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To Forgive, Or Not To Forgive: Is Forgiveness Required For Good Hypnotherapy?

Calvin D. Banyan, MA, BCH, CI

This article was written in response to some messages that I received because I belong to an email list made up of Hypnotherapists. One email led to a whole string of messages. It resulted in a fascinating exchange of ideas on the question of "Is it wise to place so much importance on forgiveness when doing therapy?"

To keep things brief, I will shorten and paraphrase the first email, and limit it to only the information pertinent to this article.

The first Hypnotherapist writes (shortened and paraphrased),

I would like to discuss forgiveness with this group. I am constantly reminded of the "importance of forgiveness." However, I have come to believe that for some of the individuals that I work with, forgiveness is just too much to ask of them. If I am not successful in getting these clients to forgive the ones that hurt them, they may feel guilty, which could cause them even more problems than the ones that they already have! Furthermore, I doubt how effective forgiveness really is. Why not just go for a neutrality or letting go of the problem or person? Isn't that what we are really going for with forgiveness anyway??

Then a string of emails followed, some agreeing with the first email and some insisting that obtaining forgiveness is necessary for a complete healing to be accomplished.

I then respond with an email,

Hi there everyone -- I teach a process called 5-PATH® which is a five-phase approach. Phases III and IV are Forgiveness of Others and Forgiveness of Self, respectively. Here is a short list that I use when teaching how to do forgiveness.

NOTE: When I do forgiveness therapy, I always have the client who is in hypnosis, go into a room where there are two chairs, (similar to the work done by Fritz Pearls in the 60s) one chair for my client and one for the offender (person who hurt her). I then have my client speak to the offender and tell her how she was hurt by her. Then I have the client become the offender and respond. A dialogue is begun, during which I encourage a discussion that results in covering the points in the part of the paper called Ten Keys To Forgiveness. It works wonderfully. We have an amazing capacity to forgive when we go through this kind of process. I have done it literally hundreds of times, and have taught our therapists (at The Hypnosis Center, Inc.) and many of our students who have come to our Center how to do it, too. Don't give up on forgiveness. It is worth it. Just letting go does not sufficiently address the feelings of anger and guilt that your clients may be carrying inside themselves. Not sufficiently resolving these issue can lead to the problems continuing, problems such as obesity, drug addiction, physical abuse, and much more.

I hope you find it useful...

The paper begins...

Ten Keys To Forgiveness

So many times in any psychotherapy process, including hypnotherapy, our client's ability to move forward and be successful in their sessions hinges on their ability to let go of a painful experience from the past. This painful experience, which may have happened years ago, is still causing problems, perhaps contributing to substance abuse, weight gain, or many other kinds of difficulties including physical illness. Therapists need to know how to free their clients of these old patterns, and the painful feelings. If the feeling is anger or guilt, then we need to help them to forgive themselves or some other person.

The following are "Ten Keys To Forgiveness" which when used in a therapeutic process, can be very effective in releasing and helping the client to forgive and overcome old feelings of anger and guilt. Helping your client understand these keys in the therapeutic process leads to consistent results when doing "Chair Therapy" or other kinds of forgiveness processes.

I like to set the stage with my clients by saying something like, "the forgiveness that we will be working on may be different from the forgiveness that you learned as a child. This will be a grownup and an intelligent kind of forgiveness."

Here are the 10 keys to opening the door to forgiveness:

  1. Help your client to uncover any known causes of the hurtful behavior, leading to understanding. If the cause of the hurtful behavior is unknown, the next best thing is to consider probable causes, such as the offender never learned how to behave properly.

  2. That the offender also experienced pain because of the thing he or she did. It could have been in the form of fear of being caught or found out, for example.

  3. Uncover any regret that the offender may have over having done the wrong or painful thing to your client.

  4. If it is true, discuss how the intent was not to hurt the client, but rather the offender was trying to fulfill some need, want or desire (albeit, selfishly).

  5. If there was a positive intent, discuss what that was. For example, a parent might have been overly critical, but the intent was not to hurt, but to prepare the client/child for a world where "being tough would benefit the child" (from the parent's perspective).

  6. If there is regret in the offender, then having the offender express it to your client in direct terms is very helpful. Encourage the offender to say, " I'm sorry" if in fact that is the case.

  7. The next step is to actually have the offender ask for forgiveness directly, by saying, "Please forgive me." This can usually be accomplished by telling her that it would help my client to become free and stop suffering from what was done to her.

  8. Let the client know that the forgiveness is not for the offender. State in no uncertain terms that the forgiveness is a gift that they are going to give themselves that will change how they feel inside, and set them free from the past for healing and positive change.

  9. The offender won't be able to benefit from it at all because she will forget everything that just happened after the session is over (or would not actually be informed of the forgiveness). This way your client will not be made to feel vulnerable because the offender would want to come back into their lives.

  10. Let the client know that she or he does not have to forget. Forgetting is not required, nor is it recommended! Intelligence is defined as the ability to learn from experience. Forgetting the experience would lead to ignorance. This is going to be a smart kind of forgiveness.

End of the paper, Ten Keys To Forgiveness.

The response was favorable to my email and the list of ten. Most of the emails that followed thanked me for the contribution. But, below is one that caused me to write more.

Your 10 Keys seem to make perfect sense to me in cases where the "sin" or "misdeed" was done more out of being misguided than maliciousness. But how do you handle it when the perpetrator has no regrets, feels no pain, thought (still thinks) he/she was right, has no desire to apologize or be forgiven? (Think Timothy McVeigh, maybe). I am all for forgiveness, but to make it seem that one can never heal unless one is able to forgive seems to elevate forgiveness to a form of religion. Thanks.

My response is as follows...

Good question! Sometimes, the client in the role of the offender, does a very good job of being malicious in intent, has no regret, reports not experiencing any pain for doing what was done to my client, perhaps feels completely right in doing what was done, and definitely has NO desire to ask for forgiveness or apologize.

First off, that simply doesn't happen very often in the process that we use. Here are some reasons why:

  1. The client is encouraged to express all of the pain that was experienced. This increases the desire of the "offender" to say I am sorry, etc.
  2. The hypnotherapist then uses that info, and re-expresses it to the offender more powerfully. This tends to cause the client to feel a little sorry for the offender, releasing unconsciously held information about the offender (they see it more objectively).
  3. The therapist explores with the offender what may have caused the behavior, which may uncover events/issues that makes it easier to forgive her.
  4. After exploring some history, the offender will admit that if she had a different history, then she would not have done what was done to my client. It is first established that she (the offender) was sorry that she had not had a better history (i.e., better family of origin). Then it is a short leap from wishing she had a better history to I wish I had not done what I did to my client. Then we are off and running again with the Ten Keys To Forgiveness.

Having said all of that, you might say, "yeah, but!" And, you would be right, sometimes we will run across a particularly unrepentant offender. This is what I do in that case:

  1. I tell the offender that as I count from 1 to 5 we will move forward into the future. "1, you are now getting older and older, 2, older and older, 3 your days on this Earth are now coming to an end, 4 your body has now passed away, and 5, now your whole life passes before your eyes. But it is much worse than that! Because this all happens in front of the only one that has the right to judge you, your Creator! But it is worse than that! As your whole life passes before you, you also get to experience all of the pain that you ever caused anyone else!"
  2. "Now how do you feel?" If there was any chance of digging up any feelings of remorse in the offender, this usually does it. I can then ask, "Boy, it sure would have been nice if you had been raised differently, that could have led to a much better life. Isn't that right?" I usually get a "yes." "Then you would have been able to go through your life without hurting (fill in client's name), wouldn't that have been nice?" I usually get a very heart felt "yes." (And probably even some tears of remorse.)
  3. I'm not the one that needs to hear this, so I direct the offender to proceed as follows, "don't tell me, tell (client's name)." From there on, I proceed as normal (Ten Keys of Forgiveness).

Did I just hear another "yeah, but"? Okay! Very rarely do I have to go beyond this, but I do have a Plan C and even a Plan D!

Plan C: If all else fails, we can let the offender go from that point (life review in front of her Creator) to the consequences of that life. I can ask either the offender or my client, " What happens now? What happens when you are completely unrepentant in this condition?" A really wicked offender might say, "Now I go to hell, and I don't care! I deserve it." I say, "then go!"

I then return my attention to my client, and say something like, "it looks like she got her just reward! How does that make you feel?" "Better" or "I feel sorry for her," or something like that is a typical answer. And, I can return with, "now that she got what was coming to her, are you ready to forgive her, and let go of all that anger?" This usually gets the job done, and off we go to the Ten Keys of Forgiveness.

Plan D: By this time, I have done a lot to make this offender forgivable. My client wants to get free of the old pattern (based in anger, frustration or guilt). We are usually looking for one last thing to seal the deal, and I say, "It's a good thing that your ability to completely forgive this (SOB/offender) doesn't have to depend on her ability to say the right things, or 'I'm sorry.' She is going to get her just reward for what she did. There is no reason to go on punishing yourself for what was done to you! Remember that forgiveness is a gift that you can give yourself right now. It is the gift of being free from the past. Because, until you do, she is still hurting you, and hurting everyone that loves you, because when someone you love suffers, so do you." (Remind them that the forgiveness does not require forgetting, condoning, or allowing that person back into your life.)

"Are you now ready to forgive this person for your sake? So that you can set yourself free?"

Then I go on with, "Now I am going to become quiet. Now say whatever needs to be said in order to make this forgiveness complete. It is complete when all of the anger is gone." When the client says, "I'm done" I ask "Did you do it? Look inside yourself, do you feel any anger toward that person? If you do, keep going until it is all gone, then you are free."

When that is done, my client feels great! I suggest an attitude of ongoing forgiveness toward the offender in order to keep herself free.

Now, here is one of the most important parts of this discussion on using forgiveness in hypnotherapy. The experience of forgiving the offender will have a profound affect on your client's subconscious mind! It has been set into an active state of reorganization, with regard to everything involved with that person and events associated with her! With the subconscious mind in that state of reorganization, it is highly suggestible for suggestions consistent with the experience! Powerfully take advantage of this moment by going into a process of directly suggesting the changes that your client came in to see you about (i.e., weight loss, sexual dysfunction, etc.). Tie this experience to the change, and the change will happen in a powerful and positive manner!

Okay, so forgiveness therapy is not a simple or quick technique. But it works, over and over again. Usually we don't have to go through all of the techniques I discussed to achieve forgiveness, but it is there, if we need to use them.

Forgiveness is not a religion. It is a thing that you can do, that changes how you or your client feels inside. It is a releasing of the feelings that are causing you or your client so many problems. It is NOT a releasing of an individual (the offender). It is a release of the anger, guilt, frustration or depression that is associated with what was done to you or your client.

I hope that helps :-)

Copyright © 2001 Calvin D. Banyan.  All rights reserved.