Category Archives: The Forgiveness Clinic

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Many times the explanation for our suffering transcends simple answers

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It is true that our suffering can at times be the result of our own sin so that the solution to our suffering may indeed be to simply confess our sin, repent of it, and receive God’s gift of forgiveness. However, Allen (1958) offers a word of caution:

“I was in Miami for a series of services. Thousands of people were there on vacation seeking a good time. One night, while walking down one of the brightly lighted streets, I passed a Western Union office. It was deserted except for the clerk and one lady. She had a telegram in her hand and was crying her heart out. In a land of soft moonbeams and sea breezes, hearts can still be broken. Had that lady in Miami spoken to me, I might have said, “Suffering is caused by sin. You have not been living right and now God is punishing you. You should get on your knees and repent.”

I have said that to some and I have seen the forgiveness of God take away the pain and bring back a song into a heart. But many times that is not the answer” (Allen, 1958, p. 97).

Allen, C. L. (1958). All things are possible through prayer. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell

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.

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.

How does one forgive another? Enright & Fitzgibbon’s 4 Phase Model

cropped-shutterstock_130323026-White-Male-with-Somber-Expression-PRCHS1.jpgThere are several models that a person can utilize in order to forgive someone who has hurt them. One elaborate model developed by Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) and Enright (2012) includes the following components:

After the preliminary step of determining who it is that has hurt the individual, how deeply they were hurt, how they were specifically hurt, and what specific circumstances surrounded the event (i.e., the time of day, the weather conditions, what was said, how the person responded), the individual is invited to participate in four phases of forgiveness. Phase 1, is aimed at uncovering of the individual’s anger. This includes exploring how the individual has dealt with anger in the past, uncovering any fear of exposing their shame or guilt, considering how their anger may have been affecting their health, reflecting on how they may have been obsessing about the injury or the offender, and determining how the injury may have caused permanent change in their life, including their worldview.

In Phase 2, the individual is invited to decide to forgive. This includes helping them realize that the way they have been handling their anger has not worked as well as helping them discover an inner motivation and willingness to forgive, leading them to a decision to forgive. In Phase 3, the individual is led through the actual process of working on or through forgiveness which includes working toward understanding and developing compassion toward the offender, accepting the pain inflicted, and giving the offender a gift of mercy (i.e., a smile, acknowledging a person’s presence, a returned phone call, a visit to the cemetery of a deceased offender). Finally, in Phase 4, entitled “Discovery and Release from Emotional Prison” (p. 338), the individual is led to explore the meaning of their suffering, consider their own personal need for forgiveness, learn to rest in the truth that they are not alone, find purpose in their life, and celebrate the freedom of forgiveness.

Enright, R. D. (2012). The forgiving life: A pathway to overcoming resentment and creating a legacy of love. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

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.