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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: 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.

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].

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.

Why psychological assessment? What good will it do? How will I benefit?


When in graduate school for a degree in psychology or counseling, one learns a lot and reads a ton. But the most important thing grad students in my field do is practice what they preach.

So, when I was in a masters program in grad school, I took a psychological assessment overview course and the final assignment was to take a whole handful of tests that assessed my personality and then score, interpret, and report the results of these tests.

It was quite a process because some of these tests have a lot of questions to answer about yourself. I was nervous because I didn’t know exactly what the results would say about me.

Despite the process, the end result was pretty cool. The results confirmed some things I pretty clearly knew about myself. The results told me things about myself that somewhere, deep within myself, I knew, but didn’t have words to describe. The results told me things about myself that I was surprised by, that I never would have said about myself. The results told me things that I didn’t want to be said about me. The results helped me understand myself better so that I could take bold, but scary steps into a future that I didn’t even know was possible.

These understandings, realizations, and awarenesses are what psychological assessment is all about. Sure, sometimes the purpose of an assessment is to determine whether a diagnosis is present or not – think about all the assessments that happen when a medical doctor is trying to determine whether someone has cancer or a chronic illness. But underneath it all, the true purpose is to understand a person better, whether that be physically as in the case of a medical doctor or emotionally as in the case of a psychologist.

At the end of a psychological assessment, a psychologist expects that the client will understand more about him/herself and have some ideas about what his/her next steps could be to address the good and the I-wish-it-was-better results that come from the assessment. This may or may not include a diagnosis but will definitely include information about how the client thinks, feels, copes, and engages in the world around him/her.

If you have questions about yourself or your child and/or desire to have clarity about what might be going on inside of your heart, mind, or soul, please contact us at cccoc@chicagocounseling.org or (312) 573-8860 to discuss these things and determine if a psychological assessment might be beneficial for you. You can also find out more about our psychological assessment services here.

Letting Go To Grow


Philippians 4:8

Finally, my sisters – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, what is right, what is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

  1. Position yourself in the future – get a positive view of the future will help you let go of a negative past. This is hard. Negative experiences just don’t fade away. Neuroscience of the brain indicates that we have an area of the brain that is called the episodic area. In this area we house events. We were created to remember so there are three things that will help with letting go of a negative past – (i) intentionally; (ii) create a vision board to assist you; (iii) set some steps. Learn to be present and stay in the present as you note your thoughts and feelings that connect you to what is good, what is lovely and what is of a good report.
  1. Discard the old – look around at your space, what reminds you of the thing, event, thought that you are trying to let go? Whatever it is start small and recreate. Redecorate a room, create piles that are keep, toss or transfer and then move forward with those things.
  1. Repair – acknowledge if what you are letting go of you played a part in the hurt, pain or disappointment. If you can, reach out to that person, have a face to face or write a letter expressing your part and your remorse. If you cannot reach out to that person, write an unmailable letter expressing your part and remorse.
  1. Rewrite your narrative – this allows you to take your power back. It places you in the position of victor and not victim. Therapist call this cognitive re-framing – God has given us the power to write our stories. Look at the loss as a release. An open door to create something new and refreshing.
  1. Forgive – discharge the debt, do what needs to be done to not have offense repeated (redefine the relationship); acknowledge the mess, the cost, the pain as well as the short and long term consequences of the offense, it is a process, not a one-time decision.

Why Do I Need a Therapist if I’ve Got Jesus?


I’ve often heard Christians ask, “Why do I need a therapist if I’ve got Jesus?” As a Christian, I can appreciate the sincerity of this question given that it echoes a number of Bible passages. For example, Philippians 4:6 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This verse is then followed by another which states, “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Given the stock that is often placed into these verses, it isn’t difficult to understand why a Christian would believe that they have no need for a therapist given that the Bible instructs us to turn to God to get all of our needs met. Although I can appreciate this perspective, I don’t believe that Christianity and psychology are in opposition to one another. As a Christian therapist, I find that one’s faith and the practice of therapy or counseling can be integrated quite well, and within this article, I aim to discuss how these two world views can be married together.

Since ancient times, God has been known to work through people to bring about blessings, healing, and freedom. Moreover, throughout the Bible, it is written that God often used natural means (i.e. ordinary people) in order to manifest his supernatural purposes (Isaiah 6; Acts 9: 6). It is my belief that today, God continues to help people by using others, and that mental health professionals, especially Christian mental health professionals, can be used by God.

Personally, my work as a therapist has been profoundly impacted by my relationship with Jesus Christ. Time and time again, God has treated me with unconditional love and positive regard in spite of my poor choices, and such grace has been unbelievably transformative in my own life. Due to my experience of God’s transformative compassion and concern for me, I model my practice of therapy after the way in which God relates to me because I know how emotionally corrective such an experience can be. In the Book of Isaiah, Jesus is referred to as “Wonderful Counselor” and such a description speaks volumes to me as a therapist (Isaiah 9:6). Given that He is a Wonderful Counselor, and He speaks of setting an example for us (John 13:15), it is my belief that I am carrying out God’s work through my work as a therapist. Also, God calls us to “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) which suggests that God understands that in order for people to get well, they need someone else, and at times, maybe even a therapist, to be a witness to their pain in order to bring about healing.

In sum, I truly believe that Christianity and the practice of psychology can operate alongside one another, and when God says that He’ll meet all of our needs, one of the ways in which He may choose to do so is through directing us to experts whom He has gifted with the knowledge and wisdom to bring about healing in others. If you believe that you or a loved one could benefit from counseling services, please give us a call and we’ll be happy to serve you.

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago