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The first step to forgiveness is to stop the injustice

This is the first of twelve steps in Monbourquette’s forgiveness. How do you keep relationships open in your family?

In twelve impulses, we offer the ideas of Monbourquette to families. With a few guidelines, real-life examples, and practical tips, these impulses provide a foothold to start your own journey in the innovative and healing dynamics of forgiveness.

Humans are like hedgehogs on a cold winter’s day, said the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. They seek warmth from each other, but as soon as they get too close, they hurt each other with their spines.

Many people who try to live together in a family or a love relationship recognize this image. They want to be close to each other with the best intentions, yet they hurt each other.
Sometimes it involves serious injuries: violence or betrayal is committed. It’s about minor things which can sting quite if repeated repeatedly.
A break is inevitable. Sometimes the relationship continues, but a feeling of annoyance, bitterness, cynicism settles in. It seems as if pain always evokes new pain.

The dynamics of forgiveness are completely different.

Forgiveness heals pain. It makes a living together possible, even when ‘living together’ becomes impossible.

‘Forgiveness’ is a keyword in the New Testament.

In the gospel, words such as ‘for the forgiveness of sins, ‘freedom from their sins’… are central. ‘Forgiveness’ is in the DNA of Christian thinking and living.
Where there is no forgiveness and reconciliation, only judgment remains. Partners pass judgment on each other. Parents judge their children, and children judge their parents. Siblings judge each other. No one is spared from this judging and being judged.

It makes people restless and anxious. A condemnation by those closest to someone, by those closest to someone, makes people doubt their self-esteem. It is tempting to react with a counterattack that can take all forms: revenge, cramped perfectionism, self-blame, and self-pity, …
A deep-seated cynicism settles as the years go by: ‘It’s never good enough anyway.’ I’m never good enough anyway.

The Twelve Steps to Forgiveness by Jean Monbourquette

Forgiveness is healing, but not easy, sometimes almost impossible. Canadian priest and psychologist Jean Monbourquette were aware of this. He saw ‘forgiveness’ as a beneficial path that people can choose rather than as an end goal to be reached.

As a priest, he preached that people heal by forgiving and being forgiven. As a psychologist, he realized that people also have to heal before they can forgive.

He discerned twelve movements on the road in forgiveness, twelve ‘steps.’ Yet this ‘growing in forgiveness’ is more like a journey or pilgrimage than a step-by-step plan. The road is not a straight line but resembles a labyrinth, as in Chartres Cathedral. Being on the street is the most important.

Growing in Forgiveness

In 2001 the Interdiocesan Service for Family Pastoral (IDGP) started the pilot project ‘Growth in forgiveness’ in collaboration with the diocese of Ghent. In two groups, about twenty people came together during nine meetings to walk that road in forgiveness. Each time they were accompanied by two companions, trained in the approach of Monbourquette.

This example was followed, and Monbourquette’s ideas found acceptance in a number of peer groups, pastoral circles, and workings of relationships.

Today, in twelve impulses, we extend Monbourquette’s method to families and families.

With a few guidelines, real-life examples, and practical tips, these impulses offer a foothold to start your own journey in forgiveness’s innovative and healing dynamics. All the names in the testimonials are fictitious, but the stories are not.

Monbourquette’s model is just one of many valuable approaches to forgiveness.

Finally, sometimes the road to forgiveness is too hard to walk alone. The traumas are too deep, or the grief suffered too young. Do not hesitate to look for an experienced therapist who can guide you on this path.

We are stuck

Lutgarde and Roger ( ° ) have been married for forty years. In many ways, it is a good marriage. Still, something gnaws at me, to the extent that Lutgarde has not accompanied her husband to receptions for many years, and she increasingly avoids gatherings with friends. After all, it always ends in the same thing: he speaks loudly, and Lutgarde is silent. He works at the university, and she has ‘only’ done an administrative job, part-time. As soon as she says something, he interrupts and corrects her. She’s already tried to say something about this, but he doesn’t get it. She doesn’t expect anything to change, so she thinks she’ll have to learn to live with it. But she is already looking forward to the celebration of his retirement…

For many people, forgiveness is the act of pretending nothing is wrong.

Let’s forget about it.
They just carry on. Later they are surprised when, ‘out of nowhere, suddenly a massive outburst of anger or a deep depression comes.

Canadian priest and psychologist Monbourquette did not believe in this approach. He argued that forgetting is a sign of a bad memory and has little or nothing to do with healthy forgiveness. 

He argues that you cannot embark on the path of forgiveness without first stopping the injustice or trying to do so. You can’t start mopping without turning off the tap first. You can stop the injustice in two ways.

You try to prevent the person who wronged you from repeating this and you make sure that you don’t add another wrong yourself by deciding not to avenge you.

Without this double step, the road to forgiveness threatens to run in endless circles. While you’re still dealing with one blow, the next is already being delivered, either by you or the other.

We start this step with ourselves. What does it mean to avenge or not to avenge? Then we wonder how you can try to prevent the other person from repeating the wrong.

When revenge has the last word

Sometimes we think that revenge is something you mainly get to see in movies. Tough men with swords look darkly into the camera and assure us that they will take revenge. However, ‘vengeance’ is a universal, human fact that we see happening every day at the kitchen table, on the road, at school, and in every workplace.

Where does this revenge reflex come from? When injustice happens, harmony and balance are disrupted. Someone takes something that does not belong to them. Someone does not respect the value and individuality of another. Taking revenge is, therefore, an attempt by the victim or those around him to restore balance. This desire to get everything ‘back in balance’ is very human and normal.

Taking revenge

The problem with ‘taking revenge’ is that one not only restores the balance but also wants to hit the person who has hurt, preferably a little harder than one who has been hit. Violence can escalate astonishingly quickly in the living room and in international politics.

Sara ( ° ) glances at the clock. Quarter past six. He’s late for dinner. Again. And again, he didn’t think it necessary to warn. Soon he would have a good explanation. The boss coming in at the last minute, a meeting running late, a phone from a troublesome customer. As if it hadn’t taken her any effort to get to 5 pm. being at daycare, then cooking in one hour, and guiding three tired children through their homework. ‘We’re already starting,’ she calls out to the children. “Is daddy not here?” Luka asks. ‘Daddy is never there. Daddy thinks other things are much more important, she snaps. “More important than us?” asks Oona, wide-eyed.

How could it be otherwise?

A first step is to become aware of how ‘revenge’ can disguise itself. Of course, everyone recognizes revenge as giving back a (harder) push or making a scathing remark.

But sometimes ‘revenge’ works subtly: sabotage the atmosphere by saying nothing more, speaking negatively about someone to third parties (instead of discussing it with the person himself), taking it out on a weaker third party, or directing the negativity against yourself. And no longer take joy in life… Everyone has a tendency to take revenge. It is human through and through.

A second step is to realize the consequences for yourself and others. 

Revenge is like a burning piece of wood you hold to hurt the one who hurt you, but you burn yourself with it. And that can be done in many ways.

Revenge rips open the wound that cannot heal. You are (unconsciously) afraid of revenge for your revenge. Your judgment of others makes you assume that others judge you just as sharply. You feel guilty, and your self-esteem drops. It can literally make you sick… ‘Revenge’ and ‘Resentment’ can disrupt the whole family life, yes, your entire life.

Of course, you can’t just let resentful thoughts, the natural desire to give it all, go away, but you can choose to do nothing with them and let them go in your mind. 

This third step is a decision of the will. It is not a feeling. You may feel angry and frustrated, and yet you decide, “I’m not taking revenge, and I refuse to play a part in someone else’s plans for revenge.”

Is forgiveness then ‘sand over it and move on?

Perhaps you, like many people, hate the word “forgiveness” because it is sometimes misused to cover up injustice. “We don’t talk about it anymore,” the teacher says, without addressing the bully about his behavior. “You must cover it with the mantle of love,” it is proclaimed, and whoever has wronged will be released. Sometimes terrible things can be hidden under that cloak of love.

Jasper ( °) had gone straight to his room after school that day. His mama found him in his bed, curled up in the duvet. He started crying. Only many handkerchiefs later did Ilse manage to get a look at what exactly had happened at school. The teacher was furious when Jasper dropped his pencil case on the floor for the second time. He’d opened the window and flung the pencil case with a new fountain pen down on the playground, telling him to go get it and throw Jasper down next time. Everyone had been laughing at him all day. Ilse listened and comforted. When she got back downstairs, she felt sad and furious at the same time. That teacher knew that Jasper had ADHD, right? Why humiliate him so much? He had it hard enough already. She felt like going straight to management. Or have a hearty word with the teacher. But would it do anything? That teacher was so mad, probably wouldn’t even let her finish. She was never adequately explained what ADHD exactly was. And a conversation with management might just make things worse. After a stormy night’s sleep, during which she had had a hundred conversations in her head, she decided. She would leave it that way. Sometimes you had to let something pass. At first, she felt relieved. But she found herself still thinking about the incident over the weekend… She was never adequately explained what ADHD exactly was. And a conversation with management might just make things worse. After a stormy night’s sleep, during which she had had a hundred conversations in her head, she decided. She would leave it that way. Sometimes you had to let something pass. At first, she felt relieved. But she found herself still thinking about the incident over the weekend… She was never adequately explained what ADHD exactly was. And a conversation with management might just make things worse.

Do you really have to let them walk all over you?

Let the injustice repeat itself?
Certainly not. There is another way to respond to injustice.

Here you do not focus on the person who mistreated you, but on what that person has done.

You are looking for ways to stop this. This is often possible with a good conversation. Sometimes this can be done by changing something about yourself: taking more distance, being more assertive or less vulnerable, …

Sometimes it is necessary to bring in a third, independent party, perhaps even a justice of the peace. Not responding to injustice is often a choice out of fear or laziness, not forgiveness. And we don’t get any further with that.

Not all children are equally welcome in all families. Martin ( °) had always known that his two sisters were the darlings. They were good students. They had great careers, their parents were proud of them. But he hadn’t foreseen what would happen when his parents died. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he visited the family home after the funeral. It was almost entirely empty. Both his sisters had already divided all the beautiful furniture among themselves. He felt so hurt that he didn’t feel like arguing about this. And at the same time, he realized that he had to take steps here: for himself and his family, and actually also for his sisters, so that they would recognize that this behavior was incorrect. A few attempts at an open conversation were to no avail. It was a gigantic step for Maarten to eventually go to the justice of the peace, but he didn’t regret it later. Not only was he proved correct, which pleased him more than he thought possible, but also – although the relationship was far from better afterward – certain respect had come from his sisters, respect that had previously been completely hadn’t been.

The difference between ‘taking revenge’ and ‘stopping the wrong that the other person is doing to you.’

It is not always easy to distinguish between these two movements of the same step. Do you end the injustice when you serve your partner who is always late without notice a bowl of cold soup, or are you taking revenge? Is not wanting to work with someone who constantly humiliates you putting an end to the injustice, or is it a resentful attitude?

A few simple questions will help you make this distinction within yourself.

Has my attitude/action positively influenced the relationship?
Has it positively affected the situation?
How do I feel about the person who didn’t treat me well? Can I sincerely wish that person the best?
Can I emotionally let go of what happened once the conversation or action is over, or do I keep ruminating and/or wanting revenge?

If you can answer all of these questions in the affirmative, you are definitely in the business of ending the injustice.

STEP 1, IN A NUTSHELL, Decide not to take revenge: not on the person who hurt you, not on third parties, and not on yourself. Take steps to stop the injustice that the other person did to you. Always put the well-being of everyone involved first in these steps.
STEP 1 WITH YOUR FAMILY  Get to know and recognize the many faces of ‘vengeance’ in yourself and your family members. Talk about ‘resentful feelings’ and ‘taking revenge,’ don’t let that be taboo. Who takes revenge by withdrawing and sulking? Who by saying something ugly or breaking something? Who slaps the dog? Resentment is as present in a family as cold in full wintertime. It makes no sense to deny this. On the contrary, we provide treatment and want to heal! Make the decision together not to let the atmosphere in your family sour with resentful thoughts and actions.
Maybe you can find a symbol for this together or make a sign: ‘Peace in this house, no grudges!’ or ‘Hurrah: Free from resentment today! ‘or ‘We keep out grudges!’ Be righteous yourself. Is there injustice in your family? Even small injustices that are repeated repeatedly (such as the division of tasks with the partner or the youngest child who is always right) can cause damage. Don’t hesitate to stop the injustice. Do this calmly and firmly. Do not let complacency or fear of conflict undermine justice in the family.







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