Super Challenging Forgiveness

Super Challenging Forgiveness


Many of you offered me vulnerable feedback from last week's blog. Thank you for your honesty about how hard this forgiveness thing can be. As promised, here is part two on this important topic.

Q: How do I know if I'm just not taking responsibility for my part?

A: First, let me commend you for that excellent question (haha). It is so important to take an honest look at our own actions and contributions in difficult situations and relationships. However, if we try to do both at once we usually end up minimizing and or justifying either our actions or those of the other party.

Questions to ask:

  • How could I have handled that better?
  • Could I have been heard more effectively without hurting the other person?
  • Is there something concrete here that I need to apologize for?
  • Regardless of what I contributed, what impact did their actions and words have on me?
  • What needs to be said in order to bring closure and resolve to this situation?

This question points to the importance of forgiving ourself. For some people this is harder than forgiving others. Both require similar processes and a willingness to offer grace and new beginnings.

Q: How can I stay calm when my buttons get pushed?

A: We all come from different places. I had suppressed my own anger so much to survive my family of origin that I have had to learn to feel it and express it. The process is similar though for those of you wanting to go the other way.

First, we need to pay attention to the clues that we are not liking how a conversation or relationship is going. Your first clue will be different from mine. It might be noticing that you are yelling, it might be noticing are withdrawal, perhaps it is a change in your breathing rate.

What is your first clue that you are upset?

Once we have tapped ourself on the shoulder to notice the change we can insert a step that we have decided upon in advance. This can be the insertion of a statement, e.g. “I’m not feeling good about how this conversation is going, I need a pause.” or “I see that I’m getting angry, let me reflect on what’s going on so that I don’t say or do things that will be hurtful.” It might be as simple as taking a long slow breath.

Even though lashing out in the moment may briefly feel satisfying it can cause long-term damage that is anything but satisfying.

Q: I feel guilty about not forgiving, what do I do with that?

A: This one is remarkably easy usually. This most often indicates that some aspect of the situation has not been adequately looked at, felt, or processed. When we make light of or stop short of feeling the true impact of someone else’s actions we end up carrying part of it around and our mind/soul won’t let go easily because we haven’t resolved it.

What do you need to learn from that situation?

Q: How do I get closure or get to forgiveness on big offenses? (Even abuse.)

A: This is a complex issue. First of all, let me start by saying that on this I am speaking out of personal experience having grown up in an abusive home. Part of the answer here is that when we are in an ongoing very unhealthy or abusive relationship we get very good at both justifying and minimizing how big a deal the hurtful behavior is. This is how we survive it.

  • In a relationship with a pattern of frequent significant hurts setting boundaries to remove yourself from harm’s way is the first step to a healthy version of forgiveness. In a truly unhealthy situation this often means finding a way to be out of that relationship. I recommend the support of a therapist here. Our version of reality gets distorted in order to help us cope.
  • Forgiveness for big offenses still requires the processing described before but the need for justice is an extra element that factors in. I like to think of these serious offenses as needing to be handled by the justice department (for me this is God). I don’t need to minimize the offense in any way but closure comes for me in handing it over to someone much more capable of creating an appropriate and just outcome.
  • Part of the thinking here is that not forgiving truly does impact you more than the abuser. For your sake choose to find truth through an honest look. Sometimes all we get to is something like this: “That person is seriously messed up and chose to hurt me as a result. I did not deserve it but the truth about me is that I am worthy of being loved. They don’t know how to love because they are so wounded."

Who do you need to have healthier boundaries with?

Where do you end up treating people in ways that you don’t like?




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