The Role Of Forgiveness In Healthy Change
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood, or misused, and we need to be clear about what is meant by the term. Forgiveness simply means that we are allowing ourselves to be free to learn from the past, without dragging the past into the present. It means the process of ‘letting go of holding on.’ It does not mean that the past events were O.K., or that we need to forget that they happened. The problem with holding on to the past is, it makes it difficult to make changes in the present. We are all controlled by the things we do not forgive!
How does this definition fit your beliefs about forgiveness? Look at areas of your life where forgiveness is an issue. How have you been looking at forgiveness up until now? Does this perspective of forgiveness involving “letting go of holding on,” give you any new choices? Share your feelings about forgiveness with me in your journal.
You cannot force yourself to forgive without generating resistance that makes the whole situation worse. You can sometimes only want to want to forgive, through the power of your Higher Power. Sometimes you don’t want to forgive at all! Respect the resistance and use these signals to bring into focus what the resistance is trying to say. I often find that there is a good reason for the resistance. If you are keeping the wounded parts of you in solitary confinement, ignored and rejected, stuck in the painful scenes needing forgiveness, then forgiveness is like leaving fallen comrades behind enemy lines to rot.
While wounded parts of you continue drowning in shame, experiencing the painful scenes over and over, forgiveness does not make healthy sense. Forgiving the perpetrator in the scene and closing the “books” on the situation is an outrage to that wounded kid left behind. If you are ready to forgive the perpetrator, you need to also be ready to reconcile and begin a healing relationship with that wounded inner kid.
Look at any areas of unforgiveness in your life. Have you begun a reconciliation process with the wounded parts of you? If not, noticing is a healthy starting place in the forgiveness process. What do the wounded kids need from you in order for forgiveness to work? Share your reactions to this attitude toward forgiveness in your journal. Notice the different feeling reactions, and the feelings about those feelings. Forgiveness is a complex process.
In truth, forgiveness is really a gift to you, not to the person or situation you are resisting forgiving. You become freed from the original situation when you forgive freely. You can forgive and learn from the same situations. The Time Machine is often involved when issues of forgiveness are activated. When you go in your Time Machine, you become who you were in the original scene again and feel the flood of feelings that were in the original experience. This flood of emotions makes learning most difficult. Keeping out of your Time Machine allows you to put your focus on learning, and growing, and healing, when dealing with forgiveness issues.
If you put on a mask of forgiveness, because you “should” forgive, or you are getting pressure to forgive, it will simply push the “unforgiveness” deeper into subliminal storage. You will then be at risk for feeling guilty when the “unforgiveness” resurfaces in the future. You need to accept yourself where you are in your forgiveness process – Grace makes this all possible. Remember that one of the Fundamental Principles of New Program is “A growing commitment to the acceptance (acknowledgement) of Reality in the present.”
There is also the issue of forgiving yourself for things that you have done and not done in the past. Many of my clients have things they resist forgiving themselves for when they enter Therapeutic Coaching. We will start by accepting where the client is starting regarding hating and rejecting parts of themselves. We will work with the resistances to embracing the rejected parts of the client.
As is often true, your resistances can help you make the most significant growth and change. Experience your resistance to becoming respectful toward wounded parts of yourself, parts you have not forgiven yet. Anxiety and depression are directly related to the lack of forgiveness of self and others. Share with me your reactions to the whole issue of forgiveness. Share in your journal what you notice as you reflect deeply into how forgiveness is affecting your life today.