Learning to forgive...the seventh characteristic of authentic love...the gift that brings inner peace and freedom, that repairs broken bridges in our mid-life interpersonal relationships – whether they are to be matrimonial, with siblings,parents-children related, among relatives and friends or whether they are colleague-related.
Forgiveness, a psychological and a spiritual process that disciplines our personal ego – whether or not you have committed the offence or not; it’s a journey towards reconciliation - whenever reconciliation is possible, but mostly into bringing inner peace and freedom, as you will soon discover.
To forgive is to repair a broken bridge between your offender and yourself in order to avoid isolation. It's
an important step in your mid-life journey instigating harmony in your relationships.
Forgiveness isn't just a ritual for Christians as more and more psychologists, matrimonial counsellors promotes the need for forgiveness in our relationships.
The subject of this encounter will be divided into two important categories identified under the following themes:
A) Show me how to forgive my offender
B) As an offender, show me how to ask forgiveness, without feeling humiliated. I will discuss this second category in my next encounter.
In both situations there are stages of discernment and preparation that I will elaborate to help reach these two
I’ve inspired myself of the writings of Psychologist Jean Mombourquette, of Pastor Gary Chapman and Sister Marie-Thérèse Nadeau to prepare this encounter – three authors that I highly recommend.
Describing forgiveness is challenging; the interpretations we make of this characteristic of love as we find its definition based on everyone's personal experience.
No matter the experience, forgiveness is an act of good will that implicates both the spiritual and the psycho-therapeutic
elements of healing.
There are important prerequisites most necessary, in order to bring to full achievement this inner-self inspection-
journey or, spiritually speaking, inner-pilgrimage. Don't feel discouraged if you feel unable to forgive someone on the spot of the moment, it doesn't mean that you are unable to do so. Just like the bereavement journey, there are stages of personal growth.
Forgiveness is an invitation of love towards the worthless
for the purpose of inner-freedom. How well do you forgive?
Take a minute and read this poem translated in English from the French that I translate to be When my heart refuses to forgive... and to be found in Jean Mombourquette,PH.D.’s book entitled: Comment pardonner?
(How do we forgive?)
When my heart refused to forgive...
My heart is bitter and battling;
he promises never to love.
For his sake, and for him to heal,
I beg him to forgive;
He remains cold, silent, non available.
I exposed my heart to the sun’s caresses,
like I would do so for a frail and chilly plant.
I watered my heart with the fine tenderness
That brings the rain and with warm presence.
Just like I would for the feverish and pouting child,
I rocked him, I comforted him
And I told him stories about passed loving moments.
My heart wants to believe again;
Frightened and shy, he slowly opens.
He hesitates between the desire to love again
And the need to protect his wounded pride.
He now feels his pain and he cries;
He’s been ashamed; he’s humiliated.
His suffering is the only path
that can lead him to forgive and to be forgiven.
Is there any other path?
WHEN IS FORGIVENESS NEEDED?
“Humans are truly free – free to love, free to hate and because of this freedom, people sometimes make wrong decisions and walk in the wrong direction. When they do,
they hurt themselves and those around them. Forgiveness is necessary in human relationships because our freedom almost always takes a self-centred path. Our default mode is what is best for me. We make decisions for our own good event at the expense of others.” Gary Chapman
Forgiveness is given in a situation where there is a justified offence against another person. If you've been given a fine for speeding or for drinking & driving; if you failed an exam because of your lack of study or non-attendance in class; if your
boss catches you for always been late at work; the
consequences are soon or later to be expected; there’s no forgiveness to be receive or to give here. On the other hand, justice is not the only solution to all offences.
According to Gary Chapman, “To live is to have the potential of hurting others and being hurt. Without forgiveness, we are left only with justice when wrong is done. If justice were ruled out today to everyone, most of the populace would end up in prison.”
In more intimate relationships a thousand and one frustrating or contradicting incidents happens for all
kinds of silly reasons...we repress those frustrations when in reality the answer should be found in our ability to practice
There could be some situations that can become irritating
when constantly repeated. Forgiveness is needed when treason,
lack of loyalty and commitment between partners or friends hurts the relationship; when people are treated with sarcasm,
with mockery; when people are hurt through acts of violence,
acts of sexual abuse, with acts of psychological or verbal
aggressiveness, or any other form of offensive behaviour.
there’s a breach in the relationship, a broken bridge, a
serious hurt. More than often, these offences awakens
repressed hurting scars and creates more of them in our
personality (the shadow); in these cases healing is
As you can see from the examples illustrated above, an offence must be intentional. The offender wants to hurt the relationship by using: action,
omission, breach of promise, lying or using judgments, through gossiping or blackmailing, spreading ironic rumours, through humiliation or even by being cruel. The victim’s self image is injured with either guilt if they are introverted and feel unable to reply to the offender, or with the intention of revenge or attacks, whether physical or psychological, if the victim is extroverted.
FORGIVENESS,(meaning to give over and above), is challenging; it requires courage and good will; it isn’t done spontaneously. Our primary reaction consists of returning evil for evil – we are prone to revenge – an instinct we must overcome.
Forgiveness calls both parties (offender and offended)
to reach the best of themselves. Forgiveness is a risk, but a necessary one, because we have no control over someone's freedom. It’s a chance we take in order to continue living. The offender not only hurts others
but also hurts himself as he cut himself out of a relationship – and depending on the degree of the offence - he also cut himself out of his community.
A world without forgiveness is unhealthy. Anger, fear and aggressiveness, guilt etc...is considered destructive energy that can impact our physical and/or psychological health, not to mention our rapports with our surroundings. In a world without forgiveness, there’s no end to evilness
and to violence.
War begins in the heart of a human being. You will discover that through forgiveness (forgiveness requires a psychological effort with the assistance of the All Mighty's grace)the offender is granted a chance for a new beginning, a chance to live again...otherwise consider yourself living in constant bitterness, anger with part of your inner self
that is damaged by the evil behaviour of your offender.
“Can the increase of suicide in our society may be correlated to lack of forgiveness? In a true living-experience of forgiveness the offender learns that he’s not the rooting source of his life – but on the contrary it’s been given – for give as the one-to-be-forgiven. Life begins to manifest
itself in the offender having been forgiven as he’s free from the weight of his past and can confront the future without anxiety. Refusing to forgive, and to revenge is to say to your offender: You are not free to exist.’’
For all the reasons above, forgiveness requires a great deal
of maturity. Having to forgive does not take away the offender’s responsibilities. We might have to make reproaches, to educate – but using the right intonation to
make sure it isn’t interpreted as revenge or a rule of justice to be earned is the secret in touching the offender’s
On the other hand, the offender must acknowledge his responsibility, must not lock himself in a non-forgivable past to the extent of being unable to open up about it. In his situation; it’s necessary that he must bring himself in front of the offended with courage, and must ask for forgiveness. Again, and I repeat, the offender must be ready to accept the responsibility of his behaviour and to repair.
Finally, the offender must learn to be merciful towards himself – whom is human – and to forgive himself. We can spend time elaborating on this subject, but space is running out and I will now elaborate on the twelve steps to forgiveness. I will elaborate ten of these twelve steps in this first encounter.
There are two sides to forgiveness:
a) the forgiveness we must give
b) the forgiveness we must receive from people we have offended.
Whether we like it or not, we are all offenders at one time
or another. In both situations, there are steps that we can follow that will help us in this most difficult journey of authentic love.
Before we elaborate on these steps, it’s important to discern faulty requests of forgiveness. Just like in any other situations,
low self esteem related concerns
with or misinterpretations of offences can get in the way.
A)Faulty requests of forgiveness:
For just about anything ex.: accidentally stepping on
someone’s foot or for interrupting someone in a conversation.
In those situations there’s no offence; there’s no intentional hurt made to anyone; you simply excuse yourself politely; you don’t ask for forgiveness.
For non intentional mistakes causing uneasy feelings to others without malicious intentions. We have no power on other people’s feelings. There’s no offence there.
Asking forgiveness on behalf of somebody else. We don’t forgive on behalf of someone for his offence. We don’t take someone else’s responsibility for his offence, emotions as we have no power on other people’s inner life condition.
B)Superficial requests of forgiveness
Forgiveness requested rapidly without regret or guilt, simply
for the purpose of moving on. We want to find peace A.S.A.P.
without effort or analysis of the situation. Ex.: Children will request an apology to avoid embarrassing questions on behalf of parents. Politician’s will apologies this way to regain voters’ trust and be re-elected.
Blackmailing forgiveness – particularly in situations of infidelity where the offender as opened up about the truth with transparency and now
requests the forgiveness of the partner to be levied
from the feeling of guilt.
Forgiveness is not imposed – you must respect the other person’s choice of accepting, delaying or either refusing his forgiveness.
Compulsive requests of forgiveness –
Anxiety is the source of this compulsiveness. These people constantly request forgiveness to reduce their level of anxiety. These people will often request forgiveness and put themselves down. The intention behind forgiveness consists not of humiliating yourself, but in recognizing your offence with humility and regret.
Conditional requests of forgiveness engenders lack of conviction, and confusion...those situations will create more disappointment and anger towards the victim. ex. “I am willing to admit my mistakes; you must be willing to accept yours”.
Forgiveness is not an I.O.U.;it is an act of gratuity that cannot be imposed upon others. The healing stages
leading to forgiveness (according to Jean Mombourquette)
1. You must make the decision never to revenge and you must choose to put an end to any offensive behaviour that could be done.
This is particularly important if the offence is life threatening, humiliating or if the offender wants to make you feel excessive guilt. Your first responsibility is to protect yourself; it’s your right. In situations where you must have recourse to justice – (any form of abuse, violence towards you or your siblings, in situations where children are endangered: ex. Drug or alcohol addictions or any other dysfunctional related behaviour such as anorexia...Treatment and security is requested. Here’s an example.
The late John-Paul II went to the prison and visited his offender who attacked him; he forgave him for his wrong doing, questioned the motive of his behaviour. Never, for the sake of forgiveness, did he request that he’d be released from justice. Agça (his assassinate)
had to face the consequence of his behaviour. Jean Mombourquette stresses the importance of this.
2.Acknowledge the hurt and your inner poverty.
Your first task, according to Mombourquette, is to re-assess the offence that was made against you. You cannot forgive if you don’t acknowledge having been hurt. If need be, get help.
During this stage defensive mechanisms will kick in, like
to protect you and to help you survive through the primitive reactions of painful hurts.
We’ve mentioned some of these reactions in our encounters on mid-life losses
I will simply enumerate a few:
a) Denial (for the purpose of minimizing the impact of the offence)
b) Dependence on substances such as drugs, alcohol,
c) Anger and the need to revenge
d) Returning the guilt and the anxiety towards self
e) The request for control or power (incapability to
acknowledge the humiliation attributed to the offence; awakens a scar of hurt and humiliation from the past.)
f) Playing victim
g) Under the mask of perfectionism the victim imposes
himself an obligation of forgiveness in order to protect his fragile persona image.
The victim must not remain in this state of emotional and cognitive resistance but must overcome the hurt and one way to do so, would be to:
3.Share your feeling of hurt with someone you trust.
Without spending too much time on this theme, I wish to stress a very important point. When you can open up to the offender and speak-up about how you feel, it helps to clear the circumstantial motives and consequences surrounding the behaviour. But, to do so, you must be prepared. Don’t confront on the spot while still fully blown-up emotionally.
You may fantasize a form of response and revenge if it helps
you to vent, but not in front of your offender. Do not make it your rule.
Pray for inspiration to help you in preparing to meet the offender and when you are ready, talk with calmness explaining the impact of the behaviour and how you feel, asking for some enlightenment.
Talking to people that have hurt us in the past is not always possible. Through therapy, the role-playing of the offender - asking for forgiveness and requesting for the desire to re-establish the relationship - as helped many to forgive a parent, a friend or a sibling.
When you are dealing with an offender that refuses to acknowledge his error and repent, we entrust this offender to the justice of the All Mighty. Ex.: “Lord, in my weakness, I entrust in your mercy __________whom as offended me in such a way; may your will be done in such a way that the harm this person has caused may turn out from wrong to the best.” Michael Murphy
4. Fully identify your loss in order to better proceed with the stages of bereavement.
I will not spend more time on this stage, instead I will refer you to my encounter on
I don’t know about you, but to me, this the most challenging
stage in regards to forgiveness. Not only do you feel that this emotion is taboo, but you also have this boiled anger because the offender created this emotion within you.
How many times, for instance, have we been provoked until we
were blue in the face from inner pressure, and when we finally vent, people will make fun of us or even try to make
us feel guilty because we have lost our temper and self control! I have intentionally shared this to point out some confusion that we may have in regards to anger and resentment, in the feelings of revenge, of hatred.
In irritability situations like we may encounter day-in and day-out, our spontaneous emotional reactions are perfectly normal. We need to open up, not to repress them.
Numerous, are the circumstances in matrimonial and family
relationships. We must be careful, not to confuse these anger situations with hatred, resentment, or any other strong emotion that creates intentional hurt going as far as to destroy him/her. We need to acknowledge our lack of self-control, confess them; recognize your feeling of guilt
in order to be truthful or authentic with the other.
When you learn to tame your anger and use it as a friend that could help you to fight for justice. Ex.: When Jesus cleanses the Temple of Jerusalem and drives out those who were selling things there, he wasn’t exactly smiling! When he found the merchants in the
Temple, what did he do? He builds himself a whip of cords and overthrows the tables of exchange saying this House is a house of prayer and you have made it a den of robbers! Luke 19,45.
Anger is also destructive when turned into physical violence against, someone, an object or an animal or even against yourself. Many psychosomatic illnesses can be the result of strong emotional repressed energy. Ex. : rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, diabetes, cancer...
6. Forgive yourself.
Here’s another challenging one! According to Mombourquette, this is the turning point of forgiveness. All forgiveness granted to others and even to the All Mighty must first be granted through the process of self-forgiveness. If you sustain hatred against yourself, you neutralize the effort of forgiveness towards others. The inner peace and harmony
peace and harmony
What are the obstacles that interfere in your ability to forgive the other?
In many cases people are unable to forgive themselves either for the impact of their behaviour on others, for being naive, for exposing themselves to hurting
situations. They feel shame and guilt for things of the past.
We need to recognize that we are not gods; on the contrary we are limited and weak individuals and we must forgive ourselves for considering ourselves otherwise and imposing expectations much too high for our limits. I will not elaborate any further on this stage but on the contrary will let you visit the following links:
perfectionism low self esteem
Here's a poem I translated for you and chosen from Jean Mombourquette's book Comment pardonner?/How do I forgive"
I want to forgive myself>
For trying to access unreachable stars;>
For being fragile and>
For being ashamed of my pain;>
For being self-accusing in regards to my misery and>
For maintaining the desire to unattainable perfection,>
For making myself responsible before my offender;>
For not paying attention to the cries my heart and>
for nourishing self-hurting accusations;>
for not having been able to foresee everything;>
for hating myself and for refusing to be self-compassionate;>
for feeling unable to forgive others;>
In all summary, to forgive myself for simply being human.>
7.Begin to understand your offender.
It’s evident that you cannot do this without first having
overcome the stage of self-forgiveness as well as the stage of taming your anger and your urge to revenge; this doesn’t
happen overnight. Understanding your ex-husband’s offending behaviour, where he comes from, his motives with a more lucid mind will help you to forgive and journey on.
Forgiveness doesn't excuse the offence nor obligates you to forgive with blindfolds Understanding him will help you discover things you’ve ignored up until now. I will
elaborate much further about this when I present the matrimonial interpersonal relationship concerns.
For example, it was easier for me to forgive my father’s
tantrums and authoritative behaviour when, discussing with an aunt of mine, I’ve learn how struggling the relationship used to be between my father and my unknown grandfather; work, very little rewards and encouragement, stinginess are factors that profoundly marked my father’s personality and self image.
Trying to understand the offender means to quit blaming him. Remember that a portion of the blame you attribute to others are reflections of your own acknowledged weaknesses. Try to find the positive intention behind the offender’s behaviour: whether it’s a rebellious child wanting to prove his power to adults or the suicide person who wants to put an end to suffering. Once we understand the motive, we can help the person reinforce that desire using more appropriate approaches.
Some offences can be non-intentional such as the hurt you
might have experimented from the result of your parents’ divorce. It helps to forgive when you learn to put situations back into perspective.
8. Find life meaning to this hurtful situation.
We nourish stereotyped views of life’s contradicting incidents. An offense hurts and disturbs your everyday ideas, opinions, convictions...Learn to question the reason for the offence. What can I learn from this incident?
Ex.: you could have learned to become more responsible, more understanding towards others having shared the same offence, you can be more opened to others needs, less self-centred, more wise etc...
You are in a stage of mid-life...sole-searching for a meaning to all your concerns...This is the heart of your mid-life journey...this is where you have an important decision to make...chose to either turn your transform the life-hurting situation that leaded you into the mid-life transition into a benefiting situation that will open up your future, or you can chose to refuse forgiveness and remain stuck in this phase of life permanently. Your ability to forgive is the key to either a bright coming future in opposition to a future remaining in transition.
In this phase, you not only learn to know yourself, but you also journey further in the learning of self-acceptance. Have you ever truly experienced the fundamental experience of real forgiveness; unconditional, that regains your true inner-freedom. No words can explain this gift of gratuity, of peace after having been released from guilt, humiliation.
It’s like regaining your human dignity again. This is the fruit of the given grace of the All Mighty. No human effort can bring this gift of freedom; it’s a gift of God -
the real God
not our faulty images of God we create based upon our living experiences.
9.Stop harassing yourself about wanting to forgive.
When you feel unable to forgive, let God do it within you at His own time and pace. He’s not limited by your human forgiveness. His mercy is not a reward for being a good forgiver...He knows we cannot do it without His help, so why fearing is support? What do you have to lose in requesting for His assistance to forgive others as well as to our self.
Forgiveness is the bridge over the troubled waters caused by offences - whether they are others or ours. We've meditated on the importance of forgiveness towards others and as mentioned previously, no forgiveness is possible towards others if you don't learn to forgive yourself for the offences performed against others. Just like the offender must request from the offended, you to will have to learn to do the same, and in our next encounter you will learn the stages to get there.In the meantime meditate
on the message of this YouTube videoclip.
I had this videoclip from Youtube in honour of Psychologist Jean Mombourquette, o.m.i. PH.D. - a man of inspiration for this website; he passed away on August 28th 2011. May he R.I.P.
Comment pardonner? by Jean Mombourquette, PH.D.Novalis, C.P.990, Outremont, QC Canada Copyright 1992 Novalis Université St-Paul, Ottawa, et Éditions du Centurion, 22 cours Albert 1er, 75008, Paris.
Demander pardon sans s'humilier par Jean Mombourquette et Isabelle d'Aspremont, Copyright Université St-Paul,Ottawa, Canada, 2004
Pardonner l'impardonnable par Marie-Thérèse Nadeau, Copyright 1998 Médiaspaul 3965, boul. Henri-Bourassa Est
Montréal, QC, H1H 1L1 Canada