This post is Part 5 in an 8-part blog series on forgiveness. (If you missed the first post, you can find it here.)
In Part 5, I want to talk to you about empathizing with the person who hurt you.
Usually when we get hurt, we tend to see things from our perspective only. This is natural. When we are in pain, it is difficult to see things from the other person’s point of view.
However, research on forgiveness has shown that one of the strongest predictors of forgiveness is empathy for the person who hurt you. Empathy means being able to see things from the other person’s perspective, and to feel what it must have been like to be in that person’s shoes.
Empathy is difficult. But if I had to pick out one best thing that helps people work toward forgiveness, empathy would be it.
I’d like to offer one exercise to help you start to develop empathy for the person who hurt you. The exercise is called the 5 P’s, and it can help you understand what might have been going on in the life of the person who hurt you.
Take out a sheet of paper, and journal about the following questions:
- Pressures: When the person hurt you, what external pressures might he or she have been feeling? Was there anything going on in the person’s life that was out of the ordinary? Was the person not feeling well? Did the person have a lot on his or her plate? Was the person struggling at work? Did the person have a high level of stress during that time? By journaling about pressures, you aren’t excusing what the person did, and you aren’t saying it was okay. But you are trying to understand the outside factors that might have contributed to what happened.
- Past: Did anything happen in this person’s past that may have contributed to what the person did to hurt you? What was this person’s family like growing up? Did the person have a loving family that modeled how to treat others well, or were there things that were missed in his or her growing-up years? Did the person experience any traumatic events or struggles growing up that might have contributed to what the person did to hurt you?
- Personality: Some people have natural tendencies toward certain ways of being that make it more likely to engage in certain behaviors. Think about the person who hurt you. Are there aspects of his or her personality that contributed to what the person did? Again, we aren’t trying to make up an excuse for the person. We are just trying to understand the context around what happened.
- Provocation: Did you do anything that contributed to the problem or what happened? We have to be careful with this one. In certain instances, such as when an individual is the victim of abuse, the abuse is not okay whatever the circumstances. However, in other situations, relationships often are characterized by a series of hurts from both parties. You may be focused on how you were hurt or offended against, but this ‘P’ encourages you to explore your role in what happened.
- Plans: What do you think the other person was thinking when he or she hurt you? In general, most individuals don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I think I will go and hurt someone terribly. I think I will ruin a relationship today.” Can you think of any possible good intentions the other person may have had when he or she hurt you? What was the person trying to accomplish?
Sometimes, especially for severe offenses, it might be difficult or impossible to experience empathy for the person who hurt you. In these cases, feeling sympathy for the person who hurt you might be something to work toward. Sympathy means ‘feeling sorry for.’ You can ask yourself questions such as, “Are there any reasons to feel sorry for the person who hurt you?” “Does he or she need forgiveness? From God? From You?” “Do you feel any sorrow on behalf of the person who hurt you?”
Action Step: Try to work through the 5 P’s regarding the person you are trying to forgive. Did this exercise help you to better understand the person who hurt you? What are the roadblocks you experience when working toward feeling empathy for the person who hurt you?