I 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: 10.1037/0033-322.214.171.124
Copyright © 2013 Stuart A. Coleman