Category Archives: Full Acknowledgment

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.

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.

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.

Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened

cropped-woman_praying_1974461.jpgSome have the mistaken belief that forgiveness is the minimizing of what has happened, or pretending that things were different than they were. On the contrary, argues Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“Forgiveness is taking seriously the awfulness of what has happened when you are treated unfairly….Forgiveness is not pretending that things are other than they are….It is facing the ghastliness of what has happened and giving the other person the opportunity of coming out of the ghastly situation” (Tutu, 1998, p. xiii)

Tutu, D. (1998). Without forgiveness there is no future. In R. D. Enright & J. North (Eds.), Exploring forgiveness. (pp. xiii-xiv). Madison, WI US: University of Wisconsin Press.