Read an Excerpt
A 7-Step Program for Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness
By Eileen R. Borris-Dunchunstang
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2007McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
How Do We Forgive?
"The knowledge that illuminates not only sets you free, but also shows clearly that you are free."
—A Course in Miracles
Throughout our lives most of us have been taught about forgiveness. Each one of us thinks differently about what forgiveness means, ranging from emotional weakness to high moral standards. To be able to forgive, we need to understand what forgiveness means. Otherwise, our misconceptions can become obstacles in our ability to forgive.
Forgiveness is a process that shows us how to heal emotional pain by choosing to see the person who caused the pain differently. It is about changing the way we think about ourselves and the way we see the world. Forgiveness is an essential part of our healing, enabling us to release our anger, pain, and suffering. As we learn to forgive and heal our emotional pain, we begin to experience the gift of inner peace.
Forgiveness is not about letting someone get away with murderous acts. It is about asking us to look at the totality of who we are, to accept the shortcomings within ourselves, and to embrace that truth with compassion, understanding, and unconditional love. As we face ourselves with courage and acceptance, we get in touch with our humanity and vulnerabilities. This gift of self-acceptance helps us grow in understanding and compassion, which we can then, ideally, extend to others.
There are many misconceptions concerning forgiveness. For example, many of us believe that we forgive in order to repair the relationship with the offender. Although this can be an outcome, the relationship that we are repairing is that within ourselves. Another misconception is that if we forgive someone, we cannot seek forms of justice. As we shall learn, forgiveness is about creating attitudinal changes within ourselves. Our outer actions may be the same whether we forgive or not. What is important is the motivation behind the actions we choose to take.
From its inception, forgiveness involved a process that required a change in perceptions and judgments. Changing perceptions directly effects the healing of anger and hatred. In our willingness to see the situation differently, these emotions begin to diffuse to the point that we no longer want to act out revenge. As we face truths about ourselves that make it possible for us to see others differently, we are taking the first steps in becoming more compassionate human beings. This brings us to a point where, because of our own development of compassion, we are willing to help others regardless of whether there has been acknowledgement from the offender.
Forgiveness is a voluntary act in which a person makes a decision—a choice—about how he or she will deal with an event concerning the past. One of these choices may be based on the belief that people can judge events, measure the magnitude of an offense, and decide that receiving an equal amount of retribution somehow balances the account (Hope, 1987). Another choice is to practice an attitude of forgiveness. This attitude allows us to let go of anger and resentment by deciding to absolve what we perceive as wrongs committed by the other (Hope, 1987). This involves recognizing how our attitudes and beliefs color the actual situation. We form our attitudes and beliefs based on our judgments and perceptions. Judgments and perceptions are based on our fears and needs at the time of the event. They are not facts, although we want to interpret them as such. The attitude of forgiveness is founded on the understanding that we screen and create the past through the process of judgment in the same way that we screen and create the present through the process of perception, and that our judgments and perceptions are subjective and unreliable (Hope, 1987). Therefore, it is through our filters of judgment and perception that we dictate our reality and not our deeper understanding of the actual event.
There are a few important points to make about this definition. First, those who forgive must have suffered a deep hurt, such as betrayal, that elicits anger and/or resentment. Although it is clear that those offended have a right to this resentment, they choose to overcome it. There are many reasons people make this choice. It could be they want to move on with their lives, they recognize that by holding on they are giving the perpetrator power, or they realize that by wanting revenge they become just like the perpetrator. Whatever the reason for this choice, a new response emerges that results in a change in perception based on understanding, compassion, and/or love. These responses occur because of the offended person's choice, not his obligations. The paradox is that as people let go of their feelings of anger, hatred, or the need for revenge, it is they who are healed. By accepting and coming to terms with what took place, those who can see the situation from a perspective of understanding and compassion can lay the past to rest and experience inner peace.
There are many complexities and misunderstandings concerning forgiveness that are important to clarify. The first point to understand is that forgiveness can only occur between two people. We cannot forgive a natural disaster or a war because forgiveness is about resolving the misperceptions we have projected on someone else. It is about healing a deep psychological injury we believe someone did to us. If we did not personally experience harm from someone else then we are not in a position to forgive.
One of the more difficult concepts to understand about forgiveness deals with perceptions. Perceptions are our views in how we choose to see the world. We all see the world differently according to our chosen lens. The events in our lives that are otherwise neutral derive meaning according to how we perceive what has happened. That is why two people can experience similar hurts but one gets stuck in the victim role while the other becomes empowered and takes action. Our reactions are based on our unconscious motivation. This unconscious motivation, be it guilt or fear, is colored by thoughts about ourselves that are too painful to acknowledge. What we cleverly do is sweep the negative thoughts we hold about ourselves under the carpet by only seeing these things in other people. This is what the psychological term projection means. We place on others what we don't want to see about ourselves. These lenses, which also serve as filters for our unconscious needs and desires, give meaning to our life events. This dynamic is important to understand because it explains how we create enemies of people we instantly do not like. It also explains why we can be standing in a hotel lobby and see someone we don't know, yet automatically decide we don't like that person. Part of the forgiveness process is to recognize our projections and reclaim them. In accepting the rejected aspects of ourselves, we begin to see the world more clearly. We cannot change the event itself, but we can change the way we see it. This is part of the forgiveness process.
An issue intertwined with forgiveness is justice. Most often we call for justice based on retribution. When we can finally understand forgiveness at its deepest level, we also get a deeper understanding of what is taking place within the perpetrator. We understand that just like us, other people's behavior is based in their woundedness, fear, and guilt. We recognize that twisted behavior is a call for help, and so it is help we need to give. That doesn't mean that we don't take the necessary actions to protect ourselves, but justice takes on a new meaning—a restorative one—when we begin to see the world differently, through the eyes of
Excerpted from FINDING FORGIVENESS by Eileen R. Borris-Dunchunstang. Copyright © 2007 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.