What makes an injury unforgivable?
- They usually involve love and they force people to reevaluate their assumptions about love and being loved.
- They are initiated by intimate injurers, not strangers.
- They are moral wounds; they shatter a persons concept of morality.
- They shatter a persons most fundamental belief systems.
- They are deeply personal and therefore relative from wounded person to wounded person.
In relationships that can cause an unforgivable injury, we learned to trust and respect that person and we flourish in a kind of blind-faith assumption that each person will behave in the others best interest.
A moral history, unlike others, refers to what two people in a relationship develop together as acceptable or unacceptable ways to treat one another.An unforgivable injury begins with an event that violates the current moral rules of a relationship. An unforgivable injury is a profound and irreversible assault on the fundamental belief system of the person who has been injured. Until an injured person recognizes the extent of her ruptured beliefs and their essential nature, she cannot forgive. Revealing the unforgivable exposes the forgivable.
Forgiving is a gift to the self. When received, the gift of forgiveness releases an injured person from the burdens and shackles of hate. Forgiveness is the ultimate liberator. It is not, however, easily accomplished. The journey to forgiving is for those people who are willing to confront their pain, accept themselves as permanently changed, and make difficult choices. If you can admit nothing else, try to admit to yourself that the injury was unforgivable partly because you were caught off guard by your own capacity to be harmed.
Three questions the ask yourself in naming your injury;
- What were the moral rules that were broken? How did the betraying event break those rules?
- Have you been a Mathematician, Pilot in Command, or a Defenseless Drifter?
- What is the meaning of this injury? That is, how long can you expect the injury to last? What, if any, control do you have over it? What are its consequences?
When you accept the permanence of the injury, you set the stage for confronting the wound directly and for developing new beliefs to replace the old ones.
Tasks in naming the injury
The central theme of admitting. This is to acknowledge the duration of the injury. Next is exploration. This is to acknowledge its consequences. Then talking, this is to help you interpret all aspects of your wound, including your feelings about it.
Admitting is to acknowledge that the wound is permanent part of who you are now. Understanding that you are now forever changed because of it. But it is also to decide how long you will allow it to keep you a prisoner.
Exploration exposes the degree of damage done to your ideas about vulnerability, control and justice.
To begin, ask these questions;
- To what (whom) am I vulnerable? To what am I not vulnerable?
- What can I control? What can I not control?
- What can I prevent? What can I not prevent?
- What feelings are changed by this injury? What feelings are not damaged by it?
- What still seems just?
Talk about it. This will help the injury begin to make more sense, seem clearer, and put it into order.
To forgive someone, you will need to know what you are forgiving. To forgive a person for cutting your finger off when she has actually severed your arm at the shoulder is useless. In other words, when you forgive someone for injuring you, you should know what the injury is and what it really means for you.
In the naming phase, you construct the meaning of the wound. You admit you are harmed; you explore the dimensions of the injury, and you talk to other people to validate your feelings and impressions. You also identify the meaning of the injury in terms of its duration, controllability, consequences, and to some lesser extent, its cause. Once these objectives are met, you are ready to move on to the next phase of forgiving because you now understand what you are attempting to forgive.
Claiming the injury
- Take ownership of the injury.
- To forgive, you have to decide what was your own injury and leave other people's injuries behind for those people to claim and forgive, if they chose.
- You must stop denying that the injurer has the capacity to hurt.
- Accept the permanent changes that result from the offense. Give up trying to pretend that nothing has happened.
- When you claim your injury you will give up trying to manage everyone else's.
- You accept that you cannot undo your own harm, let alone that done to someone else.
- You must accept the injury as permanent. You must “take the wound” into yourself and make it a part of who you are to become in the future.
The first task of claiming is to say, “This is my injury--no one else's. Other people may have been hurt too. But I can't do anything about that. I must forgive this injury because this is the one that harmed me.”
Failing to separate your injuries from someone else's may have become a mechanism you are using unintentionally to control the flow of your own pain. If you focus on someone else's pain, you are not required to experience your own and may delay your decision to forgive.
Pain from unforgivable injuries can and do have some positive points. It is like a bitter-tasting pill whose contents ultimately help the damaged person get well. You must swallow the pill every day and taste the bitterness. Every time you do, remember that because of it, you have rediscovered cherished values, had new experiences, developed new skills, learned important lessons, and found new friends. If you could sit outside your own suffering and look at it with complete objectivity, you could see the gains you are making out of your injury.
Blaming the injurer
- To forgive someone, you must blame someone.
- Blaming means that you conclude that someone is accountable for causing something to happen and that what happened was wrong.
- Blaming answers the questions Who? and Why? ‘Who hurt me and why did they do it?’
- Choose to forgive. Forgiveness comes when it is the only obstacle to freedom left.
Tasks for choosing to forgive
- Make the choice to release the injurer from debt.
- Make the choice to cut the bonds that still hold you to the injurer. Note: In my reading of the source rather than this summary, Flannigan doesn't mean breakng off the relationship with the injurer rather getting to that space where one is free to choose a relationship with them or not. Betrayal bonding come to mind here. Thanks to JustJ for pointing out the contary implication.
- Make the choice to look ahead, not back.
When you forgive someone, you say to yourself, “The person who hurt me is no longer responsible for the way my life will go. I am responsible now.”
Any forgiveness closes the door (and opens another).
If one is no longer an injurer, the other can no longer think of herself as “injured”.
The words “I forgive you,” uttered in a therapists office or in a living room at night, still signal - even without the injurers presence-- the breaking of a bond, the end of something powerful and important. (Refer to the note at 2. above and to betrayal bonding).
Saying “I forgive you” severs a once-moral relationship, and it is the start of a new life for the wounded person. Note: In my reading of the original rather than this summary, Flannigan is not saying the relationship itself is to be severed, rather the moral contract that was breached is severed. This releases the both people to a new moral contract with the injurer that is not bound by the terms of the past one that was broken by the unforgiveable.
Once an unforgivable injury occurs, no matter how awful it is, it does generate some positive side effects.
When you have parted with your injurer, you look forward, not back. This is not to say you don't recall things in the past. You just choose not to dwell there. Note: this sentence leads to me to wonder more about the person who wrote this summary - was that their experience? Flannigan did not say that parting from the injurer was the only option - it is more likel that people mend and move on with each other. More on how to mend a broken realtionship on my site.
You've got to be like an alcoholic and take one day at a time and hope it will be better.
Tools for naming the injury
These will help develop the habit of thinking about the unforgivable injury in an orderly way.
Exercise 1: Framing the injury
Write down the event that precipitated your unforgivable injury. Write everything you remember about it. Where were you when it happened? How were you feeling? What were your first thoughts after it happened? How old were you? Whose faces do you remember? What physical sensations do you feel now as you think about it?
Exercise 2: “I thought I was ______________.” Before he did that to me, I thought I was _____________. I thought I would _______________.
I thought he was _______________.
I thought he would _____________.
I thought we were _____________.
I thought we would _____________.
Since he did that to me, I think I am _____________. I think I will _____________.
I think he is __________.
I think he will __________.
I think we were _____________.
I think we will ______________.
The next exercises are to help you address your changing views about vulnerability, control and justice.
Exercise 3: “I never thought I could be hurt by __________.”> I never thought I could be hurt by (name at least five things or people) __________. I never thought that being hurt could make me ___________. I thought I was safe in (or with) ________________.
Exercise 4: “This is just like ___________.” Sometimes new injuries bring back feelings of vulnerability people have experienced at other times in their lives. Complete this sentence to see if you have felt the way you do now at some earlier time in your life. “The way I feel today reminds me of how I felt when __________.”
Exercise 5: Pilot in Command, Defenseless Drifter or Mathematician? Pilot in Command are shocked by their vulnerability to subordinates. Defenseless Drifters are vulnerable when they are abandoned by the string people around them. Mathematicians are vulnerable when their equations about life do not work. Which type are you?
Write a short admission letter in your notebook about the person who hurt you. How did you view the injurer in relation to you? What role did you play? Start the letter with this, addressed to you injurer:
I know I was vulnerable to you, but I never knew you could ________________.
If you can admit nothing else, try to admit to yourself that the injury was unforgivable partly because you were caught off guard by your own capacity to be harmed.
Exercise 6: “I am in control” Checklist
Write a list of things that you are in control of and things that you are not in control of.
Exercise 7: “I used to control _________________, or so I thought.” I used to think I could control ___________________. I used to think I could prevent __________________.
Exercise 8: “I cant control you.”
Imagine the person who injured you. Think of this persons face. When you are ready, say out loud to the picture or imaginary person:
I cannot control you. I cant control what you think or what you do. I cannot control whether you love me or hurt me in the past. Today, though, I can control myself. Use your own words and elaborate on what you can control.
Exercise 9: Essay on Justice
Write down in your notebook at least three rules you believe about justice.
Then write a short essay about these rules. How did you come to believe in them? Do they still work for you? What do you think you will have to change about your ideas on justice?
After many unforgivable injuries, people hold the deep fear that part of themselves will never be the same. Something has been taken away that can never be restored.
Exercise 10: The Lost (and found?)
If you feel that part of you will never be the same, try to identify what it is. Search for it. Is it faith, compassion, hope? Later on, you will need to work very hard to recover what has been taken from you. If you can identify it now, do so.
Exercise 11: The Futures Letter
Imagine yourself as you were before you were hurt. Write a “future letter”. In the letter describe to a friend your future as you imagined it before the injury. Talk about your hopes and dreams for yourself (and your family, if it applies). Reveal your private wishes and desires. Write about what you thought life would be like.
Once you know how you saw your future before the injury, you can determine which part you can still try to accomplish and which parts you must put aside.
Exercise 12: “I may be hurt, but I still feel ________________. Even when you believe your future has been devastated, you are still intact. Examples to use; I may be hurt, but I still feel happy to see a rainbow.
Tools for claiming the injury
Exercise 1: The Gift List
As you heal, you will become more aware that every tragedy bears its own gifts. The more quickly you recognize how many friends, skills, and values you have acquired from the wound, the faster you will find that freedom. Try to think of unexpected benefits that has come because of what has happened to you.
Start a list and add to it whenever you are feeling low or any other time you want.
Exercise 2: Lost and Found Ad
In the form of aN ad write about your loss.
Exercise 3: Fallout List
Write down everyone who was hurt in the injury. Tell how each person was hurt. Include yourself. How were your injuries different from everyone else's?Exercise 4: Placing Your Injurer in Perspective The person who hurt you is one small piece of you life, not the sum total of it. Write down the names of every person you consider a major contributor to the person you have become. Think about how important all of these people have been to you. How have these people contributed to your life? What have they taught you about yourself? How have you grown from these lessons?
Exercise 5: The Wishes Exercise
Write down the wishes your wound leaves unfulfilled. E.g., I wish my childhood had become what I hoped for.
Can you do anything to make those dreams come true? If not, rewrite them. Only this time, state them as they might be changed in the future. For example, “I can no longer believe that my childhood was perfect, but I can believe __________.”
Tools for blaming the injurer
Exercise 1: Your Blaming History
This is to help you figure out what style of placing responsibility to follow.
Answer who did you believe was responsible at the time? Accomplishments-list it with answer.
Disappointments - list it with answer.
Then answer who do you now believe is responsible? Accomplishments-list it with answer.
Disappointments - list it with answer.
Exercise 2: Filtering
Write a list of everyone you could conceivably imagine was responsible for you wound. First with the distant contributors than the most recent contributors.
Then do this:
1. Cross off the list the name of anyone you believe simply cannot be held responsible for your wound. 2. Order the names that remain from most to least responsible. 3. Ask yourself; Do any of these individuals engage in behaviour that was wrong? Did you violate a moral agreement?
Exercise 3: “My injurer did something that was ____________.” 1. Select a final word of the following sentence from the list below. “When my injurer hurt me, he did something that was ______________.” For each person you decided may be responsible for the unforgivable injury, complete the sentence. 2. Look over your sentences. Did any person do something that stands out as being more wrong than the others? Is it clear that some people might have been foolish (or even selfish) but not in violation of any definition of wrong that you shared?
Exercise 4: The “You Should Have Known” Letter Write a letter to the injurer. Accuse him of knowing that his behaviour night result in the injury. Does your accusation ring true? Is there any way the injurer could not have foreseen the results of his actions? If he could have foreseen the results, were his actions wrong? What are your feelings about writing the letter? If you wrote a denial letter, does the denial seem valid?
Exercise 5: The “I Didn't Mean to” Exercise Have a friend or a counselor play the role of your injurer. Have him convince you that he could not have anticipated that what he did could cause you such pain. Have him tell you, “I didn't mean to.” How did you feel? Did the excuse seem legitimate or not legitimate? Why?
Exercise 6: Photo Blame
Find a picture of the person who hurt you. then place it in a chair and talk to it. Tell it how angry you are. Explain exactly what the person did to you. Say, “Its your fault. I did not deserve this.” How do you feel afterward?Exercise 7: Justification Stacks
Write on pieces of paper excuse your injurer may have. Put the excuses in stacks; justifications you do not accept, justifications you are tempted to accept, justifications you accept as valid.
Do the stacks make sense?
Try to give an argument for and against the justification in the stack you accept.
If these justifications were removed, would your injurer definitely not have harmed you in a way that he did?
Tools for Balancing the Scales
- Mock Punishment
Imagine you could make the offender sit in a chair and listen to you without talking back or responding to you in any way. Imagine your condemnation. What accusations would you make? What beliefs did he take from you?
- If you were able to put your offender in a prison cell for as long as you would like. How long would the imprisonment last? What would you say if you could communicate with him through the cell bars?
- Ask a friend or counselor to play the role of your injurer. Make your demands known through role-playing.
If you do not think it is necessary to punish your harmer, take an inventory of your current personal life to make sure you are not punishing other people instead.
Exercise 2: The Thank-You Note
Take out some stationary and write a thank-you not to the person who hurt you. Let it come naturally. Think of as many gifts your injurer gave you. These should be not only material gifts but also gifts of caring or generosity or other intangible sources of pleasure of gratitude you remember. Thank the injurer for the gifts that have come your way as a result of the injury as well. When you are done, tuck the letter somewhere.
Tools for Choosing to Forgive
When you choose to forgive, you tear up all outstanding IOUs. Your offender owes you nothing more. You choose to sever your identity from that of your injurer. You choose to move forward with your life and not dwell on the past. These next exercises are designed to help you give up any lingering ideas you may have about your control over your injurer or your need to rely on him for your identity.
Exercise 1: “You Don't Owe Me”
With your counselor or a friend (or an empty chair or a picture of your injurer), practice saying: “You don't owe me anything anymore. I don't want you to repay me. You are free.”
Exercise 2: The Balloon Exercise
Make a list of lingering debts you still feel your injurer owes you. If you still harbour any idea that he owes you something, write it down. Write on pieces of paper debts you feel he owes you. Imagine the pieces of paper to be the last remaining connections you have with your injurer. Think about the details of his face. Remember the debts he will never repay, then let the papers go however and where ever you feel most freeing.
Imagine you are relinquishing the last threads that connect you to the injurer as you watch the balloons rise. Grieve if you need to; but remember, you have freed your harmer.
Exercise 3: The IOU Exercise
Write out an imaginary IOU. On it, list every debt you believe the offender still owes you. Study the list. Will he ever repay you? Can he ever repay you?
When you are ready, and really mean it, shred the IOU. He now owes you nothing on the list. The debt is forgiven.
Exercise 4: “Your still to blame, but I want nothing from you.” Think of the injurer again. Then say this sentence, “Your still to blame, but I no longer want _____________ from you.”
Exercise 5: Saying “I Forgive You.”
Imagine once again this person who hurt you and that after today you will be free of all your old relationship. When you are ready, begin by saying, “____, I forgive you. What you did wounded me deeply. that does not mean that we haven't loved each other. We have. Forgiving you means that I no longer want anything from you. You are free to go on your way, as I am free to go on mine. You are forgiven, and we are free.
Reflections on the New Self
When you have forgiven the unforgivable, you have been transformed. The person who hurt you no longer poisons your heart. Whether you have decided that you cannot control life's events or whether you now believe that there is universal but inscrutable orderliness to events - even awful ones - you are at peace. Your new beliefs about justice and control fit with your new ideas about yourself, others, and injury. No injury could ever again be driven so deeply into your heart as to be called “unforgivable”. The worst is over. This does not mean that your new set of beliefs will not be tested; it will. If does not mean that you will never be hurt again; you will. But your new beliefs will pull you through as you embark, when tested, will not crumble apart under the weight of an injury .Final Exercise: The Forgiveness Principle Write a statement about your new philosophy for the future if harm should come your way again.
Here is a suggestion:
I know that I cannot prevent harm from coming my way. It is the rare person who escapes being injured by a person he or she loves. I will remove myself from harms way when I can; but in the future I will know that injuries happen to everyone. Some of them I will be able to control. Some I will not. Knowing this, I am free. Forgiving will never again be so difficult.