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Guidelines For The Use Of Intentional Forgiving
Psychoeducation: Use psychoeducation to prepare clients to intentionally forgive. Psychoeducation involves introducing forgiveness as a choice, encouraging reconciliation when appropriate, and actively teaching clients the understandings and skills necessary for intentional forgiveness.
First, describe intentional forgiveness as a choice. This can empower clients to engage in a process of healing that can free them from debilitating emotions and resentment-filled relationships, and promote relationships of mutuality and satisfaction. Hebl and Enright (1993) echoed this sentiment by stating"the one who forgives has suffered a deep hurt which elicits resentment" and the forgiver chooses a loving response "despite the realization that there is no obligation to love the offender" (p. 658).
Second, describe the choice to forgive as an immediate opportunity but explain that forgiveness itself is a journey that involves surmounting the barricade of difficult emotions and self-preservations that will repeatedly block the desire to renew trust. Enright, Easton, et al. (1992) recommended that clients should be allowed a time of anger in response to the wound. The initial choice to forgive opens clients to engage in the forgiveness process and gives them a perspective that not only helps them prepare to work through difficult emotions, but leads them in the latter part of their journey to convert their suffering into a personally meaningful and transformational event (Gassin & Enright, 1995).
Third, teach clients to forgive and remember. McCullough and Worthington (1994) stated, "forgiveness begins by perceiving the offense" (p. 11). Clients are often unwilling to forgive for fear that forgiveness eliminates justice, overlooks a grievous wrong, or provides an offender with an easy way out; this misperception is clearly stated in the idiom, "forgive and forget."
In intentional forgiveness "forgive and forget" is replaced with "forgive and remember." O'Connor (1994) wrote, "If there is ever going to be healing, there has to be remembering, and then grieving, so there then can be forgiving" (track 13). A firm boundary is set that declares trust must be rebuilt (counselors encourage clients to enforce this boundary). Either active reoffense or lack of investment by the offender in rebuilding trust should be challenged and may signal the relationship's end. This entails encouraging clients to specifically name what has wounded them, to remember the wound, and to demand that for the relationship to advance the offender must take responsibility for his or her hurtful behavior, ask forgiveness, and work toward change. Clients may find empowerment to be risky and frightening because it often involves setting boundaries, which clients have yet to engage in successfully. Perhaps due to the personal courage involved in such boundary setting, Gibran (1928) said, "The strong of soul forgive" (p. 39).
Fourth, teach clients to forgive for the sake of self, not the sake of the offender. If a client believes that forgiveness is given solely for the offender, the deliberate choice to forgive may never transpire Counselors teach clients to forgive so clients may honor debilitating emotions such as bitterness, hatred, and depression; to eventually let go of such emotions; to deepen personal growth; and to establish a boundary of justice that invites a loved one into a relationship of mutual respect (reconciliation), but doses its doors to a relationship void of this respect. True forgiveness does not allow the self to be continually harmed or allow the offender to continually offend. The client honors the self by choosing to forgive and by refusing to permit a continued relationship with the offender unless the offender takes responsibility for harmful behavior, seeks forgiveness, and begins to replace harmful behavior with positive behavior. This leads to the fifth step of psycho-education, in which mercy and justice are intertwined.
Fifth, in ongoing relationships, describe forgiveness as having two sides: one represents mercy and the process of healing and the other represents justice and the will to see responsibility taken and reoffense entirely eliminated or greatly diminished in occurrence and intensity. Describe the two sides as inseparable, implying that a predetermined level of reoffense is unacceptable and may result in the relationship's end. Clinically, an example might be a spouse who is unwilling to eliminate behavior that is directly harmful to the marital bond (e.g., chemical dependency, affair(s), workaholism, domestic violence). For integrity to exist in the relationship, harmful behavior must be entirely stopped. "Reconciliation is an ideal following forgiveness, but it should only be reached if the other's potentially destructive behavior and intentions change" (Enright, Eastin, et al., 1992, p. 99). If the offending party is unwilling to work toward this goal, discontinuing the relationship may be the only way for the wounded party to maintain dignity and in some cases, safety.
Sixth, discuss intention versus impact. In cases involving conflict resolution (in families and marriages, with couples or with coworkers) both parties often feel wronged or wounded. In such cases, clarifying intention and impact becomes important so that both parties may emerge from counseling with a sense of resolution and mutual reconciliation. In my experience it is rarely a person's intention to wound a loved one (even in many cases of severe abuse). Despite this, the impact of certain actions can be very destructive. For example, one client's husband continually spoke to her in a loud tone during conflict. Although he assured her that his intention was not to wound her, but to get his point across, she found his tone hurtful, demeaning, and disrespectful. He did not intend to hurt, but his behavior was perceived as hurtful. Counselors may use examples such as these to teach clients about the difference between intention and impact. This prepares the offender to be directed in session to take responsibility for the impact of his or her behavior, name the impact by repeating what the wounded party said it felt like to be wounded in this way, ask forgiveness for the impact, and begin to work on building new, more loving behavior. The couple in the example worked through the hurt associated with the wound and went on to define new, more tactful ways of relating to each other.
Seventh, frame intentional forgiveness as a viable way to advance relationship in the context of unresolved harmful experiences. For the intervention to be effective, the counselor must consider forgiveness "important and healthy" (Worthington & DiBlasio, 1990, p. 220) or clients will be less likely to fully engage in the process of intentional forgiving.
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