I believe that forgiveness is an exercise in compassion, as Joan Z.Borysenko says in her popular book ‘Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson’.
And I believe that forgiveness it is not a quick-fix. It is a process. That forgiveness is an attitude, a state of mind. And finally that true forgiveness is a choice.
I came to recognize that in a lot of our minds and convictions lives a sort of ‘cheap or self-convenient forgiveness’, that is what many believe being real forgiveness. Indeed that one is a kind a quick-fix that gives us the illusion to have done our work in the eye of ourselves and God or a Higher Power too, if we are believers.
But ‘authentic forgiveness’ is something pretty different, at least to my own eyes.
It requires time, self-knowledge and deep understanding of others and their behaviors. It can be seen as a blend of 2 major elements:
- love for ourselves and God
- deep understanding and acceptance of others. Not necessarely love for others.
Let’s start with...
Authentic forgiveness as a process. A work in progress if you will.
What kind of process?
Forgiveness to me is first of all the process of letting go, not necessarely forgetting. Actually forgiving is not forgetting.
The process of authentic forgiveness then requires the extensive, harsh work of psycho-spiritual integration. Forgiveness to be real needs deep awareness and a strong commitment to self-knowledge. Old hurts cannot be cancelled and suddenly undone, but they can be used with the emotions involved and become the seeds of trascendence that allows healing to happen, whether we are the victims or the aggressors.
In addition, the process of authentic forgiveness requires us to give up our ideas of better or worse, superior or inferior, and to finally see ourselves as equals and co-learners. It is a hard lesson when we have been hurt and our debtor seem unrepentant, but regardless of what they learn or don’t learn in the process or how fast or slow they are at it, forgiveness is up to us. Authentic forgiveness is not conditional to someone’s else’s behaviour. It is though conditional to authentic self-love and love for God. In this sense it is a choice.
Authentic forgiveness as a process of letting go and a condition for true self-love, develops and moves in 2 directions:
FORGIVENESS TOWARDS OURSELVES
There can’t be authentic forgiveness for those who hurt us without a process of true forgiveness for ourselves. Forgivenss towards ourselves is a major step and it involves the acknowledgement and acceptance of our own ‘ darkeness’ or ‘ shadow’, so that we can be whole.
What are the needed steps to achieve forgiveness for ourselves?
- Acknowledging and taking responsabilityfor what we have done that hurt others ( remembering that responsability itself means the ability to respond to the acknowledged situation ).
- Confessing the nature of our wrongs to God, ourselves, and another human being.
- If we are believers, let’s look up to God for help throughout the whole demanding process.
- Focusing on our goodness, our positive points, not merely our negative sides. If we focus only on the negative, we can end up in depression, self-loath, deep torment. ( Rabbi Nach and cognitive therapists say that the cure to depression derived from fm toxic shame and guilt is to look for the good points in us and persistently , even if the inner voices of darkeness insist that we are evil. It is infact every one’s duty to search and search until he/she encounters whithin some points of goodness).
- Be willing to make amends where possible, as long as we can do this with no harm to ourselves and others. ( Some mistakes are relatively easily to correct. There are other instances, however, where making amends may create fresh damage. Or boost unhealthy narcisism. So let’s think carefully, before making amends, to the repercussions).
- Recognize the lesson that we have learnt during the full process.
FORGIVENESS TOWARDS OTHERS
If we can understand the deeep pain or torment from which hurtful actions inflicted to us arose, then we have suffered with the other person: we have been compassionate. In the act of compassion we move out of the role of victim and allow acceptance, beyond their actions and behaviors, to the person who is acting. In short we let go of our judgement on the behavior of the other and we embrace, only and above all, their spiritual essence.
What I have learnt and still learning in my journey of obtaining self-self-awareness and wholness is that forgiveness doesn’t require us to forget. And it doesn’t require to become friends, for example with, a psychological or physical abusive parent or brother, or husband and ex-husband, or son-daughter, or colleague or friend: in short with whoever still feels entitled to still be abusive , and apply neglectful or disrespectful behaviours towards us.
Furthermore, authentic forgiveness towards others doesn’t require to care or to be responsible for them and their choices in their old age or during their life, or do anything to buy their acceptance and / or love. Authentic forgiveness in fact is a state of mind that may give rise to specific actions but it is not defined by those actions.
What are the needed steps to forgive others?
- They are parellel those of forgiving ourselves:
- Acknowledging we are responsible for what we are holding onto.
- Confessing our story to ourselves, another person and God.
- If we are believers, let’s look up to God for help throughout the whole challenging process.
- Focusing on our and others’ goodness, our and others’ positive traits, not merely our and others’negative sides. Bringing to surface the good points in ourselves and the other person is indeed relevant in the process.
- Wisely considering what actions need to be taken next. ( An example is to recognize our responsibility in what happened and give back to the other party involved their own responability never recognized and for which we wrongly might have become accountable also to the other’s eyes. It is something that can be done in written too).
- Reflecting on what we have learnt.
In short we can conclude by recognizing that in the process of authentic forgiveness, we convert the suffering created by our own mistakes or as a result of being hurt by others into psychological and spiritual growth. Through the attitude or state of mind of authentic forgiveness, we attain happiness and serenity by letting go of the ego’s incessant need to judge ourselves and others.
After many years of looking inside myself , searching for the lost and disowned parts of me, I have understood that the happiness we all are seeking, the ability we all desire to feel love, send love and be love, is indeed and only the attitude of authentic understanding and acceptance for others ( that is in short being comoassionate, thinking of compassion as a suspension of judgement of others’ beahviours and actions ), as well as the attitude of full acceptance, care and deep love for ourselves.
Both attitudes, I have learnt and still learning, can be attained only and above all through the extensive , often hard exercise of choosing and achieving ‘authentic forgiveness’.
Are you ready to get into your gear and take the first step?
Certainly…. I am!