Last week, counselor and fellow sister on this journey, Marcella Burns, launched a series on forgiving our sex addict husband. There was some good discussion around this on Facebook including a post where Marcella shared more of her story. She also mentioned that it took her four years, after her husband's arrest, to embark on her forgiveness journey. Thus, it's important to understand that forgiveness is not the work of the early days, and no woman should ever be rushed to "just forgive him, already!" Please read this series with that in mind.
Enright and his fellow researchers developed a four-step process for each of their Forgiveness Study participants to follow. Before we can get to that process, it may be helpful to spend some time considering which incident you want to practice forgiving. Many times, we have tried to quickly forgive, but we were just stuffing and/or denying the offense. When we look at studies on the brain, we discover that our brain is created to work in two complimentary spheres; the right brain is more emotional and visual, while the left side of the brain is analytical and logical. We want to engage each side of the brain in the forgiveness process if we want lasting change.
Another area we need to consider is our heart. Matthew 15:18-20 (NIV) tells us, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…” If we only approach forgiveness with our minds, we have not dealt with the root cause of the offense, so it can be triggered over and over pushing us to sin as new offenses come.
According to Virkler and Virkler (2001), the language of the heart is different from the language of the mind. The language of the mind is logical, rational ideas, whereas the heart speaks with emotion, pictures, flow, and faith. When someone betrays or rejects us, they often wound our hearts. It just makes sense that to truly forgive we need to heal the wound in the heart. If we combine the use of our mind (meditating on scripture, logically examining what really happened), with the pictures and emotions that flow from our hearts, we have a much better chance of truly being able to forgive.
One at a Time
Forgiveness is a skill we are going to practice one offense at a time. Start with an offense that still causes pain, but not one that is overwhelming. If you work to clear away “medium” offenses first, you exercise your forgiveness muscle, and then can begin to tackle the major offenses you have suffered. It is also very helpful to journal your experiences, write out the incident exactly as you remember it. Because the heart deals with feelings instead of words, it may be difficult to capture the incident in words. It will help if you can go back into the scene and feel the hurt, shock, surprise, etc., that you felt at the time.
Ask yourself questions. What day was it? What time of day? Where was I? What was I wearing? The better you visualize the scene, the easier you will find it to process the memory. You might want to spend some time “getting your head in the game” by meditating on scripture and praising God. Some other things that helped me were to stop talking about the incident and stop rehearsing it in my mind. This is likely to be very difficult if you are trying to process a very traumatic memory, but as healing begins, you should gain more control over your thought life.
Next week, Marcella will describe the four steps of the "Enright Process Model of Forgiveness."
Marcella Burns is a recent graduate of Liberty University, with a MA in Human Services Counseling/Life Coaching. She is the mother of nine children and grandmother to four. She was married to a sex addict and intimacy anorexic for 34 years. She is working toward certification as a Life Coach, intending to work with partners of sex addicts. She used to be the “Queen of Bitterness” but has resigned from that position and is working toward walking in love and forgiveness toward all.