Friday, October 20, 2006

The Five Stages of Forgiveness

Disclaimer: The following is my personal summary and record of a church sermon and if you find such discussions offensive, please refrain from reading further.

More often than not, we have oversimplified the process of forgiveness. For most Christians, they believe they must forgive as soon as possible; even though they are actually not ready to forgive. Last Sunday, we had a sermon entitled 'A Forgiving and Forgiven Community'. The speaker based the sermon on a book, "Don't Forgive Too Soon" authored by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. I found the ideas discussed rather refreshing so I decided to blog it.

The approach was unique in the sense that it categorized forgiveness into five distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Note that they are not necessarily sequential stages. The stages are natural responses and necessary for our defense and well-being. Each stage has their own unique benefit:



  1. In the Denial stage, the victim does not admit that he/she was hurt. This actually allows the victim the space to be loved until he or she is ready to face the pain in a more constructive manner.
  2. In the Anger stage, the victim declares "It's their fault I was hurt". Eventually, the victim gains a perspective over the oppressor-victim stance.
  3. In the Bargaining stage, the victim sets up conditions to be fulfilled before he/she is ready to forgive. The victim either consciously or subconsciously discovers what is needed to break the oppressor-victim cycle.
  4. In the Depression stage, the victim initially takes it upon themselves that it's their own fault they were hurt. Over time, the healing of guilt and shame takes place and the victim no longer sees himself or herself as the helpless victim.
  5. The Acceptance stage seems to be the most positive and optimistic approach; in that, the victim actually looks forward to growth from the hurt. The victim actively searches and discovers solutions for a win-win situation

The next part of the sermon was interesting because the speaker talks about when we should care enough NOT to forgive. Hmmm... The following five pointers describes what constitutes false forgiveness:
  • Don’t Forgive When “Forgiveness” puts you one-up [It’s not forgiveness. It’s sweet saintly revenge.]
  • Don’t Forgive When “Forgiveness is One-Way [It’s not forgiveness. It’s loving submission.]
  • Don’t Forgive When “Forgiveness” Distorts Feelings [Don’t trust it. It’s a mechanical trick.]
  • Don’t Forgive When “Forgiveness” Denies Anger [It’s not forgiveness. It’s a magical fantasy.]
  • Don’t Forgive When “Forgiveness” Ends Open Relationship [It’s not forgiveness. It’s private alienation. It’s individual estrangement.]
When there is true forgiveness, the following will takes place:
  • Forgive By Realizing Wrongdoing
  • Forgive By Reaffirming Love
  • Forgive By Releasing the Past
  • Forgive By Renewing Repentance
  • Forgive By Rediscovering Community
Well, some food for thought.

7 comments:

ian said...

Jon, you just squashed my brain with those words... Just what I needed for a Friday lor... Anyways, I'm back to reading my ERAGON!!!

Jonzz said...

ian: whatever in the world do u mean by 'squashed my brain'?

Annie said...

On a serious note, I find it very insightful and true. I was recently backstabbed by someone I trusted and thought of as my friend. Anger was the first to hit me - HARD. But as I thought about it, I believe I had known all along and blamed myself for trusting her - thus depression - it was my fault I got myself hurt. Bargaining came along a little here and there, but anger comes back pretty fast.

I too have and still forgive a certain person TOO easily everytime and I wonder if I'm just a pushover and in denial.

Now, back to the dark side:
*smacking Jonzz upside the head*
That's for making me think too much.

Jonzz said...

annie: He he he... about the brain, I've heard somewhere it is said, 'use it or lose it', HA HA HA (evil laugh)

poohbearee said...

I seriously dun wish to hate someone. I am proud to admit I have not harboured any unforgiveness to date.

Now I am suspecting if I am in constant denial :(

Just kidding. Thanks. I like dat write-up. It is practical.

Annie said...

I suspect the hardest kind of forgiveness is to a person who doesn't admit doing anything wrong. Like a murder victim's family - to ask them to forgive the murderer when he has no remorse would be difficult; but to keep the hurt could become such a burden on the family and could eat away the spirit after a long period of time.

Jonzz said...

poohbearie: lol.

annie: I guess forgiveness is not so easy when it comes to something extreme like murder. But then, it's kind of relative. I find a betrayal by a close friend to be near impossible to accept.