Articles by psychologists and therapists are often very different from religious articles. Before I dive into what I think the biggest difference is, here are some similarities. Everyone agrees that forgiving is good for your health. Most from both sides describe it as liberation or detachment. Many say it doesn't depend on the offender's repentance, but acknowledge that the repentance makes it easier. Some distinguish forgiving from reconciling, though I think I've seen more of this distinction on the secular side.
(I might be wrong about these generalizations. My sample size is small and not representative.)
It seems the biggest point of disagreement is over timing.
Most religious articles I've read, and some secular ones, want you to forgive now. I wonder if secular writers who advocate up-front forgiveness see the benefits of forgiving and want them for other people. I wonder if religious writers who advocate up-front forgiveness think of anger, resentment and desire to punish as arising from a stain (ugh) or critical wound on the soul, so that other aspects of healing necessarily have to wait. I also wonder whether some writers just aren't aware of anything that might have to be done first.
On the other hand, most secular articles I've read, and some religious ones, place forgiving near the end of healing. Here's one that I really liked:
Four Elements of Forgiveness
Here are the forgiveness steps from the article:
- A. Express the emotion
- B. Understand why
- C. Rebuild safety
- 4. Let go
So you're in pain and shock, and are wounded and betrayed. Your brain says, over and over again, "You're hurt! Fix this! Make sure it doesn't happen again! That person (or entity) did it!" Step A says don't bottle this up. I think step B is half for securing your long-term safety, and half for finding compassion. Step C is about not feeling like you have to protect yourself from the offender all the time. When the pain has subsided enough and you feel relatively safe, you can let go.
I've spent a lot of time doing step B: understanding why. Step A, expressing emotion, is hard for me to do because there are very few people around me who would understand. So I've put a few angry miles on my bike. It helps. Step C, though...
That's my big hangup. I don't feel safe. Not attending seems to have been good for my self-esteem, which takes a serious hit when I feel looked down on while in certain mental states. Not attending has also made it easier to forget the church's blindly self-aggrandizing attempts at sabotaging my relationships... but of course they haven't actually gone away. From my vantage point on the outside, I can see threats to individual members of my family - I can even give a common scenario for each child - but I'm limited in the actions I can take to mitigate them. Every time I can share something I've learned with my children, I feel safer, but it happens so slowly.
(Yes, threats to my kids feels like threats to me. I'm a parent, after all.)
Reframing helps: they're safer than they would be if I hadn't stopped believing. It's hard to keep in mind, though. Reminding myself of benefits of church activity helps. But it's always coupled with the idea that the more benefits my kids get, the more they depend on the church, so the more it can hurt them.
In general, I feel safer than I used to, but I guess still unsafe enough that letting go of resentment doesn't last. I have to do it for the sake of my relationships, but it always seems to come back.