Reframing “Forgiveness”


“Forgive Everyone”   Neem Karoli Baba

Steps eight and nine in a twelve-step program involve creating an inventory of one’s own wrongs and making an amends with those whom one has harmed.  I believe that is a valuable process for anyone, whether involved in a twelve-step program or not.

I also advocate for the “mirror opposite” of those steps.  Specifically, I’m talking about making a list of all those whom one views as having been hurtful or harmful toward oneself.  Then, one by one, working at “forgiving” that individual for whatever ways she or he has fallen short.  But I’m not talking about the superficial, conventional use of the word forgiveness.  The common use of forgiveness is rooted in blame of the other.  I “blame” the other and now I forgive him/her for what they did or failed to do.  I view that kind of forgiveness as cheap; not worth very much.  It keeps oneself in a role of victim and/or moral superiority.

The kind of forgiveness I’m talking about is more a by-product than an act; an outgrowth of developing greater compassion.  I’m talking about giving up the moral superiority that goes with thinking I have been wronged.  This process involves becoming more objective about the other, learning to see the other as one individual caught in the systems in which he or she works and lives.  When one makes an effort to really get to know, on a deeper level, those with whom one has had a problem, and learns about all the ways in which that other person struggles, suffers or is challenged, it becomes very difficult to maintain the anger and blame.

This does not mean people get a free pass, or are “off the hook” for self-responsibility.  The process of reframing I am talking about has the potential to free one of anger and blame that has held one in its grip for a long time.  The amount of lightness and energy that is freed up through this process can be profound.

  1. Make a list of those who you have viewed as hurtful/harmful toward you.
  2. Wherever possible, make contact, not to “have it out,” but rather to get to know more about that person’s perspective, challenges, what s/he is or has been up against in life.
  3. When contact is not possible, practical or wise, try to view the other in a broader context and envision what his/her challenges must be (have been) in life.

In summary, this is about much more than simply forgiving others for being less than they should have been or I wanted them to be.  It is about learning to truly see people differently, including myself.  It involves seeing others through the lens of compassion.  In doing so, the way I experience the other shifts.  It doesn’t mean I continue to put myself in harms way.  It is a deeply personal shift “in” me, that ultimately, benefits me, the one doing the forgiving.


Stan Proffitt

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