Do you believe this?
Forgiving = Good
Not Forgiving = Bad
I used to have this black-and-white view of forgiveness, and it kept me living in a Catch-22. When I tried to forgive people, it often felt like a lie or a simplistic fix for a complex issue. If I didn’t forgive someone, it nagged at me and felt toxic.
Then I took a Psychotherapy Networker telecourse on forgiveness with Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, and wow, was it ever an eye-opener and life-changer. Dr. Spring is a clinical psychologist and nationally recognized expert on issues of trust, intimacy, and forgiveness. She’s written two widely acclaimed books, which I highly recommend:
Dr. Spring was kind enough to grant me permission to share the basics of her brilliant model of forgiveness. The wording below is from the class handout, edited for brevity. Please note that the injured party is referred to as “she” and the offender as “he.” I tried changing it to gender-neutral wording (as I suspect Dr. Spring did), but it’s too challenging to decipher who’s being referred to, so I left the gender tags just for the sake of clarity.
In stark contrast to the good/bad model of forgiveness, Dr. Spring’s model has four possibilities, two unhealthy and two healthy. I found the first two strikingly similar to my earlier notions of forgiving and not forgiving, and I was relieved to learn about additional options.
1) CHEAP FORGIVENESS (Unhealthy)
Cheap forgiveness is a quick and easy pardon with no processing of emotion and no coming to terms with the injury. It is premature, superficial, and undeserved. It is an unconditional, unilateral, often compulsive attempt at peacekeeping. It is a gratuitous gift for which the hurt party asks nothing in return.
Cheap forgivers compulsively seek to repair relationships, regardless of the circumstances of their feelings. They beat up on themselves when someone mistreats them. They make excuses for the offender while repressing or denying a violation. Cheap forgivers fail to know their anger or their despair, and they fail to voice their objections or their needs. They often feel powerless, trapped, manipulated, and/or snuffed out.
Cheap forgiveness may preserve the relationship with the offender but quash any opportunity to develop a more intimate bond. It may make the hurt party feel morally superior to the offender, but her sanctimonious high is likely to prevent her from getting closer. It may give the transgressor a green light to continue mistreating the hurt party. It may make the hurt party sick, emotionally and physically.
2) REFUSING TO FORGIVE (Unhealthy)
Refusing to forgive is a reactive, rigid, often compulsive response to violation that cuts the hurt party off from life and leaves her stewing in her own hostile juices. It is a decision to continue to punish the offender and reject reconciliation, even if that decision punishes her.
Non-forgivers get insulted and offended too easily. They have too many confrontations with people, jumping to conclusions, taking what people say or do too personally, and reacting with arrogance or indignation. They tend to harbor grudges forever. They cut themselves off from those who hurt them without wrestling with the truth about what actually happened. They find that an apology is never good enough to warrant their letting go of an offense. Non-forgivers take comfort in the role of victim and fail to see that an injury wasn’t simply something done to them but something they may have been partly responsible for. They dream of ways of crushing their opponent and fill their time with retaliatory fantasies that make themselves feel powerful, superior, and in control.
Not forgiving cuts the hurt party off from any dialogue with the offender and any positive resolution of the conflict. It may restore the hurt party’s pride, but it cuts her off from any opportunity for personal growth and understanding. It may make the hurt party feel less empty, but it poisons her physically and emotionally and cuts her off from life.
3) ACCEPTANCE (Healthy)
Acceptance is a responsible, authentic response to an interpersonal injury when the offender can’t or won’t engage in the healing process — when he is unwilling or unable to make good. It is a program of self-care, a generous and healing gift to oneself, accomplished by the self, for the self. It asks nothing of the offender.
The Ten Steps of Acceptance
* honor the full sweep of their emotions
* give up their need for revenge but continue to seek a just resolution
* stop obsessing about the injury and reengage with life
* protect themselves from further abuse
* frame the offender’s behavior in terms of his own personal struggles
* look honestly at their own contribution to the injury
* challenge their false assumptions about what happened
* look at the offender apart from his offense, weighing the good against the bad
* carefully decide what kind of relationship they want with the offender
* forgive themselves for their own failings
4) GENUINE FORGIVENESS (Healthy)
Genuine forgiveness is a hard-won transaction, an intimate dance between two people bound together by an interpersonal violation. As the offender works hard to earn forgiveness through genuine, generous acts of repentance and restitution, the hurt party works hard to let go of her resentment and need for retribution. Together they redress the injury.
What the Offender Must Do to Earn Forgiveness
* Look at his mistaken assumptions about forgiveness and see how they block efforts to earn it.
* Bear witness to the pain he caused.
* Apologize genuinely, non-defensively, and responsibly.
* Seek to understand his behavior and reveal the inglorious truth about himself to the person harmed.
* Work to earn back trust.
* Forgive himself for injuring another person.
What the Hurt Party Must Do to Foster Forgiveness
* Look at her mistaken assumptions about forgiveness and see how they stop her from granting it.
* Complete the ten steps of acceptance—not alone, but with the offender’s help.
* Create opportunities for the offender to make good and help her heal.
—Open up and share her pain with the offender.
—Speak from the soft underbelly of her pain.
—Help him locate her pain and tell him exactly what she needs to heal.
—Allow him to make reparations.
—Let him know what he is doing right.
—Apologize for her contribution to the injury.