header-image-1.jpg

Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

Who Does Unforgiveness Hurt?

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

ForgiveWhen answering the question “Who Does Unforgiveness Hurt?” It is important to accurately define what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is very often misunderstood as something altogether different. Defining forgiveness and explaining who is hurt by it could take an entire book and is difficult in the space of one article. However, for the purposes here I will give a working definition which you may want to explore at a later time on your own or with a trusted counselor.

Forgiveness means: After determining that an offense has occurred, you willfully abandon (through considerable determination and deliberate work) the emotional and physical reactions (anger, resentment, revenge, etc.) that you may hold toward the offense and the offender.

Again, this is a very short, simple working definition of forgiveness. More exploration on your part may be necessary to fully grasp the full meaning of forgiveness. Because I have encountered much anger and scoff from individuals after suggesting the idea of forgiveness of past hurts as part of their recovery, I find it necessary to point out a few things that forgiveness is NOT. I will not fully explain each point here, but again, you can explore these ideas further if you wish.

            Forgiveness is NOT:

            – Excusing the offender for the offense

            – Tolerating the offense or the offender

            – Pardoning the offender or giving the offender a “pass” for his/her behavior

            –  Condoning the offensive behavior

            – Reconciliation of the relationship with the offender

            – Forgetting the offense

So, now that we briefly see what forgiveness is and is not, I want to try to answer the question: “Who does unforgiveness hurt?”

An easy answer to this question is that unforgiveness hurts everyone. That answer would take much too much time to explain. So for the sake of space I will discuss who is most impacted by unforgiveness. The person most affected by unforgiveness is the offended person who is harboring the unforgiveness. One of my favorite quotes on forgiveness is “Holding onto unforgiveness is like swallowing poison in order to punish your enemy.” It has been speculated that as much as 70% of adult inpatient mental health hospital admissions can be attributed to guilt (unforgiveness of self) and resentment (unforgiveness of someone else). Now, I do not know if that number would hold up under strict scientific scrutiny, but professionals do know that unforgiveness does lead to significant levels of depression, anxiety and anger as well as many serious physical health concerns.

If you look at the symptoms of unforgiveness: Depression, Anxiety and Anger just to name a few, these are not symptoms experienced by the person who is not being forgiven. These are symptoms experienced by the person who has been offended and is not forgiving. Many people say, “This is not fair. I was victimized and now I have to forgive the person who did this to me?” My answer is “No, you do not have to forgive anyone.” However, I encourage you to consider two things. First, if you do not forgive it is like re-experiencing the offense over and over again as long as you have the mind to remember. You will feel the same helplessness, loss of control, anger and anxiety that you did when the offense first occurred. I would venture to say no one likes that idea.

The second thing to consider, for Christians and those who consider themselves believers is this: In Matthew 6:15 Jesus tells us, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” That is a pretty powerful statement. Whenever we find ourselves living contrary to the boundaries set for us in scripture, there are going to be consequences. In this case, we see the symptoms of unforgiveness. However, scripture never tells us to do something that is impossible. In fact we are always given guidance on how to achieve the precepts set for us.

When considering overcoming the anger, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of unforgiveness it is vitally important to remember the list of things that forgiveness is NOT which I listed above. I want to be very clear. If you are experiencing an offense that is ongoing such as abuse, infidelity or some other harmful activity, I believe you cannot forgive that person until that behavior has ceased.  For example, if you are in relationship with an abusive partner who asks for forgiveness after every abusive episode and you say you “forgive” and return over and over to the same abusive pattern, then you are not actually forgiving, but rather tolerating or condoning the abusive behavior. Only after the offense has stopped and you have completely separated from the negative pattern can you begin the process of forgiving. This is an entire other subject that needs to be explored that requires much more than one article, but it is very important.

Forgiveness is a process. It is not a one-time event accomplished with a statement. It is at times a difficult process that requires mental, emotional and at times physical work. Because of this we are motivated to forgive not because of the effects is will have on the person we are forgiving, but for the rewards that await us when we truly forgive. When you truly forgive, you experience freedom. Freedom from the emotional ties to past events. Freedom from daily anxiety that you may not have known was attached to past offenses. You will experience control over your own life rather than continuing to see yourself and responding to the world as a victim. You will begin to respond to your current relationships in real time rather than responding through a filter based on past hurtful experiences.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. –Lewis Smedes (Author)

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. –Corie ten Boom (Holocaust survivor)

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well –Lewis Smedes

 ChrisGiles headshot

Chris Giles, M.S.

What To Do When Your Spouse Won’t Admit They Did Wrong

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Trust Highlighted - iStockA common first question to a breach in relational trust is: “What did your spouse do?”.  The answer will likely depend on the severity of the action. For instance, when your spouse forgot to pick up the dry cleaning when you clearly asked them to, you may receive a denial in response, such as “you never asked me to get your dry cleaning.”  You would probably be able to forgive this more easily than forgiving your spouse when they won’t acknowledge a greater breach, such as infidelity. The adage “pick your battles” correctly applies here. The life of your marriage probably won’t depend on dry cleaning, but infidelity is a much more complex and damaging offense. However, the core issue is the same: A spouse’s unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions and make amends is a major roadblock in trusting relationships.

With something as serious as infidelity, your spouse may fear the demise of your marriage and fool themselves into thinking that if they don’t admit wrong doing, then the incident didn’t really happen.  As fallible humans we are masters of denial. Understanding why your spouse won’t admit their mistake is important. Do they disagree that their actions were wrong or are they ashamed and using their denial as a defense mechanism?

If your spouse has a pattern of dishonesty and is unwilling to seek forgiveness, there is probably a deeper issue present that needs to be addressed through professional counseling.

The dilemma for the wronged spouse is, do you forgive them even if they don’t seek your forgiveness?  For your spiritual and emotional health, is it best to choose to forgive them? Feeling forgiveness and choosing it are different. We often don’t feel like we want to forgive someone, but we can choose to forgive them. When we consider the grace and mercy of God toward us, it empowers us to extend that same forgiveness to others. Communicating your forgiveness toward your spouse can help them understand how their actions have affected you and encourage them to seek forgiveness.

Infidelity is a complex issue and the forgiveness of such offense is also complex.  Christian Family Institute has developed and refined a methodology for helping couples through infidelity.  Call us to set up a time to meet with one of our trained and licensed therapists.

KristaCaveny headshot

Krista Caveny, M.A.

Build Intimacy in Your Marriage through Forgiveness

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Give-ForgivenessIntimacy is, by definition, a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship.  Intimacy in marriage is established and deepened as you increase your openness and vulnerability with your spouse.

As you draw nearer in relationship to your spouse, you will experience great joy in intimacy.  But you also become more vulnerable and more open to being wounded.  No human relationship is perfect.  Whether intentional or unintentional, we all have the propensity to cause harm to one another.   Ecclesiastes 7:20 (MSG) tells us “there’s not one totally good person on earth, not one who is truly pure and sinless”.  There will be times in your marriage when you are the offend-ed and there will be times when you are the offend-erThere will be times when you need to seek forgiveness and times when you need to grant forgiveness.  When an offense takes place in marriage, the offense damages the intimacy of the relationship and the offended often reacts with feelings of hurt, sadness, anger and distrust.  These emotional reactions are normal.  But you always have a choice about how you’ll respond.  The acts of seeking and granting forgiveness provide opportunities to become truly authentic, to practice grace, to reconcile and to deepen the intimacy of your relationship.

When you are the offender, SEEKING FORGIVENESS involves:

  • Acknowledging to your spouse what your specific offense was
  • Admitting to your spouse that the offense was hurtful and damaging to the relationship
  • Attempting to understand the pain that you’ve caused your spouse
  • Taking responsibility for the offense and offering to make amends, if possible
  • Vowing to your spouse that you will not repeat the offense
  • Apologizing to your spouse and asking for forgiveness
  • Forgiving yourself and creating a plan for avoiding future offense

When you have been offended by your spouse, offering forgiveness provides an opportunity to heal your own hurt and, often, to mend the broken relationship.

Did you know that you can choose to forgive your spouse even when he or she has not admitted fault and sought your forgiveness?  Of course, ideally, we would all love for our spouses to admit they were wrong and beg us for forgiveness. But even if you never see repentance or sorrow from your spouse, you have a choice to make – To Forgive or Not To Forgive.

Unforgiveness, or refusal to offer forgiveness, creates:

  • bitterness
  • resentment
  • distancing or pushing away from the offender
  • a power struggle because it puts you in a position of being superior to your spouse and presumes that your spouse owes you something
  • warfare when you use the offense as a weapon to continually jab at or shame your spouse
  • a judgmental attitude because you presume that you can determine whether your spouse feels guilty enough or has compensated enough to be “let off the hook”

In ALL cases, unforgiveness is a destroyer of intimacy.  Unforgiveness causes marital partners to be adversaries, at a face-off against one another.  Unforgiveness breeds criticism and contempt which ultimately will erode all closeness in a relationship.  And unforgiveness damages the life of the one who harbors it.

Forgiveness is a process that takes time and energy.  Forgiveness is not easy but it is highly rewarding.  Please know that forgiveness does NOT mean that you are excusing the offense, condoning the offense OR forgetting the offense.  Forgiveness is choosing to surrender the “right” to punish or think negatively about the offender so that you can be free from anger and resentment.

GRANTING FORGIVENESS includes:

  • Taking stock of the specific offenses that have occurred
  • Acknowledging the emotions that you experience as a result of the offense
  • Admitting to yourself and your spouse that you feel hurt and disrespected
  • Stating your specific expectations for the future
  • Giving up your right to punish or retaliate against your spouse
  • Choosing to discontinue bitter, resentful or critical thoughts and actions toward your spouse
  • Communicating your forgiveness to your spouse
  • Working collaboratively with your spouse toward reconciliation and intimacy (when reconciliation is safe)

There are times when reconciliation is not safe.  In those cases, stating your expectations for the future may mean creating boundaries in the relationship or even ending a relationship completely.  But even in those cases where reconciliation is not safe, you would be wise to work through the process of forgiveness independently in order to free yourself from the bitterness, anger and resentment.

Forgiveness is important in all relationships but especially in the marital relationship.  If you find that you are critical or harboring resentment toward your spouse, consider whether there might be some offenses that you need to forgive.  The counselors at Christian Family Institute can be excellent guides on your journey of forgiveness.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prison was you.”  Lewis Smedes

JennGiles headshot

 Jennifer Giles, M.S.

Myths of Forgiveness

Monday, April 8th, 2013

 

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”   -Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)Give-Forgiveness

Scripture has much to say on forgiveness, and there have been many books written on the subject.  In doing research for this article, I have read scripture plus three of those many books and thought a great deal about my own experiences and those of the people I counsel.   I have concluded that forgiveness, in and of itself, is a simple thing.  The problem is that it must, by nature of the actions that need forgiving, be attempted and accomplished in a sea of emotions.  Being able to navigate that sea requires a good understanding of the nature of our hurts and what forgiveness really is.

Forgiveness is the best medicine for most of the hurts we experience in life, but is frequently harder to accomplish than living with the pain. Why?  I would suggest that we have an inadequate understanding of forgiveness. Our faulty understanding may come from a belief in often-stated myths about what forgiveness is.  In this article, I will explore three of the more common of those myths:

  • You must forgive and forget.
  • If you forgive, you must reconcile with the offender.
  • Forgiveness means letting the offender off the hook.

Forgive and Forget

I had a professor who told us that forgiveness was divine and that forgetting was senility.  Yet, I have heard many people claim that if you couldn’t forget you had not forgiven.

Forgiving and forgetting are two entirely different things.  The Greek word for forgive has to do with sending away or letting go of something.  It is a deliberate action–an act of will.   I believe that is what is referred to in Psalm 103:12 (As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.) and Jeremiah 31:34 (Their sin I will remember no more.).

Those passages do not mean that God has forgotten our sin, but that He no longer remembers it against us.  Jesus’ death makes that possible by actually bearing our sin and thus taking it away from us. God is omniscient–He cannot forget.  Our brains are designed to remember.  Memory is essential to our lives and our brain’s mission of caring for us.  Without memory of past hurts and experiences, we are susceptible to being hurt over and over–we wouldn’t know whom to trust.  So, memories remain, but forgiveness takes away their power to hurt us.

Forgiveness Equals Fellowship

Many people struggle with forgiving because they believe they must resume fellowship with the offender.  Matthew 5:23-24 (Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.) makes it clear that reconciliation is the desired outcome.

Although reconciliation is the ideal, it is not always possible.  Hamilton Beazley in his book, No Regrets, says that reconciliation can be a part of forgiveness, but is not required.  There are times when it is necessary, for our own healing and freedom, to forgive someone with whom it is impossible to reconcile with due to physical circumstances such as death or incarceration.

Fellowship requires reconciliation.  Sometimes we need to forgive someone with whom it is not safe or in our best interests to fellowship with. The apostle John, in his first epistle, teaches us that fellowship with God and with others is based in the light, which refers to truth and reality  (1 John 1:5-8).  Those who continue in lies and denial are walking in darkness and cannot fellowship with those in the light (2 Corinthians 6:14).   When an offender refuses to acknowledge his sin, he is left in darkness.  We are not to reconcile with darkness–it is not safe to do so.

Fellowship also requires trust.  When someone lies to me or otherwise abuses me, he is not trustworthy.  Without evidence of true sorrow and repentance, we are wise to withhold trust.   If someone has stolen from me, I don’t leave him alone in my house.  I do not have to be a doormat.  Forgiveness is not a signal that I’m willing to put up with abuse.

Forgiveness is for us and is necessary for our healing.  It frees us from the power of those who have offended us.  Fellowship is reserved for those with whom we can walk in truth and light–those we can trust.

Forgiveness Let’s The Offender Off The Hook

In fact, the opposite is the truth.  We cannot forgive someone without being able to place blame on them.  It might be easier to just find some reason to excuse them, but we can’t forgive those we excuse.  There is no healing for us when we, through making excuses, invalidate our own hurt and pain. To forgive, we must acknowledge that hurt and pain, and place the blame squarely where it belongs.  We must hold the offender accountable for their actions in order to truly forgive them.

When we forgive, we let go of malice and vengeance toward the other person.  We let go of our obsession with thoughts of their offense and making them pay.  We do not excuse their action or release them from justice or the consequences of that action.

In order to truly forgive, we must understand that forgiveness is for us.  When we don’t forgive, we are imprisoned by our own feelings.  We will remain stuck in the past and become bitter in the future.  Forgiveness allows us to live in the here and now with a heart full of joy and hope for the future.  We can truly walk in the light.

“When we forgive, we take God’s hand, walk through the door, and stroll into the possibilities that wait for us to make them reality.”  Lewis Smedes

For Further Reading:

  • The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes
  • Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes
  • I Should Forgive, But… by Chuck Lynch

Salley Sutmiller, M.S.

Mrs. Salley Sutmiller