Reverend SOS

The gift of forgiveness

Forgiveness is a very beneficial action for mental health, according to psychology, since it unties grudges in the mood, decreases obsessiveness and frees from discomfort. For forgiveness to have these benefits, it is necessary to go through all the stages of the path.

Carlos Chiclana-September 22, 2021-Reading time: 3 minutes

A priest is confronted daily with situations in which there are people who ask God for forgiveness and who forgive the offenses/debts of others, but is it enough to decide to forgive for a supernatural reason for the psychology to respond quickly? are we capable of truly forgiving our enemies and not holding a grudge? is it not a narcissistic expectation to pretend to love to such an extreme? is the wound so easily changed into compassion, is the offense transformed into intercession? and the forgiveness to oneself?

If they step on your foot in the bus because they have hit the brakes, it is easy to forgive. If they are looking for you to harm you, someone committed to you, someone you especially love, or the institution to which you belong, it is more difficult and the wound is deeper. Attacks, infidelities, betrayals, abandonments, misunderstandings, abuses, violence and a long etcetera of wounds in the depths of the soul.

From a psychological perspective, the benefits of forgiveness for mental health are well known and there are many research groups working on it because it unties grudges, reduces obsessiveness and frees from discomfort. It is an act that exceeds justice, involves the identity of each person and enhances freedom. For forgiveness to have these benefits it is necessary to go through all the stages of the path. 

It is easy to fall into a trap such as ignoring the damage, avoiding the conflict, taking revenge, putting on a shell, being dominated by bitterness or sadness, pretending to forgive, projecting the pain onto another person, renouncing the rights generated by the offense, appearing unperturbed and unemotional, acting as someone morally superior, pretending that everything goes back to the way it was before or demanding reconciliation. 

Cardinal Raztinger explained that it is demanding: "Forgiveness costs something, first of all to the one who forgives: he has to overcome within himself the harm received, he has to cauterize it within himself, and thus renew himself, so that later this process of transformation, of inner purification, also reaches the other, the guilty party, and thus, both, suffering the evil to the core and overcoming it, come out renewed". 

Experts propose four phases:

1.- Discovery phase.

You discover the pain generated and the emotions you have are expressed. You examine the defenses that appear such as denying that it is so intense, looking the other way or blaming external factors. You admit the possible shame or the desire for revenge. You become aware of the enormous expenditure of emotional energy that you consume, the mental repetition of the offense and how you compare yourself with the aggressor. The just world you believed in has been disturbed. 

2.- Decision phase.

You want to change your emotions, your attitude towards what has happened and who has done it. You begin to consider forgiveness as an option that may interest you and you approach this commitment, at least as a cognitive decision, even if you continue with unpleasant emotions. You separate the aggressor from the aggression so that you can point out the wrong and recognize the dignity of the one who has offended you.

3.- Work phase 

The active process of forgiveness begins. You redefine and reconsider the identity of the offender, foster empathy and compassion, promote the assumption and acceptance of pain, become aware of the moral gift offered.

4.- Deepening phase 

You search for and find a meaning that gives meaning to what you are doing. You become aware of yourself as someone forgiven and not alone. You notice that a new purpose in life appears because of the wound. You perceive that the negative affects have diminished.

Is it necessary to be asked for forgiveness in order to be able to forgive? is reconciliation obligatory? does everything have to be as it was before? Specialists suggest that neither asking for forgiveness nor reconciliation is necessary and that, precisely because of forgiveness, things are not as they were before the offense, nor as they were during the offense, nor as they were after the offense without forgiveness, they are different.

Thus, revenge is renounced but neither pain nor justice nor truth; personal freedom is increased, I become more dignified and I dignify the aggressor. I establish a new way of being in my life. When personal attitude and God's grace are not enough to go through all these phases, it is appropriate to rely on a specific therapy to forgive.

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