business-3230025_1920In my 30 years of working with people, I have seen the power of forgiveness set people free. An adult child who was sexually abused, a wife betrayed by a husband, a teen whose addicted father beat him, a parent who lost a child from a drunk driver…the list could do on and on. Was it easy for  people to forgive? Not at first. It isn’t our instinctual reaction. But the way forgiveness affects your body, soul and spirit is powerful and leads to freedom.

Forgiveness is usually a process. Emotions often need to catch up to the head decision to forgive. It takes time to emotionally work through an offense or wrong doing. 

Forgiveness researchers Enright and Fitzgibbon outline  four stages of the forgiveness process: 1) The uncovering stage in which you realize how you have been affected by the offense. You are thinking about what happened and gathering information. During this first stage, you realize what happened and how it affected you. Basically, who did what to whom. It helps to ask questions like, how is unforgiveness affecting my health? How much space is unforgiveness occupying in my life? Am I avoiding a necessary part of my healing?

2) Next is the decision phase. You make a decision to forgive, recognizing that not doing so will cost you more pain. What has been stopping you from letting go? What has blocked you from choosing to forgive?

3) The third phase is the working phase. We do the work of forgiveness, dealing with our emotional reactions, trying to apply empathy and compassion to others and moving through difficult feelings. This part of forgiveness work cannot be rushed or demanded. It is the hardest part of the work because we can make a decision to forgive without working through the emotions internally. Overcoming negative feelings changes you in terms of motivation, your thoughts and eventually your behavior. When you truly work through the emotional process with forgiveness, you begin to consider the other person and feel empathy.

 4) Finally, there is a deepening phase in which we feel release and give meaning to the importance of forgiveness and confront suffering. When forgiveness is worked through on a deep level, it promotes health. It combats stress, hostility and rumination. It aids the healing process. 

Our culture often focuses us on revenge, hanging on to offense and cutting people who bother us out of our lives. But forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It doesn’t require reconciliation or apology. It moves you out of resentment and bitterness to a place where the person who harmed you no longer has power over you. The offense was real, but you choose not to let it steal your joy. You can’t change what happened, but you can change how you respond to life.

 

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