Extending Compassion to Your Enemy – The Crucial Part of Forgiveness

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In the discussions we’ve been having about forgiveness, I proposed the first two steps in this process involve 1) deciding to forgive the other person and 2) transforming your view of the individual from being a powerful monster to be a simple, broken, human being.  Both seem simple, but as you now know, these are difficult steps that require time, patience, and the willingness to be uncomfortable.  Deciding to forgive someone takes courage.  It’s like deciding to get surgery.  If you broke your arm when you were young and never had it correctly cared for you may have problems with it, but you learn to live with those problems.  As you get older that injury may start impacting your mobility and you may decide to get the arm fixed.  When you speak with the doctor she says, “I’ll have to break your arm again and reset it to correct your problems.”  If you’re like me, you start to think living with that crooked immobile arm might be okay!  Who wants to undergo so much voluntary pain when you’ve learned to live with the limitations of your injury?  When you decide to forgo the forgiveness process and live with the emotional limitations and deficits unforgiving people live with, you’re saying “No!” to the emotional equivalence of fixing a broken arm.  Sure, you don’t have to relive the pain of being hurt or try and see your offender in a more compassionate way, but you will live with limitations and pain.  Your health will suffer, your emotional life will suffer, and most importantly your future relationships will suffer.

Okay, so you need to decide to forgive someone and you need to start seeing them in a more compassionate way.  What’s the best way to do that? You start by making a commitment to stop ruminating on the hurt the individual caused you.  Plenty of evidence indicates a continued focus on how you’ve been hurt only perpetuates your anger and keeps you in a cycle of pain.  You have to say to yourself, “I will no longer focus on my hurt feelings, I will attempt to understand the person who hurt me in a more compassionate way.”  You’re not agreeing with what was done to you by being more compassionate nor are you trying to reconcile or befriend your offender.  You’re committing to the fact that you will no longer ruminate repeatedly about the pain you feel.  You’re committing to the fact that you will not be triggered into a painful cycle of hurt every time something reminds you of your offender or what happened to you.  You must commit to this process otherwise your subconscious will draw you into that negative cycle or rumination over and over again.

Once you commit yourself to the process you need to make a habit of extending compassion to yourself and the offender.  Give yourself time each day to reflect compassionately on your situation.  First, have compassion for yourself.  Know that your pain is real and it’s okay to be hurt by what was done.  There is no shame in it, you’re not weak, and it doesn’t mean you’re less of a person for struggling with being hurt.  Give yourself a healthy dose of compassion.  Then, recall the individual and the incident that caused you pain.  If there are multiple instances where this person hurt you the process needs repeating for each instance.  However, start with the first one that comes to mind.  Rate the amount of pain you feel with a number from 1 to 10.  Does the pain feel like an 8 or a 6?  Try and gauge the pain you feel as a result of what was done as best as you can.  Keep that number handy, it will be a good measure for determining if things are getting better later in the process.  It may go up at some point in the future, that’s not uncommon, or it may go down as you walk through the process.  The goal is that after a significant amount of time of practicing forgiveness you’ll feel less pain when you recall what was done.

Now the hard part.  Ask yourself why the person who hurt you did what they did.  Sure, your first responses are going to be that the individual is a monster with superpowers intent on inflicting pain on everyone they know, but you’ll get past that pretty quickly.  Now think about what causes people to be hurtful.  Think about how you’ve hurt other people and why you might have done that.  Did you feel pain from something and unintentionally strike out at others because of it?  Do people hurt others because deep down they’re insecure about something and maybe you unintentionally raised those insecurities to a new level of consciousness in them?  Were they abused as children, treated poorly in a bad marriage, or stepped on and mowed over by arrogant individuals at work?  Have they been made to feel powerless?  Spend time looking at the brokenness this individual might be experiencing.  You need the time to develop a compassionate view of the individual that doesn’t excuse their behavior but allows you to see them as they truly are, another broken person.

I want you to spend some time with this part of the process.  We haven’t forgiven them yet, but we have started to move in that direction when we reduce our negative rumination about our pain and see the offender as nothing more than a broken person.  You will slowly start to see the burden lift from your shoulders as you get closer to this view of them.  Give it time because you will probably slide back into that negative rumination over your own pain.  Your desire for justice is deeply rooted in who you are and will always be there.  The goal is to find a way to temper it with mercy.  No one says this is easy, but it is the key to the freedom you deserve.

We’ll look at the next steps in the following posts that allow you to complete the forgiveness process.  However, my experience finds this is the most difficult part of the process and the one that challenges people the most.  Think of it as climbing the summit of what might be the psychological mountain of Mount Everest.  If you can get here, you can finish strong.  Let me help you get there.

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