Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Psychological Model of Forgiveness

The Psychology of Forgiveness


As mentioned in the previous introduction to the essay on spiritual forgiveness I work with two models of forgiveness: the spiritual model and the psychological. This psychological is based on a systems conceptualization of restoration of equity, fairness, in a relationship. Restoration of fairness does not necessarily mean reconciliation but it does mean the reparation of the harm that was done and a restoration of “right relationship.”

These two models can, of course be used together as there is much overlap although spiritual forgiveness can be done I believe without psychological forgiveness although psychological forgiveness may make spiritual forgiveness easier.

In psychology there is the idea that forgiveness should be done for the benefit of the forgiver not necessarily for the benefit of the forgiven. Research shows that harboring grudges, resentments, bitterness is bad for one’s physical and emotional health. To forgive, to let go, frees one physically, mentally, and emotionally from the servitude of nursing past injustices, and liberates one to move ahead freely into the future.

At a spiritual level also, masters such as Jesus taught us that to forgive is divine. To rise above injustices on the earth plane allows one to focus on the big picture, the transcendent, and to realize that injustices are petty and insignificant in the long run. “It all comes out in the wash” as they say. As Richard Carlson says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” To rise above injustices is to see them in context. To understand the context, the circumstances and false thinking that lead to the transgression in the first place contributes to an awareness that helps us make sense of the injustice so that we can take it less personally. So often it’s not that people are unwilling of doing the right thing, of treating us better, they are incapable; they are just incompetent. There is a difference between being unwilling and being incapable given who the person is, how he/she is wired, where they are coming from. Most injustice, requiring forgiveness, is born out of a lack of awareness, and being stuck in the person’s egotistic thoughts, desires, and motives, they do stupid things. Stupidity does not require punishment as much as education, enlightenment. And so forgiveness, as an interpersonal skill and strategy for spiritual growth, requires four steps.

The first step of forgiveness requires that the forgiver has the right and opportunity to have his/her say about what he/she believes the injustice is. Everybody deserves his/her day in court, for the record if not in person. Even after the offender has died, the forgiver still deserves the opportunity to have his/her say about what the injustice is. If the offender is sincere about reconciling, the offender needs to give the forgiver a hearing, to allow the forgiver to name the injustice and how it has affected him/her. So often the offender doesn’t want to hear how the forgiver thinks and feels about the situation, of what the forgiver perceives as unfair and unjust. The offender might say, “Get out of here! I’m not listening to your nonsense!” Having a hearing, getting your day in court, for the record if not in person, is the first step in the forgiveness process.

The second step is getting an explanation. The forgiver has a right to hear what the circumstances were that contributed to the injustice occurring. This takes time. It takes digging which may take some time to understand, in any comprehensiveness, what the myriad of factors were that contributed to the injustice occurring. The explanation is not a justification, or a rationalization, an excuse, or cop-out. The explanation is an honest, and sincere attempt to examine the unfair situation, to understand how it occurred so that it never happens again, and that something of value can be learned from a hurtful situation. Hopefully, we “live and learn” as they say. If we don’t learn from mistakes and injustices we are doomed to repeat them.

The third step is a genuine apology. There is a difference between a band-aid apology and a sincere apology. A band-aid apology is placating to get the offender off the hook, but a sincere apology follows from the first two steps: having heard what the injustice is and what how the victim thinks and feels about it, and to have examined the circumstances that contributed to the offense, the offender can say, genuinely, “I’m sorry. I had no idea the extent of the harm of my actions.” Most victims want an apology. An apology sometimes, but not always, brings about a healing, a restoration of a sense of equity which leads to a sense of peace.

The fourth step is the making of amends. If the offender is genuinely sorry and has apologized, there is a natural desire to want to make amends, to repair the harm. This making of amends, in many situations has to be very creative, because the injustice is water under the bridge, nothing can be done to put things back to where they were before the offense, and yet there is a need to redeem oneself by repairing the harm. How the harm is repaired needs to be negotiated by both the forgiver and the forgiven. In the instance where the offender is dead or unwilling, Life has a way of making amends to the victim. If he/she can acknowledge that blessings have repaired the harm, the victim can move forward feeling whole.

These steps can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, and even decades. We cannot live in our imperfect world and not be victimized, not to feel the sting of injustice and unfairness. Injustice is natural. It is an everyday human experience. Injustice will continue as long as humans are unenlightened and unaware, and yet injustice is not the problem; how we handle the injustice can  be the problem as we either benefit or further compound the problem. Having our say, our day in court, understanding the circumstances that contributed to the injustice, obtaining a genuine apology, and the making of amends is a four step model for bringing about a greater sense of equity, justice, and compassion in our human relations and in the whole world.

The mature soul knows what really matters in life and how to act accordingly. This knowing and  positive acting comes from experience reflected upon and learned from. Forgiveness is one of the most important spiritual activities which we can engage in. It is very good for our soul.

Questions for consideration and discussion
1.      What do you think of the four steps outlined? Can you give an example of a situation where you might have worked through the four steps or got stuck?
2.      What is the difference between a “genuine” apology and a “band-aid” apology?
3.      Have you ever had to get creative in making amends because the harm is long gone, or water under the bridge, and what had been done couldn’t be undone so some other way of compensating the victim and/or repairing the harm had to be creatively implemented?

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