THIS POST INCLUDES:
1. What is forgiveness
2. Benefits of forgiveness
3. How to forgive
4. Free Download Art Therapy Exercise
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS
As children, we may have been taught how to say sorry to our siblings or other playmates. Saying sorry usually means we’ve done something wrong and in the eyes of childhood transgressions, that wrong doing is mostly minor actions. It could refer to name calling or fighting with our sibling.
Forgiveness is viewed from the perspective that wrong has been done to us. For the most part, forgiveness is a concept we mostly struggle with as adults, however, it is integral to our healing. The transgressions that have us contemplating forgiveness can be distressing. Examples may be a traumatic childhood, a violent encounter, a cheating spouse, or a significant betrayal by a friend.
These concepts of wrong doing, making an apology, and forgiveness can be complex and is unique to the relationship and circumstances involved. In some circumstances, forgiveness is easy, however, in many circumstances, forgiveness can be difficult as it entails many conflicting emotions and thoughts about how we have been treated and want to heal going forward.
Forgiveness does not imply we agree with the behaviour or that we will continue an ongoing relationship. Forgiveness is a concept that has a deeper and more personal meaning of acceptance of what has happened and how we have been impacted. It is not an acceptance of tolerating behaviour from others. Forgiveness means we release the ‘should haves’ and the ‘would haves’ and work towards accepting what has happened and how we can move forward with this reality.
Forgiveness is a process where feelings of anger and resentment can be acknowledged and subsequently released. This doesn’t imply that anger will not rise again if the individual recalls the incident. Instead, they can acknowledge their emotions and let them pass without staying connected to the emotion for a long time.
Forgiveness is also applicable to ourselves. We may have past behaviour that we are ashamed of and regret. The process of forgiving ourselves can be difficult if we focus on judgment of our behaviour instead of exploring the motivations and causes of our behaviour. Exploring these aspects of our behaviour can help us break the cycle of self-blame and judgment that prevents us from forgiving ourselves. Feeling remorseful for our wrong behaviours is not bad, however, when this continues over time, it can lead to negative mental and physical wellbeing. Additionally, individuals may begin detrimental coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.
Forgiveness remains a confusing issue as it is not a measurable concept and it lacks an agreeable definition. Forgiveness is a concept that requires time to explore and develop the meaning of your personal experiences and beliefs about those experiences.
BENEFITS OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness can provide the following benefits:
- Acknowledges emotions of anger, shame, grief, resentment
- Identifies our commitment to change
- Removes power from the perpetrator
- Releases shame attached to the experience
- Releases us from negative thinking patterns
- Can resolve substance abuse issues
- Can repair relationships
- Increases overall empathy
- Decreases rumination
- Develops coping strategies for further negative experiences
HOW TO FORGIVE
Every experience is unique and therefore every client will have a different idea of how they perceive forgiveness. For some, it may mean having a conversation with someone in an attempt to repair a relationship. For others, the perpetrator may be absent from the healing experience and the client may be focused on releasing the mental hold an experience has on them.
As a therapist, you can work with your client in establishing their initial understanding of forgiveness. From this understanding, you can work with your client on further developing their understanding of forgiveness if required as well as dispelling any myths they may hold about what forgiveness means. You can then work with your client to establish goals around forgiveness and what the steps might be that your client is willing to undertake as they work towards forgiveness.
This might involve confrontation with a perpetrator with a request for an apology. It may require self-directed exercises such as art exercises or journaling. The process of forgiveness can often involve rituals of release such as writing a letter and burning it, or mentally labeling a twig with a negative thought and releasing it down a stream of running water.
Aspects of forgiveness may also change over time for your client. Initially, their idea of forgiveness may be releasing the idea of the perpetrator being punished. With time, they may eventually decide that forgiveness involves extending empathy to the perpetrator. Each experience and understanding of forgiveness will be different.
Art plays a useful part in the process of forgiveness as we can use metaphors and symbolism to represent held grudges and explore how these internal conflicts can be released through a physical representation of art.
As your client works through this process, it is important to remember they are validated throughout the process and that they are not re-victimized from a perception they are not forgiving enough. It’s also important to remain attentive to your client absorbing any blame and pursuing a false optimism about their experience if they are prone to perfectionist and goodist behaviours.
ART THERAPY EXERCISE
This art exercise focuses on the statement: Letting Go. Forgiveness is explained by letting go of the expectations and negative feelings associated with an experience. Forgiveness is a process that involves a series of stages that someone can work through before letting go.
When asking the client what the statement ‘letting go’ to them means, they can explore what that means to them and reveal what part of them they may feel they are letting go.
They may feel they are letting go of their power over their sense of identity. Or they may feel they are letting go of the anger.
All responses are personal to the individual and help identify how the client currently views their attachment and expectation of the grievance they may have with someone.
A sample of this exercise is below:
For more articles that relate forgiveness, check out our previous blog posts listed below:
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