Research Paper By Anne Kathrin Schubert
(Life Coach, GERMANY)
Forgiveness is a topic that concerns everyone. We all get disappointed, offended and hurt by people and have to decide whether to hold resentment or to forgive.
In a coaching session a client might have inner judgments or beliefs he or she might even not be aware of, which are slowing her down or even block her completely to move on and embrace her destiny. One example would be a client who wants to lose weight, but still carries bitterness about her Mom, who told her that she looks ugly; in order to be freed from this belief
I am ugly
and to move towards her goal she might have to forgive her Mom.
In this article I want to explore the subject of forgiveness, how it affects us and the coaching process and how we can manage this difficult but so powerful task. I will touch both areas: Forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.
What is forgiveness?
People have different understandings of forgiveness. There are some misunderstandings I have heard while talking with people. Let´s see what forgiveness is not and what it really means.
Forgiveness is not
- Saying it was ok what the other person did or excusing poor behavior
- Saying: “It doesn´t matter”, denying or minimizing your hurt
- Having no boundaries
- Withdrawing and avoiding the person
- forgetting that something painful happened
- To always have to release the person of all the consequences of her actions (even God often does not do this). It depends if consequences might be helpful to the person or not.
- Accept what happened and let the past go
- Making a decision to forgive and love the ones who hurt us (As a Christian I ask Jesus to enable me)
- Releasing the other person from inner judgment
- Releasing any thought of revenge, and instead wishing the other person well.
“Mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us, instead of allowing anger toward them to eat away at us, is the course of action recommended by most psychologists.”
“Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.”
- Taking responsibility for own negative feelings. As long as we blame others for what they did, we also blame them for our negative feelings or even happenings in our life. Forgiveness sets us free to take back the control of our lives.
- Giving room to God in our lives. The Bible says in 1 Cor 13:4.7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
How does forgiveness influence the effectiveness of coaching?
- Dwelling in the past.
Bitterness and resentment makes people to dwell in the past. The client might repeatedly talk about the incident, sometimes without noticing. That shows that her thoughts still dwell in the past and are keeping her away from focusing on the future and setting personal goals.
- Not pursuing goals or achieving them
As the client is dwelling in the past, she might be able to set personal goals but not to be consistent in achieving them. The reason can be a lot of negative self-talk (writing thought pattern in a notebook for some days can help to create self-awareness) and lacking the energy, as bitterness and negative thinking usually drains it.
- blocked by underlying beliefs
I mentioned an example of an underlying belief in the introduction. The client might be aware of them or not. Negative underlying beliefs can be lies which keep us away from becoming who we are meant to be. Holding on to resentment is like opening the door for the underlying belief to remain there and influence our lives in a negative way. This can slow down or block the whole coaching process.
- Problems in relationships with people
Bitterness in the heart can lead to problems in relationships. The lady who has not forgiven her father from cheating on her Mom might always be possessive of her husband and easily be suspicious that he might fall for another woman. The girl who has not forgiven her girlfriend for gossiping about her might have many difficulties to open up to other girlfriends.
- blaming others and not taking our own responsibility
As mentioned above, blaming others keeps us away from taking responsibility of our thoughts, feelings and lives. This is seen in many societies whereby young people tend to keep on blaming their parents for all the mistakes they did in their upbringing. This keeps them away from taking ownership of their lives and move into their own destiny.
Benefits of forgiveness
- Better relationships. If we forgive and love others, we do not carry bitter roots of the past towards certain behavior or words of people. Therefore we can connect easier to anyone without being reminded or triggered in a certain area.
- The experience of love. Love fulfills us! Loving others has a deep impact in us, as we experience this love as well. The Bible quotes in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing…13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- The capacity for intimacy. As we become more gracious and loving, we are able to open ourselves up to people in a deep way and to be connected to the hearts of others.
- Bitterness is like a jail. If we forgive we are free from the prison of fear, guilt and pretending. We can be vulnerable in relationships.
- Joy and happiness. Forgiveness brings a positive outlook and contentment to life. When we love, we end up receiving much more than we give.
- Success in goals and dreams. People who forgive and love create for themselves a foundation of safety and encouragement that helps launch them into achieving their dreams, vision, future.
- Personal growth and healing. Forgiveness is the condition for inner healing. And inner healing leads to transformation and growth!
I want to give an example: In January 1990, Sue Norton received the terrible news that her mother and father had been found murdered in their Oklahoma home. The killer walked away with an old truck and 17000$. While she sat through the murder trial of Robert B.K. Knighton, she could feel the hatred in the air ad her parent’s family and friends crowded in the courtroom. Norton new, that hatred wasn´t going to heal her of the terrible loss she had sustained. She decided to visit the killer in his holding cell.
She recalls that when she saw him, she didn´t think of him as a killer. She thought of him as a human being. She said to the big man with steely eyes: I don´t know what to say to you, but I want you to know that I don´t hate you…. If you are guilty, I forgive you
Today Robert is a changed man and is still in touch with Sue. Some friends think she has lost her mind. But she says,
- There is no way to heal and get over a trauma without forgiveness. You must forgive and get on with your life. That is what Jesus would do.
- Leadership abilities The best leaders are those who can connect in a positive way to different people in their organizations – inspiring, motivating and guiding them to excellence.
- Good effects on others. If we forgive and love anyone, we will see people around us being encouraged and transformed as well.
- Quality of life and physical health. Bitterness can make people sick! On the opposite, people who forgive tend to be healthier in their bodies and souls.
In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.
How can a coach help in the process of forgiveness?
Building rapport is the foundation for openness and trust in a coaching relationship. When rapport is established both people feel peace, safety, free with each other and room for honesty. The coach creates it by expressing openness and empathy, in showing respect and being completely nonjudgmental towards the client. The body language is most important, but also the use of the voice. By marching with the client, the coach will adjust to her body language and voice, and even the words of the client.
The coach can ask some powerful questions and listen actively in order to create awareness in the client. He can do this by
- Repeating back what the client said
- Asking powerful questions which will emerge by listening intensively. They can also be like
- What inner thoughts or feelings are hindering you to achieve your goal?
- What must be true to a person who feels/thinks that way?
- How is that important to you?
- How would you describe your relationship with…?
- Have you ever experienced this in the past (although in coaching we normally don´t ask about the past, in this case it would be an exception, without letting the client dwell there)
Tool: responsibility versus blame
The coach can assist the client on his journey to let blame and resentment go and take responsibility, which will set free to take action. Bitterness is like a prison for the one who carries it. It keeps her in bondage of limited negative thoughts and feelings, even pain. The coach can explain this to the client to create more awareness. There are direction our blame normally is focused on.
Blaming other people
When we are blaming someone or something else, we are actually giving our power away and putting ourselves in the position of being a victim. …When we choose to blame, we choose burden. If, however, we decide that every situation is something that we created, then we are back in control. We can make choices, which will change or at least modify the situation. When we choose to take responsibility, we choose freedom.
- Responsibility = Freedom + Empowerment
- Blame = Loss of Freedom + Dis-empowerment”
ICA module: responsibility vs blame
As the client forgives herself, she decides to let go othe past and its pain and embrace the present and the future. Nobody is perfect and we all do mistakes. It is our choice if we dwell in them or if we decide to learn from them as we move on. To help in the process the coach might ask the client to speak to herself from the perspective of a friend. What would she tell herself who is still feeling guilty about that certain issue?
Some coaching styles offer interventions, for example NLP. However, some interventions can be done by any coach.
This exercise can be done in a conflict situation, not in a traumatic experience. It can be offered to the client if she feels it will be good for her. The goal is to create awareness about the other persons feelings and thoughts or why she acted the way she did.
The client puts a paper on the ground with the name of the person she blames for something. Then she steps on it and imagines being in her shoes, coping her body language and voice. Then she answers questions the coach asks about how she feels and thinks in this situation, why she acted that way and so on. After that the client steps down and shares how the experience was and what new insights she got.
The client can visualize the person she has not yet forgiven, for example how she is stepping towards her, shaking her hand, giving her a hug or any other body expression. Then she can speak out forgiveness so she can hear herself and say: I forgive you…(name)…for…(specific for what).
As a Christian I have experienced many times the power of prayer and God´s loving and comforting presence, which wants to heal and restore us. As Jesus Christ helped me to forgive, He made the bitterness and pain just to melt away Many people have shared similar experiences with me. Forgiveness can be painful, and God who created us is the perfect healer of our hearts.
Forgiving often is a process. It is a decision in the mind, and often the words have to be repeated until they have reached the heart. This can be helpful to be explained to the client.
Many times you can identify what stage a person is in based on the way he/she describes the memory.
- Forget – “Oh, I don’t even remember that you did that.”
- Recall – “Yes, that is true but we were able to work it through.”
- Nurse – “That time that you called me a “blank”, it still eats at me.”
- Remember – “I forgave them, but I haven’t forgotten!”
The secret to moving along the continuum is the individual’s own freedom of choice. Victim thought patterns will keep a person at the remembering or hurting side of the continuum. Acceptance thought patterns will move a person toward the forgetting and the healing side of the continuum. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……
Forgiveness in coaching touches the area of counseling. However, as a life coach it is one very essential part in people’s lives which cannot be ignored. If the client wants to let go of painful things in the past in order to move forward, the coach can assist her on this journey. However, if other emotional issues seem to be overwhelming and the client unable to get them under control, e.g traumatic issues, the coach should not hesitate to release her to a professional counselor.
I want to close with 3 quotes.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. (Mahatma Gandhi)
True forgiveness is when you can say,
Thank you for that experience. (Oprah Winfrey)
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked,
Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?
I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
"American Psychological Association. Forgiveness: A Sampling of Research Results.". 2006. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
Psychology today, Psych Basics: Forgiveness
Joyce Meyer, Living beyond your feelings. P. 211
Fred Luskin, Ph.D. Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (Harper, 2002)
http://thorstenconsulting.com: Forgiveness and Forgetting - The Ability to Move Forward
Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections
The Bible, Matthew 18:21-22