NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Psychological Stages of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts (see my articles: Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?Asking For Forgiveness: The Power to Make AmendsDeciding Whether or Not to Forgive Your Father, and Deciding Whether or Not to Forgive Your Parents).

The Psychological Stages of Forgiveness
Most people think that if they forgive someone who has hurt them, they're doing it for this person.  But getting to the point where you forgive someone is something that you do for yourself in order not to continue carrying around hurt and anger inside you.

When you've been hurt, you're not always ready to forgive the other person immediately.  This is normal, especially if the person really hurt or betrayed you.  It might take time--if you decide to forgive this person at all.

Psychological Stages of Forgiveness
Everyone is different, so even though I'm outlining these psychological stages of forgiveness, recognize that each person goes through the process in his or her own unique way.  Also, the stages aren't necessarily linear, and you can go back and forth between these different stages before you reach a resolution for yourself.
  • Understand What Happened:  If you have been unexpectedly hurt or betrayed by someone close to you, it can be such a shock to you that you might need time to understand what happened.  Instead of being hasty before you know the details, make sure  you understand the situation and the circumstances.
  • Understand Your Own Feelings About What Happened:  Once you've determined the details of what happened and you think you have the facts, you might not be sure how you feel about it initially, especially if the hurt or betrayal was unexpected.  You will probably need time to absorb what happened and sort out your feelings.  Take time before you say or do anything that you might regret, including "brushing things under the rug" because you don't want to deal with it (Coping With Secrets and Lies in Your Relationship).
The Psychological Stages of Forgiveness
  • Be Aware That Complete Forgiveness Doesn't Usually Come All At Once:  Once you understand what happened and you've had time to sort out your feelings, you might have an intention to forgive the other person.  But despite your intention, complete forgiveness might not happen all at once.  Forgiving someone for a very hurtful situation usually happens from surface to depth.  In other words, you make a commitment to yourself and the other person that you want to accept an apology, but that doesn't mean that everything is back to normal between the two of you.  It might be a while (if ever) before you trust this person again.
  • Don't Use the Forgiveness Process as a Power Play:  Whether or not you decide to forgive the person who hurt you is up to you.  As I mentioned earlier, the process of forgiveness is for you, not the other person.  But if you know that you want to eventually forgive this person, don't use this as a power play by holding your forgiveness over the other person's head as a bargaining chip.

Getting Help in Therapy
There are some situations, especially in cases of major betrayal or abuse, where you might be confused as to how you feel and what you want to do.

If you've tried to get clear on your own feelings and you're still confused, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

While you don't have to continue to have this person in your life if it will make you unhappy, holding onto anger and resentment is only going to hurt you more (see my article: Holding Onto Anger is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to Die).

Rather than allowing hurt and anger to eat away at you, you could work through your feelings with a licensed mental health professional who can help you through the situation and provide you with the necessary tools for you to have closure and move on with your life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients through the psychological stages of forgiveness.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.