Divorce is a stressful time emotionally, financially, physically, and psychologically. It often results in two people who were once rational human beings showing the darkest sides of their personality. The divorce process may also trigger negative feelings from the past. It often seems that when trust is shattered between two people in a relationship, forgiveness can never be attained. Contrary to that, this may be the perfect time to think about forgiveness and how forgiveness could change this experience for you. Research has shown that as one forgives, the positive emotions in the affective, cognitive, and behavioral areas of a personality increase in strength and the negative emotions such as anger, hatred, resentment, sadness and contempt begin to decrease. Consequently, as one begins to think clearly, one stops planning revenge. As one behaves better, one is no longer acting out the revenge. As one acts better, the negative emotions are replaced with neutral emotions. Eventually, the neutral emotions become positive emotions again over time.
Counseling and Forgiveness
Within the field of psychology, the role of forgiveness is integrated in a variety of counseling settings, such as individual, couple, and family counseling. The healing and reconciliation process can help deal with painful experiences such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, extramarital affairs, and various types of distrust, discord, and conflict. Forgiveness involves an internal change of heart and occurs at different time frames for different people. For example, when a person continues to have bitter feelings toward the person they thought they forgave, it doesn’t mean that there is no forgiveness, it simply means that the full process of forgiveness may not be complete.
There are three signs which indicate forgiveness has occurred: First, the ability to use anger constructively; second, an increase in genuine positive attitudes toward the person forgiven; and third is an ability to ask for forgiveness from others. Keep in mind that forgiveness in an internal, evolving process of someone who has been wronged and it is possible to forgive someone without that person even becoming aware that they have been forgiven.
Often in divorce, the most difficult part of forgiveness is forgiving oneself. Research has shown that as one begins to regain self-respect, one abandons self-resentment. This paves the way for self-forgiveness to begin, which will ultimately lead to healing. This journey often originates from a painful beginning of guilt, remorse and shame. Throughout this journey, if a spouse can develop empathy for the ex-spouse, they in turn can begin to feel worthy of empathy and forgiveness as well, potentially leading to self-forgiveness.
A Gift for Yourself
Although forgiveness may seem like the last thing you might want to do at this time, forgiving another and forgiving yourself can be considered a gift you give yourself. It will ultimately restore your personal power, reduce negativity in your life, improve your physical and mental health, improve your sense of well being and create peace and reconciliation once again.
Written for the New Beginnings Newsletter, Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation.