forgiven.

Stage Two – Experiencing Guilt

Now you’ve claimed the hurt, and are taking full responsibility to how you feel and how the hurt has affected your life, the next stage in this process of forgiveness is typically Guilt. It is common to feel responsible for what happened. “What could I have done to prevent what happened”, or, “If only I hadn’t. . .”  Both thoughts are very normal and necessary in the process of forgiveness.
By recognizing your hurt feelings, you give yourself the opportunity to have power over it. You will begin to know what it is that is causing your emotional pain. Something to help you during this stage of the process is to do something for yourself that makes you feel valuable. Often times, victims of hurt feel worthless and powerless, and doing something specifically for yourself will help bring you out of the stage of guilt. It’s about getting active and not remaining passive during this process. You have to “do” something, move in a direction in order for change to occur.
Couples wonder why nothing is getting better in therapy sometimes because they are still doing the same things that got them into trouble. We have to change our behaviors in order to experience change.

Stage Three – The Victim

You’ve claimed the hurt and experienced the possible guilt, you are now ready to feel like a victim. Now that you’ve recognized your hurt it is only natural to feel victimized. Signs of this stage are: depression, listlessness, isolation, or bitterness.
When we experience these kinds of emotions it is only natural to want to medicate them. It’s the human way to solve our emotional pain. We get involved with drugs, alcohol, food, and anything that makes us feel momentarily better. But the key is that it is only momentary, it is never lasting.
This stage is a cry for help. It’s a 911 to your soul. The best thing to do during this stage is join a support group and do things for other people. Helping others helps yourself.

Stage Four – Anger

People want to ignore feelings of anger because at some time during our lives we got the impression that anger was bad. Anger is not bad! In fact, it is extremely healthy, when handled in a healthy way. Anger motivates us to change and take action. It’s like the fuel in the process of forgiveness. It gives us energy to make it through the process of forgiveness.
What is inappropriate anger, you might be asking?
When anger is focused on vengeance, then more than likely it is not a healthy anger. Anger shouldn’t be about getting back at somebody, but rather about getting motivated to change. Vengeance will destroy us, it’s like toxic waste to the soul. It’s very nature is hateful, and hate only encourages more hate.
The key is you want to be healthy in your anger. You never want to simply let yourself go in your anger, which allows it to take root in our souls and blocks our relationship with others. Positive anger lets us know something needs to be taken care of. It’s like the red warning lights in your car. When the lights are blinking, you’d better take notice of the problem. Pent up anger might not cause problems right away, but let us assure you, it will grow and sprout up someday to hurt and damage the people around you.

Stage Five – Wholeness

Now is the time you can actually forgive as an act of love because you haven’t denied yourself the opportunity to grow through all the stages of forgiveness. You’re no longer a victim of your pain because you’ve taken control over it. Forgiveness is the ultimate sign of maturity and love. Forgiveness says that we know you’re not perfect, but neither am I. So I choose to love you anyway, and forgive you so I am free to grow in my life and in our relationship.
Wholeness is a direct product of the first four stages. It’s not even a choice, it’s a product of the first four stages of forgiveness.
You don’t grab on to wholeness, it grabs you. You cannot help but become whole when you go through the first four stages!
That is the power of the journey of forgiveness; in looking at forgiveness as a process instead of a one time event.
When you forgive each other, you give the marriage a chance at experiencing what you want the most…joy, peace, harmony, sexual intimacy, fun, etc. It is the act of forgiveness that allows you to truly grow up in to a more solid, authentic person.