Steps to Seeking Forgiveness

Applying ethical philosophy to the practicalities of living. Includes contributions by Lois Kellerman, Don Montagna, and Jone Johnson Lewis.

Phase 1: Acknowledge wrong-doing

• Clarify why a certain behavior was hurtful. Without understanding the harmful effects of your behavior, it will be difficult to change. Attempt to understand the hurt or pain from the point of view of those who have been hurt, and try to understand the harmful effect on yourself.

• Acknowledge to yourself and others that the behavior was a mistake. Being able to acknowledge the mistake verbally is an important first step if the relationship is to be healed.

• Express genuine sorrow to all those involved for the mistake you have made. When you understand the harmful effects of your behavior, and can express that with true feelings of sorrow, you open up possibilities for change and for healing.

Phase 2: Make amends

• Act out of a deep sense of honoring yourself and the other party involved. Don't cater to postures of narrow defensiveness. It is courageous to face up to the harm you have done. Take the first step toward healing by being generous and proactive in your attempts to reconcile.

• Find a "stroke" that is equal to your "blow." Do this by asking the party that is hurt what you can do that is equally positive to balance the negative. This is ultimately only symbolic, since we cannot undo past harm. But it is a critical sign of goodwill and true remorse.

• Make amends in a timely manner. The longer you delay, the more wounds will fester. So act as swiftly as the processing of your feelings will allow.

Phase 3: Commit to change

• Make a clear commitment to change your harmful patterns of behavior. This may involve clarifying what kinds of events trigger your destructive responses and finding ways to avoid such situations or training yourself to respond differently.

• Act visibly on your commitment. Change involves not only words, but actions, such as appropriate counseling, courses in relationship skills, publicly asking for help in identifying your harmful patterns and support in your not acting on them.

• Respect the process of change. Acknowledge to yourself and others that it is hard to change, and that behaviors deeply imbedded do not disappear quickly. Don't condemn yourself for slipping, and don't condone your old ways or trivialize their harmfulness. Rather, accept the actual without losing sight of the ideal.

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