Helping Clients Forgive: A Model of Forgiveness

Helping Clients Forgive:
A Model of Forgiveness
Daniel Klassen PhD
“Having looked the beast in the eye,
Having asked and received forgiveness,
Let us shut the door on the past.
Not to forget it,
But to allow it not to imprison us.”
Desmond Tutu
Helping Clients Forgive
 Introduction
 The Myths of Forgiveness
 Defining Forgiveness
 Readiness and Resistance
 The Place of Forgiveness in Counselling
 The Themes on the Path of Forgiveness
 Helping Clients Forgive
 Forgiveness in Counselling Literature
 International Attention to Forgiveness
 Some Benefits of Forgiveness Counselling
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.
A healed memory is not a deleted memory,
Forgiving what we cannot forget
Creates a new way to remember.
We change the memory of our past
Into our hope for the future.”
Lewis Smedes
 Forgiveness in Counselling Literature
▪ History is brief – beginning about 1990.
▪ Not found in the writings of Adler, Rogers, Maslow or Freud.
▪ Perhaps forgiveness was seen a religious notion – not amenable to
scientific enquiry.
▪ Perhaps the scientific community believed there were other effective
ways of dealing with injustices, offenses and wounds.
▪ Perhaps the psychological dimensions of forgiving, such as the affective,
cognitive and behavioral, were not acknowledged.
▪ Today there is much more readiness, among wellness practitioners, to
accept notions which are more spiritual in nature and more open to other
forms of research and less amenable to rigid scientific investigation.
▪ International Attention on Forgiveness
▪ Jacques Derrida – Philosopher
▪ Founder of Deconstructionism
▪ Comments on correspondence between Japan and Korea
regarding the forgiveness of war crimes in WWII
“Forgiving forgives only the unforgiveable”
Jacques Derrida in On Forgiveness
 Some Benefits of Forgiveness Counselling
Reduced Anger
Diminished Anxiety
Reduced Depression
Improved Self-Esteem
Increased Optimism and Hope
Less Preoccupation with Offenses
“Unless we learn to release them,
offenses have a way of
defining and confining us.” dk
The Myths of Forgiveness
Forgiving is …
An Event: It is a process and an attitude
Forgetting: It must be remembered
Reconciling: It may not be safe
Absolution: We don’t have the authority
Denying: It must be seen for what it is
“When we forgive an injustice
We do not excuse it
We do not tolerate it
We do not smother it
We look the evil full in the face
Call it what it is
Let it’s horror, shock, stun and enrage us
And only then do we forgive it.”
Lewis Smedes
The Myths of Forgiveness
Forgiving is …
Excusing: There can be no excuse
Condoning: It can’t be justified
Settling: We are not “settling” for an inferior position
Feel Fair: It must be fair but may not feel fair
Ignoring Justice: It must be just or it would not be effective
Amnesty: Forgiveness does not merely “overlook” the wrong
“It takes one person to forgive,
Two to reconcile.” dk
The Definition of Forgiveness
 The injured one is able to recognize an actual injustice.
 The injured one chooses to abandon resentment (to which
they are entitled) toward the offender, rather than respond
with justifiable retribution (which the offender has rightfully
 The injured one cancels the debt which the offender owes,
acknowledging that justice has been served.
“Forgiveness does not change the past,
It enlarges the future.”
Paul Boese
Readiness to Forgive
▪ Great Individual differences
▪ Some families practise forgiving generously
▪ Some cultures discourage the practice of forgiveness
“Vengeance is the lazy man’s justice”
The Interpreter DVD
Resistance to Forgiving
The need to listen
Begin where they are
Not to forgive is an option
Acceptance is not agreement
Resistance is the door to forgiveness
“How much more grievous
Are the consequences of anger
Than the causes of it.”
Marcus Aurelius
The Need for Forgiveness
 We are social beings … interpersonal relationships is a primary
 We offend each another with injustices … these offenses place
the relationship at risk
 The negative effects of injustices may be repaired through the
process of forgiveness
“Forgiveness is the oil of relationships”
Josh McDowell
Themes on the Path of Forgiveness
 Deal with Justice
 Grieve the Loss
 Cancel the Debt
“To forgive
Is to set
A prisoner free
and discover
the prisoner is me.”
Corrie Ten Boom
The Themes of Forgiveness
Do not follow in a linear pattern
Do not follow in a chronological style
The pattern might be called “spiral”
In a spiral pattern the themes keep on being visited over and over
with every cycle
 No one leaves a theme in the same way in which they came to it
 Changes come in small increments
“The foolish neither forgive or forget,
The naïve forgive and forget,
The wise forgive but do not forget.”
Thomas Szasz
Dealing With Justice
 Criminal and Civil Justice
▪ The Trespass: Every trespass of a law or boundary incurs a debt
▪ The Debt: The courts of the justice systems describe debts in
payable terms (dollars or time served) so that debts can be defined
and paid
▪ The Payment of the Debt: When the state is satisfied that the
payment of the debt meets the criteria described by the court, the
state will then, and only then, cancel the debt which the offender
▪ The Debt Cancelled: With the cancellation of the debt the courts
acknowledge that justice has been served
The Themes of Forgiving
Dealing with Justice
 In Interpersonal Offenses
▪ The Debt: Every trespass of a boundary or broken promise or unfulfilled
expectation incurs a debt
▪ The Debt Cannot be Paid: In trespasses like infidelity, the debt cannot be
described in payable terms (like time owed or a fine), because there is
nothing the offender can do, be or produce that will make it right and the
wrong cannot be undone.
▪ The Debt Remains Outstanding: The debt cannot be paid by the offender
(even when they want to) … it remains outstanding unless the injured
one makes some creative choices.
The Themes of Forgiving
 Dealing with Justice
▪ Interpersonal Offenses
▪ The Injured has a decision to make:
-- To Release the Debt or Not Release the Debt -▪ In choosing to abandon resentment (to which they are entitled)
rather than respond with justifiable retribution (which the offender
has rightfully earned) and cancelling the debt, the injured one
acknowledges that justice is done.
▪ In choosing to remain resentful (to which they are entitled) and in
choosing to respond with justifiable retribution (which the offender
has rightfully earned) the injured ones refuse to release the debt
and therefore cut themselves off from the full rewards that justice
has to offer.
“The Highest Level of Justice Is Justice Tempered With Mercy”
“When we refuse to cancel the debt
We burn the bridge
Over which we ourselves must cross
In order to allow justice
To do her work.” dk
“He who refuses
to cancel the debt
hampers the work
that justice would do.” dk
“We want the outcomes
that justice has to offer,
but refuse to do what
she requires of us.” dk
“You want justice done,
But if you refuse to do your part,
You cut yourself off from her part.”dk
The Themes of Forgiving
 Dealing with Justice
▪ Anger over injustice
▪ Anger is the proper response to injustice
▪ Anger is the motivator to make the wrong right
▪ Name the injury
▪ When all names, dates, behaviors are taken away from the injury – what is
left? Is it abandonment? or betrayal? Or … ?
▪ Blame the injurer
▪ There is a therapeutic way to blame
▪ If there is no one to blame there is no one to forgive
“ I will never be held accountable
For what has been done to me
But will always be responsible
For what I do in return.”
Viktor Frankl
Dealing with Justice
 Is Forgiving Fair? Does It Ever Feel Fair?
Is not forgiving more fair?
Is living with anger and resentment more fair?
Does a life dedicated to revenge feel like a better life?
These are the options – to forgive or remain unforgiving – Which is
more fair?
“How much more grievous
Are the consequences of anger
Than the causes of it.”
Marcus Aurelius
One of the reasons forgiveness feels so unfair is that the injured do all
the work … however, they are the only ones with the authority to do it
… no one can cancel the debt and forgive for them. dk
The Themes of Forgiving
 Grieve the Loss
▪ Knowledge: know the loss – know what was taken from you
▪ Acknowledge: claim the loss as your own – you will never be the
same again – you have lost a part of you … not he whole self
▪ Describe your new identity: You are now different – describe
your new “you” – you are more than what you have lost … your
loss is not the title of your story – allow it to be a footnote or
appendix .
 “So much has been given to me,
I have no time to ponder
that which has been denied.”
Helen Keller
The Themes of Forgiving
 Grieve the Loss
▪ Paganini
▪ In the final movement of the final piece in a concert in
Paris, he lost three of his four violin strings. Upon realizing
what he had lost he chose to complete the piece on the one
and only remaining string.
▪ He chose to define himself by what he had left, rather than
what he had lost.
“We may be so angry about what has been lost,
That we fail to see what is left.” dk
Themes of Forgiving
 Cancel the Debt
▪ Every offense incurs a debt
▪ The debt cannot be described in payable terms
▪ The offender cannot pay what is owed … there is no payment that
satisfies the weight of the debt
▪ Cancelling is a choice … we can choose not to cancel
“Only the wounded have
the authority to forgive.”
The Interpreter
The Themes of Forgiving
 Cancelling the debt does not mean:
▪ You are giving in or giving up
▪ That they are right and you are wrong
▪ That you are losing and they are winning
“Revenge makes promises
It cannot deliver.” dk
Themes of Forgiving
 Cancel the Debt
▪ Possible challenges to cancelling the debt
“He has not apologized.”
“She has shown no contrition.”
“She does not deserve it.”
“He does not understand how much he has hurt me.”
“If I forgive, she will just do it again.”
“If I forgive, he will think it was OK.”
“If I forgive him, I’m making myself too vulnerable.”
“Most of us can forgive …
We just don’t want our offender to forget
that we have forgiven.” Ivern Ball
Themes of Forgiving
 Cancelling the Debt
▪ Cancelling the debt means that the injurer has nothing to offer
you that would further help to close the file.
▪ You do not require an apology, nor do you wish the injurer any
harm; and you don’t owe the injurer anything either.
▪ “Forgiven” means the scales of justice are balanced and that the
highest level of justice has been reached; justice tempered with
“ … mercy seasons justice.”
The Merchant of Venice Act IV Scene I
Conclusion … Reclaiming Our Life
 Forgiving is for the purpose of repairing relationships
which have been put at risk through offenses and
 In most cases, as we forgive, we discover new and more
comprehensive life principles
 The new principles are based on new understandings
with new boundaries, should harm come our way again
“Forgiveness is the fragrance
that the violet sheds
on the heel that crushed it.”
Samuel Clemens
Forgiveness Counselling
 Listen to the Story
 Identify the Offense
 Separate What Happened
… From What Needs to be Done
 Accept/Support Resistance
 Identify the Themes
“I was angry with my friend,
I told my wrath,
My wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe,
I told it not,
My wrath did grow.”
William Blake

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