In our recent book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way, (2009), we suggest a process and steps to use in forgiving others.
What Forgiveness Is Not
Below is a description of what forgiveness is not. Because of all the misconceptions about forgiveness, it is necessary first to clarify what it is not. Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Forgiveness does not involve ego gratification. For example, someone might forgive you for doing something that the other person didn’t like (a judgment) and imply, “Oh, I forgive you because I am so great, and you are not so hot.” This is an inappropriate use of forgiveness and does little to resolve the conflict. This approach is more about arrogance than forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness does not condone the other person’s ignorant or deceitful behavior. This is the most common misunderstanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not letting others off the hook. They still have to address their own behaviors. People who have been grievously wronged by others, however, may need to release their anger or rage toward those individuals before they are ready to even begin to think about forgiving them.
3. Forgiveness is not associated with any specific behaviors. Perhaps someone was abused by his or her father as a child. The form of forgiveness depends on the situation. This person might forgive his or her father and never speak to him again. The person also could forgive and then develop a good relationship with his or her father.
4. Forgiveness is not a “spiritual bypass.” Forgiveness is not a way to avoid doing your own emotional and psychological work.. Even if you are able to forgive someone, you still have to resolve the issues related to your deep grief and anger. You still have to find ways to heal your developmental traumas and move forward in your personal growth. Some people use meditation, prayer, or affirmations in order to bypass doing this deeper kind of spiritual work. It generally isn’t very effective. Emotional and psychological work can be difficult and painful, so it is understandable why people want to avoid it. If you try to avoid healing your developmental traumas by doing the deeper spiritual work, it is likely that you will drive the energy of the wounds deeper into your body where the tension from them can somaticize into life-threatening illnesses.
What Is True Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a very deep psychophysical process that can hone your wisdom and raise your consciousness. Forgiveness is a complex act of consciousness, one that liberates the psyche and soul from the need for personal vengeance and the perception of oneself as a victim. More than releasing from blame the people who caused our wounds, forgiveness means releasing the control that the perception of victimhood has over our psyches. The liberation that forgiveness generates comes in the transition to a higher state of consciousness not just in theory, but energetically and biologically (Myss, 1996, p. 215).
Unless you can develop compassionate forgiveness, the original trauma or betrayal will follow you everywhere, continuing to draw new people into your life to help you reenact the betrayal trauma. Why Because your unconscious knows it is not good for you to hold onto the energy of that trauma and seeks to help you to recreate the trauma in order to finally heal it. Remember, it is the natural learning style of humans to repeat a behavior or situation until it is completely understood and integrated into your consciousness.
Where Do I Begin in Forgiving Others
The process of forgiving others begins with developing compassionate forgiveness for yourself. If you blame your betrayals on other people without looking at your contribution, you will find it difficult to forgive other people. When you can clearly identify your part in the betrayal, you have the potential for real forgiveness. People who judge themselves usually judge others. Go here to see the list of the steps in self-forgiveness and a description of each step.