I've been thinking more about it, and I think there may be steps for forgiving, similar to (but not the same as) the steps to repentance. At least for me.
Being hurt or abused has a natural recovery process, kind of like bruises have a natural recovery process. For me it's looking something like this:
1) See that I am hurt.
Sometimes I try to pretend this step doesn't exist. I tend to think that if I ignore pain it will go away- or that I can make it not have happened, not be real. The other day my mini-blinds fell out of the window and landed on me. It hurt! And I have bruises on my arm and chest to prove it. After disentangling myself, I went to the freezer, got an ice pack and held it on my newly forming bruises. It wouldn't have helped for me to pretend the pain and swelling weren't there, or that the blinds didn't fall on me, or that it didn't hurt. So why do I do this with emotional pain?
If we can't admit it hurts, we can't take steps to heal. Go ahead and say it. "It hurts!"
2) Stop Getting Hurt.
I disentangled myself from the blinds and got out of the mess I was in.
Emotionally speaking, I reported the abuse that was happening and got my kids and myself into a safe situation. I had to stop talking with my ex-husband and ex-in-laws because the conversations continued to be abusive (suggesting I caused him to be an abuser, or that everything he did was for the best of me and the kids.)
If you're in an abusive situation, GET OUT!
It would have been really hard to go get an ice pack while I was tangled in the mini blinds. And just plain silly to even bother with if the mini blinds were continually whacking me over the head.
3) Acknowledge the size of the injury.
A bruise form falling mini-blinds isn't that big a deal. I can take care of it myself with an icepack and some ibuprofen. But a few years ago I broke a bone, and an icepack wasn't going to cut it. Turns out I needed surgery and pins to put me back together. After someone has hurt us emotionally, we need to acknowledge the extent of the injury. Sometimes a bar of chocolate will pull us through. Sometimes we need to play the Angry Game. And sometimes, after the Angry Game, we need the emotional equivalent of a good doctor.
Take a moment-- or lots of moments if you need-- to assess the size of the damage. Go ahead. Your computer isn't going anywhere. Neither is your life. Are you dealing with a band-aid injury? Or is this internal emotional bleeding? Be honest. Remember step 1? You can't get the right help if you're not realistic about how big the injury is.
4) Find treatment that matches the seriousness of the injury.
I hate surgery. No... that's not strong enough. I fear that I am incapable of living through surgery. I have a genetic problem with metabolizing medications, including anesthesia, which means, bluntly, that surgery really could kill me. I asked the doctors if I really NEEDED surgery and was told I could choose not to have it. But I would have a really hard time walking for the rest of my life. They helped me find the right hospital where specialists knew what to do with my weird metabolizing problems.
I was out of commission for a little while- so that I could be all-the-way in commission for the rest of my life.
For my emotional injuries, this means the kids and I have been in therapy. I tried several therapists, and some were like the general doctors who didn't know how to help me not die during surgery. So I switched around a few times till I found a therapist who understood what I was saying and helped me see the path to recovery. It's been hard! (The therapy, I mean. Although the switching was hard too.) She's made me look at, think about, and even talk about some really hard things. I've gone through a lot of tissues. But, just like with my broken bone being pinned back together, I'm getting better. The pain is easing. I think I'll be able to walk without crutches again soon. =)
4) Find a way to do something kind for the person who hurt you.
This could include...
a handshake without shooting death-beams into their eyes,
a note that says, "Hope You're Doing Well,"
including them in your prayers,
or saying something nice about them- however small- to someone else.
This is a big step. (Like all the others) And one I'm just beginning to explore. Sometimes I think of something nice I could say to my kids about my ex, and then think, "But what if I'm wrong? What if that thing he did, that looks nice right now, turns out to be manipulative and mean in some way I don't see yet." Heaven knows that's happened often enough. "Won't it just make it worse that I fell for it? Again?"
Still, I'm making a valiant attempt in my conversations to let a memory of something happy or silly come out, rather than burying it.
To say this is hard would be an understatement.
A memory pops into my head and I think, "He probably wasn't really being nice. There was some ulterior motive I just haven't discovered yet. Besides, if I mention HIM at all, it will only cause emotional pain for all of us."
But can that really be true? Do I want a family that has a huge chunk of our history we can't discuss? Do I want to let his choices decide what I can think and talk about?
No. I want to move on. I want to reclaim my life.
And as it turns out, along with occasional awkward silences, we can sometimes laugh about memories that include Dad. Sometimes I have to run in the bathroom and cry into a towel afterwards, catch my breath and wipe my eyes before returning to the family room. But sometimes I don't.
Sometimes it's ok to remember that there were happy times.
And that helps heal my heart.
Slowly. Slowly, from the inside out.