Category Archives: Myths Related to Forgiveness

For those who have been wounded deeply, forgiveness is rarely if ever a quick and easy fix

cropped-woman_207969-B+W-Hair-in-Face1.jpgIn my work with survivors, I have known many persons who have experienced an overwhelming sense of failure and self recrimination as they have compared the testimonies of those who were able to quickly forgive and move on – to their own experience of working through memories of abuse. However, upon closer examination, they realized that they were not comparing “apples to apples”.

In their book for mental health professionals on helping clients with forgiveness issues, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) devote an entire chapter to the process of forgiving. “If a client sees forgiveness as the effortless answer to all of life’s problems, then he or she is starting with false expectations” they argue. “Certainly, it is not the case that all instances of forgiveness are like being locked in the gym with only the 200-pound weights to work with” they went on to say. “Sometimes it is quick, almost effortless, and painless, but when people are deeply hurt they rarely find a quick, pain-free solution” (p. 50).

Even for persons who have suffered similar forms of abuse, there are many factors that can dramatically increase the level of harm experienced, factors that are oftentimes overlooked by both the one sharing “the testimony” and the one who is tempted to judge themselves harshly in the light of such a testimony. Furthermore, some who may sincerely perceive themselves to have successfully and completely resolved their trauma history with a minimum investment of time and effort – may continue to unconsciously or symbolically reenact their abuse whether as victim or as a victimizer, oftentimes in less obvious relational contexts. They simply do not know what they do not know. However, the result is that their hurts are transferred rather than transformed.

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

Forgiveness is a process whereby one abandons one’s resentments and increases one’s mercy, which takes time

cropped-shutterstock_109647038-Black-Man-Smiliing-PRCHS.jpgSome teach that forgiveness is merely a decision that one makes once and for all, rather than a process into which one chooses to enter. However, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) argue that the decision to forgive, though a necessary step in the process of forgiving, is only the beginning of the process and must be worked out in practical terms before it can be considered a true or complete forgiveness:

“…the acts of abandoning resentment and increasing mercy need time to develop and cannot be forced, merely willed into existence, or ordered about by one’s thought processes. In our view, the definition of forgiveness necessitates that we in the helping professions consider forgiveness to be an unfolding process, one that does not run smoothly, filled with starts and stops, only eventually culminating in reduced anger and more compassion. A decision to forgive is only a part of this process” (p. 49).

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

When forgiving, it is the sincerity of our words that matters

cropped-mairani_cuevas_208847.jpgIn working through forgiveness issues, saying the words, “I forgive you” may be not be enough, warns Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000):

“Although language can symbolize forgiveness, it cannot be a substitute for it. Even if a person uses the seemingly correct words, he or she might be masking resentment. The sincerity of the words matters” (p. 48).

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.