When did your eyes start rolling? Was it that I had a key to happiness or when you realized I was going to have the audacity to suggest you need to practice forgiveness? Believe me, when I first realized that in order to free myself from the past and to heal I had to forgive, I balked. And whined. And resisted. And procrastinated. And then I got to work because I want to be happy, at peace and free. We simply cannot live our potential while we are harboring resentments against ourselves and others. We tend to think of forgiveness as a spiritual concept, but it is absolutely a psychological one as well. Consider the following definition: Forgiveness is "not condoning, excusing or forgetting what happened," rather it is the decrease or elimination of "resentment or anger toward an offender," which is replaced by "more positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors" (Knutson, Enright and Garbers, 2008). Isn't that the point of psychotherapy and counseling, to be happier?
I'm not suggesting that this is easy work. I actually believe this is an advanced adult skill. It takes commitment, willingness, action, intention and energy. It's also important to note that if you have been abused or traumatized in any way and you are having an adverse reaction to the idea of forgiving, that means that it's time for you to work on your healing first and foremost!
To be clear, the forgiveness I'm speaking of does NOT mean that:
- You allow someone who is abusive to continue that behavior.
- You have to continue to be in relationship with the offender.
- You think that what happened was okay with you (abuse is NEVER okay).
- You must tell the person that you have forgiven them.
- You forgive because that's the "right thing to do."
- You only forgive others, but not yourself.
- You have to forgive without help.
- You have to forgive before you're ready.
The practice of forgiveness is actually an act of self-interest and not about another person. It frees you because harboring resentments is like that saying about taking poison and expecting the other person to suffer. Resentments steal your joy. We can have joy or we can have resentments. We can't have both. That is why practicing forgiveness of ourselves and others is crucial and how forgiveness relates to counseling.
Reference: Journal of Counseling and Development, 2008: Validating the Developmental Pathway of Forgiveness by Jeanette Knutson, Robert Enright, and Benjamin Garbers.