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How Do I Know When I Have Actually Forgiven?


In my work with clients, it is not unusual for me to bear witness to confusion about forgiveness. One specific area of confusion arises in a client’s uncertainty about whether or not forgiveness has actually taken place. Examples of some of the comments I hear include, “I thought I forgave her for the betrayal years ago, so why does it still hurt?” “I told him I forgave him for mismanaging our finances and I thought I really meant it, but now I’m questioning whether I forgave him at all.” “If I forgive him, why do still feel triggered?” These statements are touching on the delicate, sensitive process that we go through when we bravely enter into the forgiveness process. 

One image I find that is helpful is imagining forgiveness as a mountain with a path circling it like a spiral from top to bottom. The closer and closer you get to the summit, the tighter the spirals. As you move up the mountain, you grow, develop insight, integrate old experiences with new ones, and generally tend to make meaning out of your life as time moves along. Somewhere along the way, someone hurt you. Let’s call that “Spot A” on your mountain. You continue on up your mountain and at some point later decide to forgive that person. Let’s call that “Spot B” on your mountain. Life continues and you move up your mountain along your forgiveness path and are surprised a while later on when you find yourself standing directly above Spot A, and find yourself confused by an onslaught of troubling emotions that might make you question what happened down there at both Spot A and Spot B. These emotions might sound like, “Wait, didn’t I forgive him?” “I thought I took care of this back at Spot B!” “Why does this hurt so much all over again?”

What you are experiencing may be the difference between decisional and emotional forgiveness. According to forgiveness researcher Everett Worthington, these two things are crucial, but separate processes within the larger experience of offering forgiveness to an offender. Deciding to forgive means choosing to offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged you. Emotional forgiveness means replacing the negative feelings you had toward that person or event with positive feelings such as compassion or empathy. Each type of forgiveness has different functions in our lives. Worthington’s research has found that emotional forgiveness is what helps us most to release those negative or painful emotions, while decisional forgiveness may promote repair in relationships[i]. As you progress through your own life experience on your forgiveness journey, let me encourage you to consider both the decision to forgive and the process of replacing the negative emotions with positive ones as parts of your own unique forgiveness process. Each are worthy of your attention and energy as you continue forward. Perhaps as you circle closer and closer to the summit of your own mountain, you will release more and more negative emotions and replace them with neutral or even positive emotions. Regardless of where you stand decisionally or emotionally in your forgiveness journey, perhaps instead of asking, “how do I know I’ve forgiven,” consider asking yourself, “Where am I in my forgiveness process?” 


[i]Worthington, E. (2004). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

Forgiveness: The Great Anger Validator

by Grace Schuler Spencer, M.A., LPC, NCC in Active, emotional health, forgiveness, Grief, Trauma Comments: 0 tags: anger, Forgiveness, hurt

The feeling of anger is one that is common to everyone. Perhaps we clench our fists, grit our teeth and imagine the worst for an offender. Maybe we stuff our anger inside into densely compacted packages that are eventually set off like explosives when we just cannot take it anymore. In many instances, anger functions like a deflective buffer, protecting us temporarily from the deeper pain we may be experiencing in association with a grievance that has occurred. When this happens, it can be helpful to recognize that in such instances, anger is functioning in a protective manner, shielding us from being overwhelmed by a greater hurt, especially if it is during circumstances where our safety is at risk. In other instances, our anger is a just response to an infraction committed against us that never should have taken place. Teasing out our experience of anger and the bigger function behind it is an important part of developing our own emotional awareness and attuning to its role in the story of our lives.

Considering the function of anger in our lives is a worthwhile pursuit. According to researchers, anger is among those emotions that can result in mental and physical health risks. These can include things like heart disease, earlier mortality, depression, anxiety, and troubled relationships.[1] This is especially true for those of us who tend to harbor anger. When we hold onto it and continue to use it as that protective shield, we put ourselves at risk for developing larger difficulties that we likely never bargained for.

Forgiveness is among those potentially helpful methods for attending to and resolving anger and its related emotions, like hostility, bitterness and resentment. It can be especially effective in our interpersonal relationships. According to Robert Enright, one of the thought leaders and researchers of forgiveness, “forgiveness helps a wronged person examine the injustice, consider forgiveness as an option, make a decision to forgive or not and learn the skills to forgive.”[2]

Forgiveness has the unique quality of fully validating an injury and recognizing our legitimate anger response. The beauty of forgiveness is that not only does it offer this validation, but it goes the next step. Once anger has done its job, forgiveness takes us into a deeper phase of healing. When invited in, forgiveness reminds us of what our boundaries are, that they are worth protecting and that we have the power to release ourselves from the hooks of offense, injury and abuse. One forgiver put it this way, “I’ve learned to like forgiveness because of its strength, freedom and assertiveness. Now, I think I have a better sense of myself and my boundaries. I grew up with my physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries being invaded. Forgiveness tells me it matters that I have boundaries; it is an infraction if they get crossed, and I can unattach from you to restore more a sense of myself.”

Next up in this forgiveness mini-series I will share more about the decisional and emotional nuances of forgiveness. Until then, take a moment to consider where the anger in your life could stand a possible upgrade into the next level of healing. If so, maybe forgiveness has a part to play.

[1] Chida & Steptoe, 2009; Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996; Williams, 2010

[2] Enright, R. D., 2004

Forgiveness: What It Is and What Its Not


“Doesn’t forgiving him mean that I have forgotten about what he did and I am not letting the pain get to me anymore?” As, the Group Facilitator, I listened to the question of the young woman in front of me, knowing that her story involved a significant amount of abuse of every kind. Every group member present felt the dense weight of her pain. I looked around the room of young women with similar backgrounds. Each of them seemed to have the same question burning in their hearts. I asked the group, “What do you think forgiveness is? What does it mean to you?” Responses varied, but a general theme emerged among the group members: forgiving means forgetting.

Forgiveness can be a sensitive subject. It has moral and religious ties, both of which may influence our view of what forgiveness means. From a psychological perspective, forgiveness is a merciful act. When we are unjustly hurt by another, we overcome resentment toward the offender not by denying our right to resentment, but by instead offering the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love; and as we give these, we realize that the offender does not have a right to such gifts (North, 1987). Such a definition of forgiveness reminds us that an objective wrong has taken place and a just response to such an event will likely involve experiencing legitimate anger and pain.

According to forgiveness researcher Robert Enright, it is helpful understanding what forgiveness is and is not before we begin applying it (or not) in our healing processes. First, forgiveness is not condoning or putting up with the wrongdoing. Condoning enables, which maintains the wrongdoer’s behavior and possibly breeds resentment between the parties involved. Second, forgiveness is not justifying the wrongdoer’s actions or explaining them away. This might be more common in those instances where we perceive the ends justify the means. Third, forgiveness is not forgetting. As much as we might like to, we cannot undo the past. Though it makes sense that we would want to forget painful events from haunting our memories, trying to forget them may actually prolong our pain by hindering us from compassionately turning towards it. Lastly, forgiveness is not reconciliation. While forgiveness only takes one person’s decision-making, reconciliation requires both parties involved. Reconciliation may be the optimal outcome we aspire to in healthy and reciprocal relationships, but there may also be times when it is actually unsafe from a person to consider reconciliation. This is especially true when one’s safety is at risk.

As I shared this definition of what forgiveness is and listed what it is sometimes mistaken for, the young women began to open up. “You mean, I’m not supposed to forget about what happened? And it is okay if I am angry about it?” “Yes,” I responded, “You cannot change what happened so you cannot simply forget that this offense took place, but you can open yourself up to the legitimate pain you feel and from there begin considering what forgiveness might look like in your unfolding story.”

Next time, I will share more about the anger we feel following an offense and its important role in the larger forgiveness process. Until then, consider whether one of forgiveness’s imposters has gotten the best of you. If so, consider whether or not North’s definition of forgiveness is one that makes sense to you.

Strategies to Reduce Depression During the Holiday


For your physical health:

Be deliberate about what activities you choose to attend. Decide ahead of time what would benefit you the most and what is in line with your needs.

Ask for help from others. We tend to think we have to do everything, when a team effort can be more fun.

Make time to rest and rejuvenate even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.

Pay attention to your eating and drinking.

 

For your emotional health:

Express your feelings in an assertive and respectful way. Say “yes” because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others.

Surrender to those things that we cannot change. Surrendering is accepting things that we cannot control which allow us not to struggle and feel more at ease.

Don’t isolate. Reach out to others if you feel lonely. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying. Spend time with supportive people.

Spend time to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Let yourself feel. Then do something nice for yourself and socialize.

Practice mindfulness. Try to observe your internal experience, just as it is, without judgment.

 

For your spiritual health: 

Don’t compare yourself to others. You are perfect just as you are today.

Extend forgiveness.

Let go of the past. Life brings changes and each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Look forward.

Each week, call or email a family member or friend that you have not connected with in some time.

Make a new friend and invite them for coffee.

Find time to be with God. Pray!

Men and Substance Abuse


Addiction has no boundaries. Addiction impacts all groups of people from different socioeconomic status, races, ethnicities, and genders. However, while addiction is not a gender specific disease, it does impact men differently. Statistically men are more likely to be diagnosed with an addiction (Drugabuse.gov, 2016). Men face different health struggles associated with addiction. Along with health struggles relationships can be negatively impacted by addiction. While the factors are unknown as to why men are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, through treatment, hope is possible.

Men are more likely to use nearly all types of drugs, while women are less likely (Samhsa.gov, 2014). Men tend to engage in risky behavior at younger ages, which in turn could lead to more drug experimentation.  At a young age, drug use increases risk for lifelong dependency. While experimentation is not a certainty for lifelong abuse, it does increase the likelihood for addiction. Perhaps, this latter point leads to men being diagnosed more with substance abuse.

The negative impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in men are many, including the impact on health.  Men are at greater risk for negative health effects due to addiction; cirrhosis, pancreatitis and depression are frequent diagnoses associated with substance abuse.  (Drugabuse.gov. 2016).  To add to this, excessive alcohol consumption decreases testosterone levels, which in turn can cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, decreased strength and libido.  A man’s mental health is also negatively impacted by substance abuse. Men who struggle with depression and anxiety along with other mental health issues often turn to increased substance use which in turn only exacerbates their mental health issues.  Possible factors that impact this cycle are shame, guilt, and a feelings of low self-esteem.

Men can also feel the negative impact of substance abuse on their relationships. In general, those who are abusing substance(s) are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. This sexually risky behavior can include infidelity which can lead to STDs, and unwanted pregnancies.  To add, the role of father can also be negatively impacted by substance abuse. The lack of emotional availability as a father, the impediment of clear understanding and consciousness, and the distribution of resources towards drugs and alcohol, all negatively impact the family.

While there are many negative aspects to substance abuse in men, there is hope. Men do enter treatment more often, unfortunately often times via the criminal justice system. However, once in treatment there is opportunity to change. Through group treatment, men can find a community of people going through similar life experiences; though individual treatment men can find a confidential source of support and insight into their own addiction. The road to recovery is long and arduous, but it is worth it to not live with the negative consequences of addiction.

References

Drugabuse.gov. 2016. Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

Samhsa.gov. 2014. Gender Differences in Primary Substance of Abuse across Age Groups. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/sr077-gender-differences-2014.pdf. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

When to be worried: A growing child and drugs and alcohol


Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol.  As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?

Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.

While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern.  Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.

Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic.  Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject.   Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Holidays


While the holiday season can be a time of connection and cheer for many, for others it can bring about additional stress and isolation. During the season of giving we often devote so much time to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. Reclaiming and incorporating time for yourself is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and balanced holiday season. Below are a few ways in which you can give to yourself this season:

  • Reflect: Throughout the year reflection is a key aspect of self-care, but moving it to the forefront is especially important during the holidays. Reflection can bring about renewal and change as you enter the new year, and for some can even bring closure. Meditation and journaling are ways in which you can reflect on what it most important during these times. Both provide emotional and physical benefits that aid in the mitigation of undesirable symptoms.
  • Rest: Another important aspect of everyday life, that is especially important during this busy time, is rest. By maintaining a routine, you allow yourself to remain recharged and refreshed during this season of rush.
  • Prioritize: In an effort to match the pace of the season, many people often find themselves playing catch up once the holidays have ended. Allow yourself time to create and stick to realistic goals, which can include scheduling and budgeting. This eliminates the burden of overspending and overexerting yourself.
  • Create: Instead of focusing on the hustle of the season, take advantage of the magic of the season by creating traditions that will last for many seasons to come.
  • Redefine: Many assume that giving requires spending. During the coming days, take time to reflect on the meaning of the holidays by redefining what it means to give. Giving your time to be in service of others is an easy and inexpensive way to lift spirits.

In keeping with the holiday season, it is important to remember that self-care is key to achieving greater health, happiness, and prosperity. As stated by Calving Coolidge, “Holidays are not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of the Holidays.”

Live on the Rest


In 2 Kings 4, there was a woman whose husband died and creditors came to take her sons as slaves to pay her debts. Prophet Elisha told her to gather vessels and pour the little oil she had into them and sell them to pay off her debts. In verse 7, Elisha said, “You and your sons can live on the rest.” She gathered with her son as many as possible and her faith and obedience were rewarded. This miracle of receiving the oil she needs for her bills and family’s wellbeing is an extravagant demonstration of God’s love, goodness, and power. She put into practice the words of the Prophet and was rewarded with Rest.

He commands her to “Live on the REST”. The word rest relays a stopping, quieting, and refreshment, and in this passage, it is also speaking to what she had left after giving what she had, what remained. She gathered, God did a miracle, she sold what was needed, and then could rest. Whatever remains from the Lord will be enough, so be at ease. Whatever he asks you to do, you can obey with confidence that God will care for you just as he did this widow. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Those who have unbelief will not enter his rest. Yet there remains a rest for the people of God and we shall strive to enter that rest (Hebrews 3:7-4:11). The place of rest is wonderful and worthy of being pursued, protected, and maintained! Therefore, when you “live on the rest”, it means you live at rest due to your faith in the God who is more than enough for all you need.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago