Category Archives: Necessary Ingredients

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.

Some necessary ingredients required before the benefits of self-forgiveness can be fully realized

cropped-girl_205263.jpgAccording to Johnson (2004), self-forgiveness requires honesty, the choice to allow for special circumstances, the assuming of responsibility for the consequences of one’s behavior (i.e., the damage done), the choice to make amends, and a commitment to do things differently in the future. Observes Johnson, “If you do not make this commitment to change and follow through on it you will not be free from guilt. In fact, you will very likely repeat the same dysfunctional behavior patterns” (p. 327).

Johnson, S. L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Academic Press.

Forgiveness is the choice to avoid any desire for revenge or any temptation to nurse a wounded ego, according to Andrew Murray

cropped-cry_208356-Shutterstock-Free.jpgAndrew Murray was a pastor, author, and one of the founders of the South African General Mission. During his lifetime, he published over 240 books on Christian spirituality. For Murray (1981) forgiveness is defined as avoiding any desire to punish the offender, to nurse a wounded ego, or to maintain one’s rights [to retaliate or seek revenge], and is made possible by the power of Christ’s forgiving love dwelling in the forgiver. It is Christ Himself forgiving in and through the forgiver.

Murray, A. (1981). With Christ in the school of prayer. Springdale, PA: Whitaker House.

It may be impossible to complete our forgiveness work until we first understand our own innate need for God’s forgiveness

cropped-149_2592x3888_300dpi_all-free-download.com_14247889.jpgAccording to Abbas (2004), in order to be truly able forgive another, we must first have known the experience of having been forgiven by God:

“Frankly, I think it’s impossible to forgive others until we understand our own innate need for forgiveness….I wonder if you’ll come to a point, as I did, when you are so frustrated with your inability to control your circumstances that you’ll finally run, exhausted and overwhelmed, to the God who willingly took your hurts and sins upon Himself on the cross, who loves you unconditionally, and who provides a peace you can’t explain” (Abbas, 2004, pp. 3-4).

Abbas, J. (2004). Generation ex: Adult children of divorce and the healing of our pain. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.

Johnson (2004) suggests some necessary ingredients for working through one’s feelings of guilt and shame

cropped-despair_191878.jpgAccording to Johnson (2004), self-forgiveness requires honesty, the choice to allow for special circumstances, the assuming of responsibility for the consequences of one’s behavior (i.e., the damage done), the choice to make amends, and a commitment to do things differently in the future. Observes Johnson, “If you do not make this commitment to change and follow through on it you will not be free from guilt. In fact, you will very likely repeat the same dysfunctional behavior patterns” (p. 327). Questions for self-examination are provided.

Johnson, S. L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Academic Press.

Preparing to forgive begins with discovering a personal willingness to forgive

cropped-shutterstock_128988602.Purchased.PensiveWomanInGreen-PRCHS6.jpgIn considering the role of a therapist in helping another forgive those who have wounded them, Griffin’s (2004) caution is worth noting as she expressed concern over the tendency of some to use power or control to coerce persons to forgive. She takes the position that choosing not to forgive an offender may be a healthy choice for some unspecified period of time. However, she may have overstated the case when she advised that anyone who would suggest that a person must or should forgive should not be believed:

“It would be impertinent to tell those who have gone through terrible experiences that they must, or should forgive. That they are somehow lacking in moral fiber if they don’t, or not as good as those people who do come to forgiveness. It is not for us to judge the path of forgiveness in someone else. We are all on the journey of forgiveness, but some of us have things to forgive which are so painful that it may take years even to be able to begin to look at them with any possibility of change. There are some life events from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover, and it is important that we honor that experience” (Griffin, 2004, p. 18).

Allender (1995) agrees that forgiveness is not something to be forced on someone who has suffered abuse:

“It is an aspect of the healing process, but not a bitter pill to swallow. It must be assumed not commanded. A heart that knows something of the joy of returning to God will be drawn to offer restoration like God” (p. 240).

Commenting on the importance of a person finding a willingness to forgive within their own heart, rather than being coerced into forgiving, Smedes (1996) observed,

“We ought to forgive the way a spouse ought to make love, a sad person ought to cry, a happy person ought to smile, a lyrical person ought to sing, and a grateful person ought to say thank you. We ought to do it because it suits us well….[so that] when we actually do forgive, we are only doing what comes naturally to anyone who has felt the breath of forgiving love on her own heart” (Smedes, 1996, p. 69).

Though Anderson (2003) would agree that no one should be coerced or overpowered to forgive, he does not see the issue of the timing of forgiveness as much in terms of readiness as much as in terms of obedience and a crisis of the will. As such, one should not delay forgiving on the basis of not feeling like forgiving since, according to Scripture, God commands His followers to forgive. If God commands it, reasons Anderson, it can be done with the help of God, who He believes supplies the believer’s every need. Therefore, in the face of any internal resistance that may be experienced, Anderson advises individuals to simply step out in faith and trust God to provide the grace and power necessary to follow through. As such, to delay extending forgiveness and to continue to harbor bitterness due to a perceived lack of readiness is the choice to unnecessarily prolong the suffering of the injured party and to choose to disobey God in distrust.

Volf (2005) echoed Anderson’s sentiment when he wrote:

“Since God commands us to forgive, now we actually have to get on with the business of forgiving! Are we generous enough to do it? Can we muster enough inner strength? Are we humble enough to forgive well? It helps to remember that we ourselves were forgiven, it helps to live in a community that celebrates forgiveness, and above all, it helps that it’s ultimately Christ who forgives through us, that our forgiveness is an echo of God’s” (Volf, 2005, p. 218).

Anderson, N. T. (2003). Discipleship counseling: The complete guide to helping others walk in freedom and grow in Christ. Ventura, CA: Regal.

Griffin, K. (2004). The forgiveness formula: How to let go of your pain and move on with life. New York, NY: Marlowe & Company.

Smedes, L. B. (1996). The art of forgiving: When you need to forgive and don’t know how. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Volf, M. (2005). Free of charge: Giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Preparting to do forgiveness work related to trauma and abuse includes establishing a sense of personal safety according to Herman and Griffin

cropped-face_of_child_203990.jpgIn her seminal work Trauma and Recovery, Herman (1992) suggests that the first step in helping a trauma survivor heal is establishing a sense of safety. Griffin (2004) expressed a similar sentiment with a sense of ire as she wrote: “Usually you have to stop the behavior and get out of the line of fire before you can begin to embark on the path of forgiveness” (p. 187).

Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, NY US: Basic Books.

Griffin, K. (2004). The forgiveness formula: How to let go of your pain and move on with life. New York, NY: Marlowe & Company.

In order for our forgiveness to be psychologically healthy, several ingredients may be necessary

cropped-young_couple_193184.jpgI don’t know how many times I have had Christians report that even though they have forgiven their offenders, they were still experiencing overwhelming feelings of hurt or anger.

Donna S. Davenport, the author of a widely used counseling textbook, An Introduction to Psychotherapy: Common Clinical Wisdom currently maintains a private counseling practice in Williamsburg, Virginia and serves as an associate professor in Psychiatry at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (Davenport, 2013). She proposes that in order for our forgiveness to be psychologically healthy, it must contain most or all of the following ingredients: (1) Over against denial, there must be a full acknowledgment of the realities of the injury, whether to one’s self or to others; (2) In instances where we have wronged others, self-compassion must overshadow continued recriminations and self-blame; (3) In instances where we have been wronged, we must allow ourselves to fully experience our anger toward the abuser, with a minimum of defenses; (4) On the other side of the forgiveness process, we should find ourselves being more proactive, more empowered, better able to set healthy boundaries, which helps ensure that further abuse or injury does not occur; (5) On the other side of the forgiveness process, we should left with a sense of appropriate hope and increased vitality for life as we celebrate the freedom to require mutual respect and appropriate behavior change, rather than capitulating to continued abuses; and (6) Realizing that it was as a result of our offender’s choice to dehumanize us that they were able to objectify us, use us and abuse us, we refuse to dehumanize or villainize our abuser, recognizing that they are a complex, three-dimensional human being, just as we are. (Davenport, 1991, pp. 141-142)

If you are still suffering significantly on the other side of having sincerely forgiven your offender, you may need to consider adjusting your understanding and exercise of forgiveness to include some or all of these ingredients. Then, if your symptoms continue to persist, you may also need to consult a trusted friend, pastor or counselor, as unresolved trauma can have a detrimental impact on your physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing.

Regarding point 3 above, it may be semantics rather than a difference of opinion, but I think there may be another way of getting to the same destination (i.e., healing) that does not include “fully experiencing” our anger toward the abuser since this may present a health risk to some. It involves experiencing the primary emotions that may have been present at the time of the offense (i.e, deep sorrow, vulnerability, fear,), and from that place of deep hurt, giving up your right to revenge and releasing the offender into the hands of God, as an act of worship to God. It also involves taking the ground back that we forfeited to bitterness and unforgiveness (see Ephesians 4:26-27)and dedicating that place in our heart to God. Next, it involves asking God to reveal the lies (i.e., core beliefs) that we may have unknowingly embraced prior to, during, or after the offense, related to the trauma. In my experience, these lies are the cause of most of our residual anger. Finally, it involves asking God to replace the lies God revealed with truth.

Davenport, D. S. (2013). Vita. http://www.donnasdavenport.com/Vitae_Pubs_Donna_Davenport.pdf

Davenport, D. S. (1991). The functions of anger and forgiveness: Guidelines for psychotherapy with victims. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 28(1), 140-144. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.28.1.140

Copyright © 2013 Stuart A. Coleman

Courageously facing the facts of our abuse may require a safe friend and a power greater than our own

cropped-shutterstock_76161385-Older-Couple-Hugging-PRCHS.jpgIn order to heal, one must at some point begin to face up to the trauma one has suffered. For it is only as one faces the pain and forgives one’s offenders that one can heal. This takes courage. And many would say, it requires not only trustworthy and caring persons in one’s life to give witness to one’s painful past, but the love and power of God. Such was the case with Doug’s wife. Her trusted friend for the journey was her husband “Doug” (pseudonym). The strength that both she and her “Doug” needed for the journey came from God:

“Ours is a story of restoration. Ours is a story of having to walk back through the pain and reliving the nightmare. Ours is a story of how God healed all of that pain that was stored deep down inside. Ours is a story of how God caused my wife to once again become a whole person” (“Doug”, 2001, p. 8).

How do we find a safe and trustworthy friend to open up to? We have found Cloud and Townsend’s (1995) work helpful in this regard.

How do we begin to rely upon God for the strength to face our pain? For some, simply asking God to teach them how to rely upon Him might be sufficient, as God is eager to do so. However, for some who experienced spiritual abuse or were involved in cult activity, even a simple prayer like this may be very difficult.

“Doug”. (2001). For better or for worse. Colorado Springs, CO: Lydia Press.

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1995). Safe people: How to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t.