The issue of how best to address past injuries (physical and/or emotional) may be the most common element of what motivates emotionally-damaged individuals to seek therapy, and the how, when, and in-what-form forgiveness might be possible.
I saw a poster several weeks ago advising “Don’t waste your time thinking about people you do not like.” This may be as good as it gets — especially when the offender is unwilling to acknowledge the offending behavior and/or is unrepentant. Issues of recognizing and grieving loss are usually central to issues of forgiveness.
I have also heard it suggested that spending time thinking about an abuser is much like allowing a tenant to live in your head rent free. This metaphor provides some comfort to abuse victims and it facilitates the injured party an opportunity to de-cathect the abuse experiences and re-claim some emotional capital. It has often been noted that hatred and pre-occupation with the abuser is another way of being inter-twined; whereas, indifference is the preferred goal.
Terry Hargrave of Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of Restoration Therapy: Understanding and Guiding Healing in Marriage and Family Therapy suggests that there are four stages that therapists and clients may find useful as therapy helps clients move toward some degree of resolution:
(1) Insight — helping victims learn ways to stop the victimizer from perpetrating further violations.
(2) Understanding — focusing on the interplay between the history and limitations of the victimizer and the victim’s own emotional story
(3) Giving the opportunity for compensation — using sequential interactions to build a sense of safety and trustworthiness
(4) Overt forgiveness — victim and victimizer confront past violations and restore their relationship through dialogue
As the threshold of a new year rapidly approaches, perhaps the issue of forgiveness is particularly timely.