Let’s revisit our case study of Robin to show how forgiveness works.
Thinking consciously about your identity is an essential part of the healing process because it can help you to define your sense of self beyond your circumstances.
Establishing your identity as a person
Identity can come from characteristics and factors such as gender, family, culture, religious background, or political affiliation.
Robin had strong connections to her family and friends. She had grown up in the safety of her community. She had never seen nor experienced violence before it happened to her.
Robin realized that her assault had affected her identity in the following ways:
- Her worldview of trust and safety came to an end
- She felt labeled as a victim
- She was now fearful it would happen again
Examining and recalling the incident
While avoiding conflict may feel safer initially, examining the transgression is an important part of moving on. But it can be overwhelming to recall past events, and you need to gently remind yourself that it’s okay to be overwhelmed. You also don’t have to do it alone— reaching out for support can be helpful to the process.
Robin was angry at the patient for her assault. Upon further reflection, she realized that she was also disappointed with her colleagues for not being more supportive. She understood that her bruises were not the only injury she had. She had been emotionally traumatized as well.
Empathy and compassion for the incident
When you have been badly injured and wronged, you might define the person by their transgression. This step of forgiveness invites you to look at them with empathy and compassion instead. If you’re struggling with this step, it may mean you need to offer yourself more compassion first.
Once Robin learned that the patient had just been diagnosed with an advanced illness, she was more empathetic towards them. She could understand why they were agitated.
A change in perspective
Try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This does not mean you have to excuse their behavior, but it may offer more context for why it happened. If there is no possibility to reframe the transgression, you can still move beyond the negative feelings attached to the incident.
Robin reflected on the patient’s experience of finding out about their diagnosis. This helped her recognize the distress the patient must have been going through at the time. Without minimizing the impact it had on her, Robin was able to release her anger.
Forgiveness isn’t about waiting for the other person to apologize first. Forgiveness is an act of compassion offered to the offender. Forgiveness is something you give.
Making a choice
Forgiveness is a choice.
Being a victim of a transgression can leave you feeling powerless. Forgiveness empowers you to rediscover your power.
Robin made a choice not to be bound by the transgression. She decided to forgive and move forward.
Letting go doesn’t happen in a single moment, and it doesn’t mean you will never think about the incident again. It means you will choose to respond with compassion and forgiveness repeatedly when those difficult memories appear.
Depending on the level of the transgression, the process of letting go can be very challenging. In some cases, an act of justice may be needed to let go, like a court date or financial compensation.4
Robin was able to release her anger. Letting go was a choice she made that allowed her to forgive the patient. She no longer felt like a victim. Robin had sought both formal and informal support and no longer felt alone.