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How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To

Are you experiencing a relationship wound that occurred recently or decades ago?

For example~

  • feeling unaccepted, unloved, or unprotected by one of your parents
  • estrangement from an adult sibling
  • resentment toward a loved one’s addiction or mental illness for ruining a milestone event 
  • profound hurt toward your partner for betraying you
  • despair about your adult children disconnecting from you

Do you continue to re-experience the relationship wound and are unable to move beyond it because you refuse to forgive the offender or in spite of forgiving the offender? Or, do you feel guilty or less than because you have not been able to forgive the offender and believe that “Good People Forgive Others”, in addition to the claim that “Forgiveness is the ONLY path to healing oneself”?

Fortunately, there’s HOPE and a radical, life-affirming alternative that lets us overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with our lives- without forgiving.

Dr. Janis Abrahms-Spring’s book: How can I forgive you? The courage to forgive, the freedom not to.

In this book, Abrahms-Spring offers an alternative option she calls “Acceptance”which was influenced by 29 years of actual clinical experience observing people heal and is distinctively different from forgiveness, yet can allow full healing for individuals.

What is Acceptance?

According to Dr. Abrahms-Spring,

  • Freeing yourself from the trauma of an injury… and deciding how to transcend the injury…with this freedom comes the power to decide how you’re going to live the rest of your life!
  • Your goal is emotional resolution, the restoration of your best self, the rekindling of meaning and value in your life…
  • 10 Action Steps for the hurt party to complete, such as “You stop obsessing about the injury and  reengage in life.”
  • Not a failure to forgive, but an equally powerful way of healing an injury when the person who hurt you fails to participate in the process.

If you’re wondering, “If Acceptance is equally healing, why should I bother with the process of Genuine Forgiveness since the latter sounds like more work and ANXIETY provoking involving the person who hurt me?!” Read on for the answer…

What is Genuine Forgiveness?

According to Dr. Abrahms-Spring,

  • […] Requires the offender’s caring involvement and so is likely to feel more deeply satisfying and complete than Acceptance (p. 114).
  • When the offender is willing to open his/her heart and participate in the process of earning forgiveness and the hurt party is also willing to participate in the steps of granting forgiveness.
  • 6 Critical Tasks for Earning Forgiveness for the offender to complete, such as bear witness to the pain you caused, seek to understand your behavior, and work to earn back trust.
  • 3 Critical Tasks for Granting Forgiveness for the hurt party to complete, such as all 10 steps of Acceptance- not alone, but with the offender’s help.

Dr. Spring’s book describes two other approaches to forgiveness that she considers dysfunctional. These are:

What is Cheap Forgiveness?

According to Dr. Abrahms-Spring,

“An inauthentic act of peacekeeping that resolves nothing” usually occurs because the hurt individual is so frightened of the offender’s anger or rejection and desperate to preserve their relationship.”

What is Refusing to Forgive?

According to Dr. Abrahms-Spring,

“A rigid response that keeps you entombed in hate” typically occurs when the hurt individual wishes to punish the unremorseful offender, when you associate forgiveness with reconciliation, compassion, or weakness, or when you use retaliatory rage to protest a violation.

Honest Reflections

I have practiced all four approaches to forgiveness described in Dr. Spring’s book. Perhaps that qualifies me as an expert?! About 15 years ago, my mother bought me a book entitled Forgiveness since I was barely speaking to my father. Since I was engaged in the “refusing to forgive” category, I did not appreciate her well-meaning gift. Then, about 10 years ago, I was a model for “cheap forgiveness” with another relative.

Even though I had transcended other unhealthy relationship dynamics from my childhood through brave actions and acceptance, I unconsciously slipped back into victimhood until a colleague at a 12 step retreat heard one of my resentments during a “step 4” exercise and she responded, “It sounds like it’s time for a COURAGEOUS conversation with your (relative).”

That call to action re-awoke my dedication to having solely honest, mutually respectful, accepting relationships. Since then, I have engaged more in the practices of Acceptance and Genuine Forgiveness as reflected by my increased compassion and humility regarding our shortcomings as humans, in addition to utilizing more direct communication and limit setting. 

With some relatives, I’ve been able to let down my walls and get closer than I thought possible by following Al-Anon’s slogan, “Let it begin with me” ex. modeling kindness to receive kindness. With other relatives, even after working through the Acceptance process, I have chosen to love them at a distance.

In situations with relatives who refuse to change their abusive behavior, it’s worth considering~ there’s nothing enlightening about allowing yourself to be continually abused by another person. If you have children, it’s crucial to ask yourself, “Do I want to pass on this dynamic to them?” 

Even Dr. Abrahms-Spring herself courageously shares (in her book) her own Acceptance process in her relationship with her mother!

In Closing

I am grateful to have both the acceptance and genuine forgiveness practices to heal from ALL types of relationship wounds, and have been inspired by witnessing my courageous clients working through the tasks and steps of these processes in my office! How can I forgive you, The courage to forgive, the freedom not to frees us from re-experiencing the pain of resentments, gives voice to the injustice of a relationship wound, and helps us to make peace with the person who hurt us and with ourselves.

These step by step processes give us a road map to follow and are priceless gifts, which enhance the quality of our lives and relationships and unburden or free future generations.

If you would like assistance in healing from a relationship wound and working through the acceptance and/or genuine forgiveness process, Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III today.

I can help you at my Centennial or Lakewood, CO (Denver suburbs) office. You can reach me at: 720.432.5262, [email protected], or set up your first session or free 15 or 30 minute consultation here on my online calendar.