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Forgiving
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 07/21/2008

Sun1 Editor’s note: This story is being shared with us by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach. The non-profit organization and its newsletter, Correctional Oasis, are dedicated to the well being of correctional staff and their families.

There is much talk in corrections about the stressfulness of the job. Mention is made of offender over-crowding, short-staffing, “difficult” coworkers.

However, often some staff appears to be more affected by negative conditions than others. Why is that? What is the vehicle through which external stressors “get to” those exposed to them?

Stress happens through people’s perception of and reaction to events in their environment. The perception of insult or danger, and the reactions of anger and fear are big stress-generating culprits. They trigger in our bodies the same biochemical reactions we would experience had a Siberian tiger pounced on us.

One form of anger is resentment, rehashing a hurtful incident and re-experiencing its insult repeatedly. People who “did us wrong” may be dead and gone, yet resentment keeps tormenting us.

The only way I know to end this misery is letting go, forgiving. In fact, psychological research shows that forgiving has beneficial influence on our health—body, soul and spirit.

In my exchanges with corrections staff I have noted that to some, forgiving amounts to defeat and “loss of face.”

For them the pursuit of justice clouds their understanding of the nature and value of forgiveness. So here are a few thoughts on what forgiving is and what it is not.

May reading these notions make it possible for you to get rid of some stress by purging old resentments and finding more peace.

Forgiving is not:
  • Forgetting (having no recollection) of the hurt/wrongdoing we suffered.

  • Feeling no pain from the wrongdoing.

  • Acting as if we have not been affected by the hurt.

  • Denying or minimizing the accountability of the person who mistreated us.

  • Believing that the person who mistreated us should get off scot-free.

  • Being able to trust the person who mistreated us as if no offense had ever taken place.

  • Being able to be friends with the person who mistreated us.

  • Condoning/approving of/not minding the hurt we experienced.

  • Acting as if we should not protect ourselves from those who mistreated us.
Forgiving is:
  • Canceling the emotional, spiritual or material debt owed to us. (Seeking restitution or other legal consequences may be in order in some situations, and can coexist with forgiveness.)

  • Letting go of hatred toward those who mistreated us.

  • No longer demanding that whoever hurt us should be perpetually punished.

  • No longer demanding that whoever hurt us should be hated by whoever loves us or cares about us.

  • Ceasing to hope that bad things would happen to those who hurt us or to their loved ones.

  • Ceasing to rejoice, openly or secretly, when bad things do happen to those who mistreated us.

  • Letting go of fantasies of revenge or vengeful actions against those who mistreated us.

  • Letting go of a “victim” identity by taking responsibility for our own reactions and choices.

  • Seeing through the meanness of those who hurt us to their self-deception and their destructive values. They may think they hurt us, but in reality they hurt themselves more than anyone else.


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