What enables forgiveness to occur?
Source: (c) sinnawin/fotosearch

Has anyone ever done something to you or to someone you love that was hurtful?  Maybe even extremely damaging?  If so, welcome to the human race. 

And then, hmmm.  What did you do then?  Get back at that person? That just invites more tit for tat.  Feel mad, and carry that hurt, anger and resentment forever within you?  Pretend nothing happened, and maybe feel depressed about it?  Drown your hurt and anger in drugs?  Hard to know where to go from there. As I describe in my book and free website Prescriptions Without Pills, those paths perpetuate negative feelings.

Here's the good news.  There's another road.  Take the road of forgiveness.

Here's the bad news.  Forgiveness is not so easy.

For one, I personally have never liked the idea of someone saying to someone else "I forgive you."  That sounds bogus.  While even the quite well-known psychological researcher, Professor Everett Worthington, writes "Give forgiveness as an unselfish, altruistic gift," I don't believe it. 

For me, forgiveness is not something you give.  It is a process within you, a process through which forgiveness occurs spontaneously, lifting your anger like the way mist sometimes dissipates from a green field as the sun comes up in the morning.

Marilyn Van Debur is a former Miss America who wrote in her book Miss America By Day about her difficult recovery from many years of having been the victim of sexual molestation by her father.   So much pain and anger.  How did she recover? 

In the video below Marilyn and I talk about the forgiveness process as she and I (from far lesser but also distressing circumstances) each have experienced it.

My conclusion about what causes the lifting away of pained and angry feelings toward someone who has acted hurtfully? I do agree on this point with Professor Worthington.  He points out that empathy, that is, understanding in a sympathetic way how and why that person did the painful act, is the key ingredient.  The key then is learning more about the hurtful person until you are able to see the person in a sympathetic light.

That's why someone coming to you with a heartfelt apology, especially if it is given with genuine insight, regret and learning, facilitates the forgiveness process.  As they explain what they did, why, and how they see now that it was mistaken, forgiveness is likely to happen within you.  And if they can't or won't.....?

Here's an example of how empathy can cause forgiveness to release anger 

Jerry, a teenager, had from time to time for many years been bullied by George, an older an bigger teenage boy in the neighborhood.  As Jerry learned more about George, including that George lived in a family where the dad regularly verbally and physically abused his kids, his anger melted into compassion. 

There's a second route to forgiveness as well.  Sometimes you can look to find a higher good that will come out of the bad. Forgiveness does not mean that you like what happened, or the person who did it.  It can, however, mean that you see what happened as a painful step toward a genuine blessing. 

Forgiveness just is for you, the inner you, to free you from the negative feelings that have burdened you.  No need, in my view, to tell anyone "I forgive you." Rather, look to the past to expand your narrative about why someone acted so hurtfully. 

And then look to the future to discover how you can cause good to come of it.  In that regard, Marilyn Van Derbur has been a star.  Thousands of victims of childhood sexual molestation have learned from her, faced their pain, and passed beyond it.  That's even better than forgiveness.  How might you turn your curses to blessings?

Lastly, for the icing on the cake, or maybe the sunshine on the mist—look around.  For what do you feel gratitude?  Offer thanks for what you have received, for the good that has come your way.  The more you focus on gratitude, the more completely those old bad feelings toward those who have hurt you will lift away.  That's real forgiveness.  Enjoy.