A fairly common discussion that comes up when one is working on therapy and taking stock of their past and the progress of treatment is forgiveness.
Though Forgiveness or making amends is a part of the 12 Step work, is not a topic relegated to Recovery alone, we all have things we regret and people who we have hurt.
In Recovery however, this issue is often coupled with shame and hopelessness due to the nature of the offenses and the negative view the individual or the one they hurt has of them.
The weight and burden of this emotional baggage can hinder progress in treatment while the lack of acknowledgement of the need to make amends could also indicate the area for further growth.
So how does one approach forgiveness in and out of Recovery?
1. Look In:
While making a “searching and fearless moral inventory” (Step 4 of the 12 Steps) is obviously a wonderful goal, a good place to start is by looking to what stands out, or evokes a feeling of discomfort within. Is there someone or some event weighing on you that you wish you could change or fix then that is the best place to start. Often digging up old conflict prior to addressing the issues at hand can be counter productive.
2. Look Out:
Not everyone is ready for forgiveness, many aren’t even willing to talk and so it’s important to survey the landscape and make sure the approach that you take makes sense for both of you and doesn’t in fact increase or reignite conflict. Many times asking for input from a third unbiased party such as a mutual friend, teacher, mentor or the like can be invaluable. Perhaps an in person approach is not indicated? Perhaps an email or text is not formal enough? Perhaps a third party should be present or initiate communication? These are all things to consider.
It is important that the act of seeking forgiveness is not just an “act”. Take time to put into thoughts words exactly what took place, what part you are willing to accept in the process, and most importantly that you truly accept that no matter the results, you truly intend to dispel the negative energy between you despite their reaction. The willingness to do your part and keep doing it, not just to make yourself feel better but to earnestly make amends, is at the core of a true effort to seek forgiveness.
4. Take Steps:
Actually asking for forgiveness can often be easier than the steps outlined above but don’t expect it To be easy or to actually succeed on your first approach. The effort it takes to truly ask for forgiveness is minute in comparison to the effort it takes to truly forgive. Take the steps you intend to and stay committed to the process and you are on the way to true growth and perhaps even reconnecting with a friend or loved one. At the very least, you know you have taken strides to make a positive change.