It takes steadfast courage to finally decide, “I will forgive.”
So often we know in our mind, through reason, that forgiveness is the right path. Yet, we are hesitant to begin the journey. What if it proves to be too painful? What if I get lost along the way and do not know how to forgive? What if it comes out all wrong?
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
We at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. are here to support you as you begin the life-giving journey of forgiveness.
Please keep in mind that this is not some kind of neat-and-tidy process through which you will be progressing in a steplike fashion. Forgiveness is not that predictable. You may find yourself going back to parts of the process you thought you had conquered long ago. For example, you may be near the end of the process and discover that you still harbor considerable anger toward the person (anger comes near the beginning of the entire forgiveness process). You then may cycle back to the beginning, do some work on your anger , and jump back to the end of the process. Be ready to go backward and forward in the forgiveness process, depending on your particular needs with a particular person whom you are currently forgiving.
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 834-839). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
Sophia: And please recall that you do not practice any virtue in isolation from the other virtues. As you practice forgiveness, you should practice justice and patience and wisdom, for example. Here is a general rule to follow as you begin to examine who wounded your heart: You need not forgive everyone who has ever been unfair to you, at least not right away. Focus on those who have actually done some damage, who have actually wounded your heart. As you examine your life, you will remember many people who let you down, insulted you, embarrassed you, and disappointed you in some way. It is legitimate to forgive each of them in time, but for now focus on those who have hurt you deeply enough that you can say, “Yes, that person, by his or her actions, has wounded my heart.”
Inez: I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed at the moment.
Sophia: What is it that seems so big to you?
Inez: The mountain of people. When you’ve lived a while you build up a lot of wounds. Where to begin?
Sophia: We can take it systematically, one person at a time. I recommend that we first make a list of all who have seriously wounded you in your life, from early childhood on to the present time. You need not forgive everyone on that list prior to your turning to forgiving Sterling. Although it may be in your best interest to first forgive certain people, such as your mom and dad or others in your family when you were growing up. These patterns of interactions and the wounds from them can and do make a difference in how we react to other people now.
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 2140-2149). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 2135-2140). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
So many people think that it is improper and perhaps even morally inappropriate to forgive when the other refuses to apologize. “My waiting for the other to apologize shows that I have self-respect. I will not put up with the injustice,” I have heard people say.
Yet, why is your self-respect tied to another’s behavior toward you? Can’t you respect yourself for who you are as a person rather than waiting for another to affirm your importance as a person?
“But, if I wait for the apology, this is a protection for me and for the relationship. The apology is a greater assurance that the other will not do this again.”
Yet, cannot you forgive from the heart and also ask fairness from the other before—before—he or she apologizes? One does not achieve justice through only one path, in this case the other’s apology.
If you insist on the other’s apology before you forgive then you are saying this to yourself: I will not allow myself the freedom to exercise mercy toward this person until he/she acts in a certain way (an apology in this case). Do you see how you have curtailed your freedom, including your freedom to heal emotionally from the injustice? Forgiveness has been shown scientifically to reduce anger, anxiety, and depression. Your insistence on an apology may delay or even thwart your healing.
When you insist on the other’s apology before you forgive, you—you, not the other person—trap yourself in the prison of unforgiveness…..with its resentment and unhappiness. This does not seem like the ethical thing to do.
Forgiving freely whether the other apologizes or not is the path to freedom, healing, and a clear-headed call to justice.
C.S. Lewis once noted that pride is that tendency to find pleasure in moving other people around like toy soldiers. Pride seeks to win, to be superior, to have the light shining on the self.
When we are treated unjustly by another, then perhaps it is that other person who has moved us around as if we were toy soldiers. It is at this time that resentment can take hold of us and if we are not able now to competitively move our injurer around like a toy soldier, we dig the trench of resentment and stay there for the battle.
If the other does not apologize, we do not want to budge from our pride-trench. The central problem of waiting for the other to admit defeat is this: Too often those who hurt us do not apologize.
What we need is an antidote to pride, something that will extend a warm hand and help us out of the trench. The antidote is the virtue of humility, a virtue that the philosopher Nietzsche looked on with distain, calling it a “monkish virtue.” It is apparent that Nietzsche’s philosophy valued power and so he wanted nothing to do with humility.
The major problem with detesting humility is that sometimes the other’s power over us remains, despite our best efforts. If all we have left is our pride-trench, then the other’s power could defeat us in an emotional sense as we develop unhealthy anger and even anxiety and depression.
To combat the barrier of pride, we need to value and practice humility, that sense that we need not always get our way and that power is an impostor not worthy of following. With humility, we do not meet power with power. Yes, we meet power with a call for justice, but this is very different from pride, which calls for its pound of flesh from the other. Once we have developed the virtue of humility, which gets us out of our pride-trench, we are free to begin forgiving, which can actually eliminate the resentment so that it no longer has power over us.
Forgiveness is not just an act of the will. It takes time and the cultivation of gentleness. It cannot be rushed and so please be sure to cultivate that gentleness toward yourself as you start on a forgiveness journey.
Guarding against your own false accusations against yourself is very important. At the same time, please add the practice of being gentle with yourself. By this I mean, try to foster a sense of quiet within, an acceptance of yourself within. Try to respond inwardly to yourself as you would toward someone whom you love deeply. In other words, allow yourself to be imperfect and when you are, please guard against a harsh inner voice that condemns. You have been wounded and so you need that sense of self-acceptance in all aspects of your life right now.
The next time you make an error, be aware of how you are talking to yourself internally. Check to see if you are using the inner-whip against yourself and then stop this immediately. Instead, please turn to this: I am wounded inside. I do not need another wound, especially one that is inflicted from within. It is time to be gentle with myself.