The Four Step Process of Forgiveness

I’ve talked a lot about forgiveness on my blog, and forgiveness has been a major theme for me this year. I did not realise until this week that there is an actually process to forgiving someone, especially someone who you felt has deeply wronged you. This past weekend I was reminded of the deep seeded anger that I felt towards someone who I felt had deeply wronged me in the past. I thought that I had forgiven this person but the anger I felt told me that I was wrong, and I still had some work to do. So, I logged back on to BetterHelp, the online therapy tool I’ve been using and saw that there was a “forgiveness worksheet” that my therapist had given me that I never completed. I took a whole day to complete the worksheet, and then the very next day I was listening to my favourite podcast Dissect where the major theme just happened to be forgiveness. At the end of the show, the host talked about The Enright Process Model of Psychological Forgiveness. The very same process model I used the day before! God has a strong sense of irony, and I took it as a sign that I’m on the right path and that this is something that I should share with others as well.

So, without further ado, I will explain the four step process of forgiveness. But first, let me explain what forgiveness is. According to Enright, forgiveness is the “foregoing of resentment or revenge” when the wrongdoers actions deserve it and instead giving the offender gifts of “mercy, generosity and love” or “beneficence” when the wrongdoer does not deserve them. In other words, when people forgive, they basically give up the anger to which they are entitled and give to their offender a gift to which he or she is not entitled. How long and painful the forgiving process is all depends on the seriousness of the event, and how long the person has lived with and/or denied the severity of the harm caused. I decided to explain what forgiveness is first before describing the actual process of forgiveness because a common and major obstacle to forgiveness is misunderstanding what forgiveness is. “Forgiveness stands on the truth that what happened to me was unfair, it is unfair, and it will always be unfair, but I will have a new response to it.”- Robert Enright. Forgiveness is a moral virtue like patience or kindness and it must be practised on a continual basis with everyone we meet. It takes strength, courage, and discipline to decide to forgive and to continue to practice forgiveness every single day despite the injustices we may face. It is easy to respond to injustice with malice, revenge, anger, hate, even if those feelings never get expressed. I tend to repress these feelings as a way to make them “go away” so I can go on as if this person never hurt me and I’m “okay.” No. Forgiveness is feeling those feelings, understanding where they came from, deciding to forgive them or let those feelings go; then find compassion for the person who hurt you by trying to understand where they might be coming from, and then accepting the fact that despite the injustice of their actions, we cannot change it and the only way to heal is to have love and compassion for all parties involved. 

Step One: The Uncovering Phase 

It is during this phase that you confront the nature of the offence and uncover the consequences of having been offended. It is during this phase that you must objectively as possible describe who did what to whom. You cannot forgive an offence that did not occur, however, you may be able to resolve the anger aroused by a perceived offence when the actual nature of the offence is understood. This part I did with my therapist, someone who is objective. I highly suggest doing this, because it’s hard to look at the event itself and sometimes it’s hard to look past the traumatic event to see all the consequences you suffered. Especially if you’re the type of person who tends to repress your negative feelings. In order to uncover the consequences of what happened it is important to see not only the original unfairness of the event, but also your reactions to the injustice and how it has affected your life. A therapist can help you see the connection between not having forgiven and the experience of various physical or psychological difficulties that are the result of suppressed or repressed anger. This may involve discovering and working through various layers of pain in addition to justifiable anger. These layers of pain may look like: shame, guilt, obsessive thoughts about the offender and/or thoughts about the offence, temporary or permanent life changes due to the offence, and changes in one’s view about the justice of the world and of God. Lastly, when you uncover the pain and trauma from past events or injuries caused by an offender, you learn that you cannot psychologically forgive certain actions like abuse, or drunk driving but you can forgive the offender for the secondary consequences of their actions; emotional pain, distress and loss. 

Step Two: The Decision Phase

During this phase a person gains an accurate understanding of the nature of forgiveness and makes a decision to commit to forgiving based on this understanding. Forgiveness is and must be a free choice. For me, I decided to forgive my offender because I realised that what I was doing to try and overcome the harm and suffering caused by the offence was not working. I was still angry, I still held resentment and even though I have no direct contact with this person, when I would learn of their continued attempts to hurt me all of my anger would come boiling up to the top. I would get so upset and concerned with the fact that they couldn’t see the harm they were causing. I would get upset at the fact that I was not doing anything to cause them pain yet they still felt the need to cause me harm. I would get upset over the injustice of this all. I finally realised that this person may never stop trying to cause me harm, but I can choose how I react to their attempts to cause me harm. The more I react with anger, the more damage is caused to my well-being, and the more time and energy I waste being upset over something that may never change. That is why I have decided to forgive them. Not because they deserve it but because I deserve happiness. 

Third Step: Work Phase

This is the phase where you actually work on forgiving. In this phase a person gains a cognitive understanding of the offender and begins to view the offender in a new light. For me, I have no real relationship with my offender and to be honest I don’t know much about them. This lack of understanding was a major roadblock in my ability to forgive them. In order for me to gain some understanding and compassion for my offender, I had to ask one of the people closest to them for some background information. When you begin to try and understand your offender and see them in a new light this results in a positive change towards the offender, the self, and the relationship as a whole. It is during this phase that you begin to see your offender as a human being and not as “evil incarnate.” Once you start to think differently towards your offender, you can begin to feel more positively towards them. This leads to feelings of empathy and compassion for those who have hurt you most. You courageously bear the pain caused by the offence and eventually you bear the gift of forgiveness to your offender. This phase is called the “work phase” because it is the most challenging phase but also the most rewarding. Forgiveness is difficult but it is impossible without understanding and compassion for the other. Don’t feel like you need to rush through this phase. Take your time. Just be honest in your attempt to see your offender as human. 

Fourth and Final Step: The Deepening Phase 

I would say that I am currently in this stage of forgiveness, especially after all the work that I did recently in trying to understand my offender and where they might have been coming from during the offence. This is the phase where you find increased meaning in the suffering you endured. You begin to feel more connected with others, you begin to experience decreased negative affects and, at times, a renewed purpose in life. I would say that this is currently how I feel. It is through the process of forgiveness that I have put myself through for all the traumatic experiences I’ve had in the past that has given me a new sense of purpose and connection to others. It is through this blog that I’ve found connection and healing, which is why I continue to share my experiences. It is through my writing that I deepen my forgiveness and compassion that I feel towards others.

It is during the process of forgiveness that you may find release from the emotional prison of choosing not to forgive, of bitterness, anger and resentment. It is through the deepening phase that you may find meaning in the things you suffered from. You may even find yourself asking for forgiveness for the pain you may have caused others, or even your offender if it applies. For me, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the opportunity to apologise for any harm I may have caused my offender. I do take responsibility for my reactions to the injustice I felt I was experiencing at the time. Either way, I am choosing to forgive, to learn, and to move past those experiences. 

Those are the four phases of forgiveness. Like anything in life, the process of forgiveness is not necessarily linear. You may find yourself oscillating back and forth from one phase to another. The objective is to choose forgiveness, to try to find understanding for the other, which will hopefully lead to some compassion and empathy towards your offender. This will eventually lead to forgiveness, and then a deepening of that forgiveness which comes from a deeper sense of meaning for all the things that happened. 

“‘Men who lack conscious will even lie to themselves. A friend once said and I even found it to be true, that everyday people, they lie to God too. So what makes you think that they won’t lie to you.’ The dishonest people Ms. Hill speaks of, live a life based on a complex series of lies. First, and most importantly, they lie to themselves falsely justifying their behaviour and character which allows them to lie to their family, partners and friends, and God. Ultimately this passage lends insight to one’s ability to forgive. If we view the malice of others as acts of ignorance. As acts rooted in their own self deception, insecurity and unhappiness. We realise that their behaviour is unconscious expressions of those insecurities and unhappiness. With this understanding we can evolve from viewing these acts as completely unrelatable. Rather, they’re extreme representations of emotions we all experience. This provides a pathway to empathy. And with practice we can pray for rehabilitation not retaliation. We can empathise rather than exasperate or escalate. We can forgive but not forget.” Cole Cuchna Dissect Podcast MS1E6.


A letter to One of My Biggest Heroes; A Warrior for Love <3

 

Dear Nonna Battaglia,

I think this will be the last blog piece that I write in letter form (for now) and it’s to the most influential person in my life. I never fully understood just how powerful of a person you are for me, my Mom, and so many other people. As you know, I have been doing a lot of self-healing lately through various practices, music, meditation, yoga, journals; you know because you’ve been there with me the entire time. I don’t need to tell you, but I will anyway. Last Wednesday I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations Podcast with Cheryl Strayed. For some reason the title and description of this podcast struck me, and that’s how I started my day while I made breakfast. Last Wednesday also happened to be the anniversary of your death. Cheryl Strayed is a New York Times Best Selling Author who had lost her mother at a young age to cancer. My Mom also lost you at a very young age but I didn’t think too much about that when I decided to listen to her podcast with Oprah. While listening Cheryl said something that for me was so powerful, I had to pause the podcast because I was overcome with emotion. It was as if she was speaking to my soul when she said, “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Immediately after I was finished listening to her podcast I decided that I needed to buy all three of her books that day, and that my mother had to listen to this podcast as well. That’s how moved I was. I called my mother in that moment and told her that on our way to the cemetary to visit you, we needed to stop by the bookstore so that I can buy some books. Coles Notes: once I got into the car with my mom at the train station I put the same podcast on and I made my mom listen to it, then we went to the bookstore where I bought the books Wild, Brave Enough and Tiny Beautiful Things. I gave the book Wild to my mother as a gift, and I kept the other two to myself.

When we arrived at the cemetery to see you, the mausoleum doors to your crypt were all locked. It was weird because it wasn’t closing time, but there was no one around so we got back in the car and went to my mother’s house. My client had canceled her session with me, so I decided to start reading Brave Enough and I was encouraging my mother strongly to read her book Wild. So much so, that eventually she got upset and said, “What? You want me to read this book because you think I have a problem?” Immediately I realized my own arrogance and I apologized, “Mom, I’m so sorry that I gave you that impression. I only want you to read the book because I was so moved by the author in the podcast. And I thought if Oprah who seems to ‘have it all’ can get something from this book, and Reese Witherspoon, who also seems to ‘have it all’ can make a movie about it because she loved it so much, then there must be something in it for us. Especially since the book is about this woman’s healing process after the death of her mother. I thought you would be able to relate to the author and therefore finally find a book you’d enjoy.” She agreed and we ended up watching the movie Wild that night on Netflix with my Dad. My mom even start reading the book too!

That day I started and finished the book Brave Enough and then I began reading Tiny Beautiful Things. However, ever since that day the words “are you brave enough to break your own heart?” Were burned into my brain, and I could not let them go. Something changed for me that day, because it is a big reason why I wrote my first heart breaking letter this past Saturday and it is a big reason why I have been reflecting and meditating on this letter as well. This letter is the heaviest for sure. I think after I send this out into the universe I will feel so very light, and I can ride that high during my entire birthday weekend. So here it goes, some painful heart breaking truths about your life, death, and the legacy that you’ve left behind.

First of all you knew that you were going to pass, you knew in your heart; because you said it to my mother many times in the coming days before your death. You knew that your younger sister was very sick, and you did NOT want to be around to watch her die. You made that very clear to my mother. You also attended someone’s else’s funeral two weeks before you died and you said to my mom at the funeral home, “I like it here. Bring me here when I die.” Obviously, my mom would respond just like how most people would respond to something like that, in complete disbelief that you would even think about something like that. Fast forward to the night you went to sleep and never woke up. Here’s a rendition of what happened that night written by my mother in her own words (I only fixed most grammar errors and spelling):

MY LAST CONSERVATION WITH MY BELOVED MOTHER!

So it was Thursday February 20, 1987 at 11:30 as ritual I would give a good night call to my mother.

My mother would often call myself during the day to check up on her grandchildren if they were fed, loved and taken care of. These things were extremely important to her.

That evening the phone rang are little longer than usual. Her tone was mean and angered as she was not feeling well! Every winter especially in February she would come down with a horrible cold due to the fact that she was highly subjected to bronchitis!

Knowing this ,I was always cautious and reminded her to be careful not to catch a cold.

She told me how rude & disrespectful I was for calling so late! She states that she was in a deep sleep and she is not feeling well!

I could sense something and not knowing well what I was sensing made me uncomfortable!

My mother asks me the following,

-what time is it?

-how are my babies? are they sleping?

-where is your husband Norm? 

My reply ,

-11:40 by now cause cp24 was doing the weather

-the kids are fine, they are sleeping

-norm is in bed- sleeping

now at this moment she instructs me the following:

Go be with your husband, your place is next to him! I will not need you anymore and don’t worry about me and just look after your kids!

I started to cry since I got frightened and uncomfortable! I told her I shall be over right after I drop off Alexandra at kindergarten! 

NO, DON’T BROTHER ! I’M NOT GOING TO NEED ANYTHING! 

GOODNIGHT!

our phone call was over by 11:45-11:50

the corner called the time of death around 11:45-midnight

That good night was GOOD BYE FOREVER!

You knew that your job as a mother was over, and so, you could leave this earth in peace and die in your sleep. You have been in a way training my mother for this day your entire life and you didn’t even know you were doing it until that day came. In a way you broke your own heart by realizing that truth. You broke your heart because you knew that your death would break your daughter’s heart. However, you had faith that in that process. She would become the woman you had always raised her to be. I do believe that the power of mothers can transcend generations, for better or worse. Your power as a mother has transcended generations and I’m going to explain how. Without you, my life wouldn’t exist. Not because you birthed my mother, but because you chose my mother and gave her a life she never dreamed possible. You and your husband immigrated to Canada and came to the harsh reality that you were not able, for whatever reason to bear your own children. I can only imagine the pain and guilt associated with that as a very traditional Italian woman. However, you decided to be brave. You knew your soul’s purpose was to be a mother, and so you became one anyway, and adopted my mother. You were your highest version when it came to being a mother to my Mom or at least you did your very best to be. You did your very best to love my mother with deep compassion, generosity, and integrity. The biggest secret that you ever kept from my mother was the fact that she was adopted. I’m sure that guilt must have weighed very heavy on your heart, and that cross became too heavy to bear the day you died. I’m sure you never wanted to tell my mom that she was adopted while you were alive, because you never wanted her to doubt that YOU were her mother. I’m here to tell you that she always had an idea that she was adopted and she may have questioned things, but in the end she always came back to the fact that you ARE in fact her mother. You’re the woman who raised her and made her into the strong woman that she is today. She honors you as her mother by holding on to all of your most prized possessions, all your lessons, your hand written recipes, and your memory.

My mother talks about you often. She talks about all the things you used to do for us, for her, and for our family. It was through your bravery that you inspired two other women in our family to become mothers as well through the process of adoption. It’s strange but for one of these women, their first adopted son just so happens to be born the same day you died. February 21st. This could mean nothing or it could mean everything. I definitely see this as a sign from the universe or the divine, and you Nonna are a part of the divine. You transcended into the divine when you died, and you became a guardian angel to my mother, and to me. I’m beginning to really understand our connection more now than ever before. Through your death my Mom realized who she always was. She realized the harsh truth that she was not really your daughter, but she was also very much your daughter at the same time. Even though this truth broke her heart, she decided to be brave and become the mother to her kids the way you taught her to be since day one. You taught her to be the type of independent woman who worked through out high school at a grocery store. Who learned to drive. Who bought herself a car. Who put herself through college, and who helped take care of you when your husband died (my mom was 21). She was also the type of woman who found her life partner, made her own family and became the best Mom she could be. ALL BECAUSE OF YOU! THANK YOU NONNA! GRAZIE PER TUTTI!!

In university, I found my lifelong friends. I found a family outside of blood relation and I would always say that family does not include only the people who are related to you by blood. In fact, your family is anyone who loves you unconditionally, and encourages you to be your highest version. Now I know that in reality, I first learned that lesson when you died. You taught me that lesson. Because when you died my mom learned about her adoption, but she also learned that, that doesn’t define her. In fact, you were her family. She knew in her heart that she was an Italian Canadian, and the family that surrounded her; all her cousins were her brothers and sisters. This was her tribe. This is where she has always belonged. I will never forget that. I know the importance of family, of finding your tribe, and blood relation has absolutely nothing to do with that! So THANK YOU for teaching me that!

Another indirect lesson that I’ve learned in the wake of your death, is the power of music. I’ve been raised Catholic, but to be honest my family almost never went to Church unless we had to. However, I realized that music was my religion, and it was music that was always the thing that brought me and my family together. Especially my sisters and I. Some of my happiest memories involve music and my sisters. We would scream sing lyrics in the car, we would have dance parties ALL THE TIME in our massive foyer. We would put on dance productions for my parents. All our lives we’ve shared music, and we will always have a passion for music. Now, let me make this clear, I do believe in God. However, I consider myself more spiritual than religious. Church never felt right to me. But I would always pray, and now I pray through meditation and music. You died on February 21st 1997 11 days before my 8th birthday on March 4th 1997. The Notorious B.I.G died 5 days after my birthday on March 9th 1997. Later that same year the song inspired by the death of Biggie Smalls, became the song that would ALWAYS remind me of you. That song is I’ll be missing you by Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans and 112. EVERY SINGLE TIME I WOULD HEAR THAT SONG I WOULD CRY BECAUSE IT REMINDED ME OF YOU. It reminded me of the grief I felt, the grief my mom felt, the grief my sisters felt, even though my sisters and I were all too young to fully understand it. One of my favorite quotes from this song will always remind me of some of my fondest memories of us shopping on St. Clair Avenue in Little Italy, Toronto for dress shoes and clothes. “Us in the six, shopping for new clothes and kicks.” Whenever this song would come on I would sing it and cry. These past few days I listened to it over and over and over again until I was no longer crying. I know all the words to that song. In fact, I know a lot of the words to many, many songs, but none are as important to me as this one.

I love all types of music. I’m very open-minded, but nothing speaks to me more than hip hop. I LOVE hip hop and this song definitely ignited that passion for me. I now understand on so many levels why this song and this type of music means so much to me. Hip Hop has spiritual importance to me because it talks about pain, suffering, grief, sin, violence, and turns these negative things into art. Hip Hop artists, the ones who are most profound are the ones who can speak about their pain and suffering so candidly and not only make something out of it but inspire hope for a better future. A lot of hip hop also has many references to God, heaven, forgiveness, love, compassion, and generosity. They teach us to reach deep within ourselves to look past our pain, to see the lesson in our suffering, so that we may be able to become higher versions of ourselves. I know Nonna that you don’t particularly understand hip hop because you were of a different generation, but I do know you understand it’s importance to me and my healing. I’m grateful for this song, and for my love of music. Without it, I don’t think I would be the same person.

Lastly, I want to thank you Nonna for my Mother. Without her, there would be no me. You left a legacy in her that is now being passed down to me. I was in your presence for just about 8 years of my life and I learned so much from you. I learned about what it means to love. I also learned that being so much like my mother is an honor. My entire life I’ve been told how much I look like my mother, how much I act like my mother, how much I sound like my mother, I can go on. I used to get so frustrated by this, and I would try to deny it. Now, I know that you didn’t birth my mom, so I did not inherit my looks from you, but everything else was passed down from you onto her, and then onto me. My mother and I are both excellent cooks, and bakers because of you. We are both strong and independent women who are honored to be in the service of our loved ones because of you. I now know even more so than before, how important it is to honor where you come from because it informs us of who we might then become. I am a proud Italian Canadian but I never forget that my mom was adopted. That cross that you bore as a mother who could not bear children was passed down to my mother who found out she was adopted, but neither of you let that define you or stop you from following your soul’s purpose. One day I know that I will be ready for that call to be a mother and I do believe that is my ultimate purpose. I do believe that I will also build a career and a life for myself outside of motherhood, but being a mother speaks to my soul more than anything else in the world. It broke my heart to pieces when I came across the opportunity to be a mother, but I was not ready to answer the call. I had to break my heart and accept that it wasn’t the right time. I then understood that I had to kill the parts of Alex that were no longer serving me and my soul’s purpose of becoming a mother if I ever want that part of me to be realized. And so here I am. I know that I need to be able to become the highest version of myself and then strive to be that person everyday so that I then therefore be ready for the highest honor of motherhood. With your guidance and strength I know that I can be just that. I have seen it happen for two of my closest friends who have been through similar experiences, just like me, they have both been training to be mothers their entire lives. One of them has already realized this dream, and another will someday soon (she literally talks about her burning sensation to be a mom every time I see her). I don’t know when this will happen for me, but I do know that if I continue on this path of love, compassion, generosity, and gratitude my soul’s purpose will someday be realized. I know I have a purposed in fitness and wellness, as well as motherhood, and I do believe with all my heart that they are connected. If I hold the same values that a mother should hold to her child; love, understanding, generosity, compassion, and integrity to my clients and everyone I come across, then I would be able to create a truly holistic approach to health and wellness.

Thank you Nonna for absolutely everything. My life would not be my life if it wasn’t for you and the woman you raised to be my mother. Now I also know why my birthday has always meant so much to me. It’s because you would always make a big deal about our birthday. You would buy us our birthday dress. You and my mom would make all the food for the party. You and my mom would invite anyone who loved us to our party and make it a celebration to be remembered. My Mom continued these traditions in your honor. She bought us birthday outfits every year for our birthdays up until our early twenties. She would always make a big deal about our birthday, and make a point to celebrate it each year. I carry out this tradition as well. I never forget the birthdays of my loved ones and I do my best to honor their birthday just like you have always honored mine.

Love you and Thank you!

Alexandra Rinaldo

"Seven Year Old Girl's Family Birthday Photo"