The process of forgiveness toward others often begins with the need to forgive ourselves. Really, we all need to practice forgiveness toward ourselves. I believe if we do not forgive ourselves for our mistakes, that same standard will be projected onto others. So, forgive yourself, first.
On this journey, I believe we go through the stages of grief that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlines. I know that I have gone through these stages a number of times in order to reach the end of my journeys with forgiveness. The stages are:
When I talk about “stages” I don’t mean you will be graduating from one stage to the next stage. I also don’t mean that you need to completely resolve one stage in order to go onto the next. The grief process is not a linear. You may have to repeat many of these stages several times, even the acceptance stage, before you are finally done with forgiveness.
I want to closely explore the first stage denial because I think many people do not fully understand what it means to be in denial. These stages were created when Dr. Kubler-Ross was working with patients who were terminally ill, but they have been used with many kinds of losses. Denial issues for me, in my journey with forgiveness, was the courageous act of coming face to face with all the things I lost because of the obvious loss.
One Example: many of you know that one of the specialties I have is working with adult survivors of childhood abuse, or those with other-than-nurturing childhoods. I have had to work through a lot of loss from my own childhood, so I feel prettyexperienced in the range of emotions. Denial is a kid’s best friend when a child does not yet possess the cognitive ability or life experiences to reason through a painful life event(s). There are many aspects to that kind of denial and I would need a whole other blog to address completely.
Second Example: if you have had the loss of a close relationship (a child, spouse or other close friend) due to another person’s actions, you will have to evaluate the different areas of your life, where the lost relationship would have been present and especially for significant life events. What were your hopes and dreams for that relationship that was cut short from you? It is impossible to get to the acceptance stage of grief if you don’t courageously explore your losses.
Greater anger will be the result of your exploration of the losses associated with the initial and obvious loss? At this point, or before, if you feel your emotions will overtake your ability to be safe, contact friends or a counselor who understands what you need to do to resolve your great loss. Many people cannot do this alone, so do not feel embarrasses to reach out. Don’t give up hope, you are on a healing journey and there will be mountains to climb.
This looks like a lot of “if’s” or “if only’s” till you finally understand that time has determined the “if and if-only” and they did not happen the way you would have preferred however time has gone on and the loss did happen. There are some things we cannot change and in those times we need to allow ourselves to put to rest the “if” and “if only” thinking.
Is when you begin to explore that there is no way other than acceptance, but you are still not quite at the stage of acceptance. Depression comes from realizing we were not in control of the outcome and we strongly wish we were. It would have been different if we had been in control. It may feel as if it would have been easier to not be on this journey. Often times the other stages resurrect in our life and mind and it is hard to move to the final stage.
Is when we accept our finiteness. It may be that you felt the world had stopped since the loss, and then you get a glimmer of realization that really the world has gone on. Reluctantly, you may venture out into that world, accepting that it will be without something or someone that was important to you.
As I said before, this may take months, years or decades, but in the end, when acceptance is fully obtained, I think you will find the strength for forgiveness and it may set you free.
Going back to the arguments in the first part of this Forgiveness blog:
- It is not martyrdom, but rather a deep resolve of the anger and bitterness. You will feel like the bigger person because of the stages of resolving your pain,and undoubtedly because you realized your frailness and so can forgive someone who was also frail.
- I recommend forgiving, but let forgetting take its own course. A good boundary would be to recognize that you can forgive, but trust, intimacy and even friendship may be broken. It is smart to allow the consequences to fall where they may and often memory is our best friend for that. There will also be times when a part of forgiving is restoring a relationship. Try to not get caught up in another person’s idea of what you should do when it is all about you and your choice to make given the event. Forgive, forget and restore are all in your control.
- God DOES forgive us, but I believe He alone knows our heart and the heart of those who hurt us. He forgave Israel when Israel was not repentant, but other times He did not protect them when they went against His will. Forgive if you can, and especially if the person is truly repentant, but don’t forget that trust may be broken and restitution is also a Bible concept,and may be necessary. In those cases, remembering may be your best friend.
- Don’t jump the gun on saying, “Thank you for the pain/loss.” When or if you see yourself growing from the new understanding you have of the world, good and evil, the limits of yours and others’ humanity, the need for humility and mercy in dealing with yourself and others, then you may consider being thankful. This is your journey and it will not work to take someone else’s prescription for forgiveness.
- I still do not understand this one about pretending it didn’t really happen!
I believe in being a gleaner. A gleaner is someone who takes a little here, a little there and ponders them to see if they can use them in their life. What makes sense, in this blog, keep. What does not makes sense to you, throw away. Always be open to evaluating your position on forgiveness. Try to not let yourself stay in any stage too long. Have no fear, you will probably return to all the stages during the course of your journey. Many noble people as well as major spiritual orientations believe forgiveness is essential to emotional and spiritual health. I wish you the best in getting there as soon as you can, but no sooner than you need to.
Seek help if at any time this process or your loss is too overwhelming. There are some personal losses that should not be endured alone. Call me: 720-982-7057 or complete the form at my website.