The Process Of Forgiveness

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After reading the book Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Robert D. Enright and Richard P. Fitzgibbons, I agree with the authors in the assessment that many times clients are “stuck” and don’t make progress in therapy because they are holding resentments from their past.  It is therapeutically helpful to engage in the process of forgiveness and raises self esteem in the client who learns how to let go of past anger and hurts.  Below are my notes from their book.


Definition: Forgiveness is a process that shifts perspectives, feelings, attitudes, behaviors and interactions. The shift is from:

  •    Judgmental to understanding
  •   Resentful to loving
  •     Anxious to relax
  •     Conflicted to cooperative

Forgiveness is required if there has been an injustice.  Injustices occur on a large or small scale but affect us nonetheless.  A small infraction may be a personal slight to the larger lose of job or spouse/child through divorce or death.

Four Steps: Uncovering, Decision, Work and Deepening

Uncovering Phase:

The more concretely you explore the level of injustice, the better.  Forgiveness takes place in the context of rationally determining that unfairness has occurred and with whom and what you are angry.  It is helpful to journal insights into how the offender has compromised your life.  This can be an emotional experience but the pain may serve as a motivator to forgive.  The mental processes include:

  •        Admittance of shame
  •        Recognition of anger
  •        Awareness of depleted emotional energy
  •        Adjusting to new worldview:  Are people safe?  Who can I trust?

Decision Phase:

  •        You make a decision to forgive.
  •        You abandon revenge, passive aggressive behavior or victim thinking.
  •        You discover what forgiveness is and is not and begin to engage in the process.

Work Phase:

 Develop compassion and empathy towards the offender.  The process occurs first cognitively, and 2nd emotionally.  The key is being able to see the offender in new ways and be ready to respond differently.

  • You try stepping into their shoes.
  •  You make the decision to bear and accept the pain.  (Bergin, 1988.)

Deepening Phase:

       You find meaning in the purpose of pain and suffering.

       You see the gift in your experience

       You develop insight that one is not alone in suffering.

       You feel a greater sense of humility with beliefs such as

“I don’t always have to have my own way” or

” I have needed other’s forgiveness at times too.”

       Finally, you wish the best for your offender.

Forgiveness if a moving target and the phases repeat over and over until true growth is recognized.  Recognize it takes time. Forgiveness is on a continuum.  There are degrees of forgiveness from slight to complete.  Each time a person forgives a certain amount of anger will be removed from the hurt.

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Much of anger may be displacement.  You may not be conscious of the person you are really angry with.  If you constantly angry with someone of secondary importance in your life, it is a sign that the hurt is deeper and displacement is occurring.  Or you may be angry with a person who is “safe” and not really the problem.


Journaling:  helps you stay focused and organized.  Reviewing what you wrote in the past can serve as a bridge to confronting the issues once again and you may move quicker because of earlier insights.  .

Cognitive Exercises: (Forgiveness happens first on a cognitive level and eventually shifts towards affective forgiveness.)


1.     Imagine the person at the point in time you were hurt and see yourself telling them how they have hurt you.

2.     Then think, “I want to understand and to forgive him.”


1.     Daily, think, “I want to understand and to forgive ________for the hurts of the past.”

2.     ________does not trust people due to ___________(childhood wounds.)


1.      Consider thinking and understanding and forgiving for all the ways__________hurt you by_________.

2.     Daily think, “I don’t want to be hurt or controlled by them any longer.”


Journal your thoughts:

“What have I learned as a result of the suffering I have endured?”

Describe newfound feelings of well-being as a result of walking the path towards forgiveness.

Mercy and Justice

 A person who forgives has been treated unfairly but choses to forgive because it is the merciful response towards injustice.  The forgiver has a clear sense of right and wrong and concludes the other acted wrongly and offers mercy.  Forgiveness is centered in the forgiver’s genuine desire for good toward the one who unfairly wronged them.

Justice can co-exist with forgiveness.  It is possible for a wronged person to seek justice and forgiveness at the same time.  Forgiveness is not the same as pardoning.

We don’t forgive and forget, we retain the memory but we remember in new ways. If we can remember in new ways it helps with anger management, depression, anxiety and self esteem.  All of our relationships improve.

My suggestion of books to read:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Camille Curtis Foster/

Source:  Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Robert D. Enright and Richard P. Fitzgibbons.

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