Forgiveness and reconciliation is a confused concept in our society.
Someone who has been in dispute with another may sincerely tell you of his forgiveness towards that person despite the fact that his body language and facial features, or the angry tones within his voice, or his outright avoidance of the person involved tell a different story.
You suspect he is harbouring anger and resentment towards this person. But when you confront him on this he completely denies it, and is even angry at you for suggesting it…
I have witnessed such dichotomy in my session work on numerous occasions. The example below is a typical dialogue between a client and myself whose body language communicates a reality vastly different from the one the client is claiming:
Pietro: “Knowing how your parents treated you when you were growing up, how do you feel about them?”
Client: “Oh, I have forgiven them. I forgave them a long time ago.”
Observing my client, I am curious about the change in body language that accompanies this last sentence. The calm demeanor he has so far presented is unconsciously replaced by a jerk of the head accompanied by a rapid lifting of his right hand and a conspicuous repeated swing of his right foot, which continues to move up and down as if in agitation. I suspect a lot is going on beneath the “forgiveness” declaration, which leads me to ask:
Pietro: “How often are you in touch with them?”
Client: “We haven’t spoken to each other for ten years.”
Despite the claim the client is making he is not in forgiveness.
Forgiveness and unresolved anger or rage cannot live side by side. The two are not compatible.
If it is possible that the client’s body could speak, it would be saying, “I am so angry I refuse to have anything to do with them.”
The real truth here is that forgiveness is a fantasy; he is angry, and it is easier for him to focus on his supposed forgiveness than on his anger.
Forgiveness then is a defense against his anger.
This emotional arrangement is all too common in our society. We live in the age of the quick fix: fast food you can pay for and begin eating in five minutes or less, computers that can flip from one internet site to another within five seconds, website book summaries that enable high school and university students to complete literature assignments without ever reading assigned books, weight loss programs that claim to help you successfully lose umpteen pounds in less than a week. The list goes on…
Forgiveness also has a place on this quick-fix list.
Churches, magazine articles, therapists, councilors, and politicians are known to encourage forgiveness of others and to move on quickly from past situations of hurt and shame.
There is an implied promise in this encouragement: the burden of our anger, resentment and shame will be lifted if we just allow ourselves to forgive the other for the wrong that was once done unto us.
While forgiving others is an attribute each one of us should be obligated to strive for, it is far from being a quick fix. We cannot just leap over the sadness incurred from our losses; we cannot swallow our anger and quell our fears then claim to forgive.
To reach forgiveness we have to pass through these phases. Forgiveness takes time, effort and work.
Therefore, forgiveness is earned!
Thank you to the 331,847 people who read my blog this past month, Pietro.
Read more on the difference between anger and rage: When Anger Becomes Rage.
Read more on the connection between feelings and emotions and body language: Reading Between the Lines: The Relevance of Body Language.
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