This journey we call forgiveness is not a straight path to the end with joy awaiting you. Instead, if you are like the rest of us, you will start and stop and start again a number of times before you arrive, safe, at the journey’s end. You will be making great progress and then have a dream about the person and wake up angry all over again. You will think you have conquered only to meet again the person who hurts you, and there is the anger. Or, it is a special holiday and you reflect back on your life hoping for peace and instead get a piece of the person’s own anger, and once again you are angry. The forgiveness path is like this and so please be gentle with yourself. Just start again with this person by examining the nature of your wounds now, assess what kind of work you need to do (more love? more merciful restraint?) and continue.
Contempt is a common reaction we have toward those who have hurt us deeply. Please remember that living with contempt hurts you more than it hurts the person who is the target of that contempt. As you start a forgiveness process, please be gentle with yourself. The process takes time. In essence, you will work on seeing the humanity in the one who hurt you—-and in yourself. Sometimes when we live with contempt we end up not liking ourselves. You deserve to love yourself, given the pain that you have had to endure. So, as you forgive another person and see his or her inherent (built-in) worth, you will find that you will begin to see that you, too, have such inherent worth. I urge you to start on the forgiveness journey when you are ready.
I would recommend approaching the other person after first forgiving him or her so that you do not initiate the interaction with resentment in the heart. Then I would carefully—carefully—explain that you are hurt. In other words, you do not accuse, but explain how the person’s behavior has affected you inside. Psychologists call these “I-messages.” An “I-message” is seen as less confrontational than a “You-message” in which you point out that person’s weaknesses.
Then I would try to see where the person is with regard to the seeking forgiveness process. If the person denies all wrongdoing, then he or she is at the very beginning of that process. If he or she acknowledges wrongdoing, this is a big step.
Then you can see the extent to which the person is willing to practice the “three Rs” of remorse (inner sorrow for having hurt you), repentance (wanting to change), and where appropriate recompense (making up to you for the damage done). Once you forgive and he or she practices the “three Rs,” then a true reconciliation is likely to occur.
The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas – Former Dallas Cowboys lineman Josh Brent was convicted last month of intoxication manslaughter for the December 2012 crash that killed his best friend and teammate Jerry Brown, Jr., who was a passenger in Brent’s car. Following the conviction, Brown’s mother testified that she forgave Brent and asked jurors for mercy in sentencing him.
“He is still responsible, but we can’t go on in life holding a grudge,” Stacey Jackson, Brent’s mother, testified. “We all make mistakes.”
Perhaps because of that testimony (Jackson was the last witness the jury heard), Brent avoided a possible 20-year prison sentence and instead was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation. He was also fined $10,000.
Jackson agreed with Brent’s attorney Kevin Brooks who told jurors that they couldn’t punish Brent more than he had already punished himself. “He still has to live with that,” Brooks said.
Jackson concluded her testimony by saying, “Forgiveness. I’m sure that’s what Jerry would have wanted.”
Read the entire story: “Josh Brent intoxication manslaughter trial.”
Of all the people in the world, who do we tend to be hardest on when we mess up?
If we self-forgive, is it illegitimate because we are then the judge and the defendant in the case?
Self-forgiveness is not about jurisprudence. It is about goodness. We can offer goodness to ourselves.
If we self-forgive, aren’t we just letting ourselves off the moral hook?
No. When we self-forgive we should go to the ones we have hurt and make amends. We are not letting ourselves off the hook when we try to make things right.
But, self-forgiveness is about forgiving myself for offending myself. Why are we talking about making amends toward other people?
We talk about this because we do not offend ourselves in isolation. If you think about it, if you are very unjust to yourself, others such as partner, family, co-workers, and even the community might be affected, depending on what the offense is.
What should I expect if and when I forgive myself?
Inner peace and the conviction not to do that again.
In my book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, I make a distinction between healthy and unhealthy anger. The healthy variety energizes a person to take action and to seek justice. Unhealthy anger is the kind that turns into resentment and abides deep within a person for long periods. Even within the category of unhealthy anger, there are resentments that are more intense than others.
As a general observation, I have seen that the deeper the anger and the more unhealthy it is, the longer forgiveness can take. This does not mean that people with profound unhealthy anger cannot be emotionally healed. On the contrary, we have worked with people who have moderate to severe depression and this has ceased at the end of treatment and has stayed away at follow-up testing. In the case of the incest survivor study the depression had stayed away at a 14-month follow-up.
So, the short answer is that forgiveness therapy can take longer when deeper anger is present and so the person needs patience and perseverance to overcome that anger. The process of forgiveness itself is not altered when there is profound anger. The time required is the key.