In my clinical experience, I've encountered many clients who are afraid to admit they’re wrong. This comes from a culture of blaming and accusing—where one's early family may have picked a “culprit” when something went wrong, and focused on blame, rather than on fixing the problem and healing the hurt. People with such experiences approach every situation as if they're on trial, and they compulsively try to convince everyone they're not guilty. They have no patterns to follow for apology and forgiveness.
Apology and subsequent forgiveness is stress-releasing, and healthy for the relationship, which turns out to be healthy for the participants in the relationship. Relationships which include healthy apology and forgiveness are less stressful, more supportive, and therefore healthier for the individuals within them.
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Forgiveness is not easy. When you have truly forgiven, there is no lingering resentment, because the problem is solved. You have learned how to heal the hurt and prevent its reoccurrence, so you can forgive and wipe the slate clean. Knowing how to express feelings and figuring out a way to prevent a similar hurt from happening again makes it possible to forgive each other.
The dictionary defines to forgive as “to give up resentment of” but my definition of forgiving is a bit different. Giving up resentment is nearly impossible when there are too many real injuries to forgive. It can also be unwise, because resentment is a reminder to be careful around this person or in this situation. Letting go of resentment without fixing the problem makes you vulnerable to being hurt or mistreated over and over again.
Of course, hanging on to resentment will not protect you or allow you to let go of the past and move on. As long as you hold onto resentment, you will feel like a helpless, hopeless, dependent victim of your past history. You do need to learn to forgive, but just “giving up resentment” is not sufficient. You need a new model of forgiving.
Steps to Forgiving
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To forgive effectively, follow these main steps.
1.Understand why you're hurt. It's common to have hurt feelings and be disappointed but not know exactly what it's all about. What are you feeling? Are you angry at someone? What did he or she do? Are you sad? Why? Taking the time to get clear about your disappointment and hurt feelings will make it easier for you to be clear with your partner, and easier for your partner to figure out what to do. If your partner did something wrong, just blaming still doesn’t make it clear exactly how you were hurt, or what exactly you need to forgive your partner for.