Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves
Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves: Understanding & Healing Our Emotional Wounds
by Myra Warren Isenhart and Michael Spangle
Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2015
Reviewed by Monique CM Keffer, MA
Johns Hopkins Medicine reports, “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.” These facts are more than encouraging, but the problem remains that many find it difficult to forgive themselves and others. In regards to forgiveness and the ministry of spiritual direction, oftentimes people seek a compassionate listener when struggling with a wrongdoing they have suffered or perpetrated. Therefore, it is a topic a spiritual director encounters frequently. To help facilitate that spiritual direction process, one would do well to turn to Myra Warren Isenhart and Michael Spangle’s book Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves: Understanding & Healing Our Emotional Wounds, as it assists seekers in receiving the healing that only forgiveness can provide.
Without a doubt, Isenhart and Spangle are experts in their fields. They work as teachers, writers, researchers, and consultants to improve and facilitate negotiation, communication, and mediation. Combining quotes, supporting interdisciplinary evidence, and the data from their studies, Isenhart and Spangle’s Forgiving Others is astoundingly thorough. Some of forgiveness’s aspects explored include its multifaceted definition, benefits, and processes, examinations of possible resistance to its practice, self-forgiveness, apologies, and reconciliation.
The book provides a backdrop of knowledge about what the authors call the three “perspectives” of forgiveness: psychological, relational, and spiritual. Of particular interest for spiritual directors is Chapter 11, “Helping Others Forgive.” Of course spiritual directors should never push directees to forgive or seek forgiveness if she is not ready or able. Rather, the book warns people in third-party roles like spiritual directors—they specifically refer to therapists and clergy—to use caution, advising that sometimes these third-party persons should first help with “building up another’s self-respect or encouraging the healthy expression of anger …” (123–24). Among other awareness-broadening information, the chapter includes insightful ideas for questions that, if Spirit so prompts, a listener might ask someone struggling with forgiveness.
Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves: Understanding & Healing Our Emotional Wounds aids spiritual directors, directees, and indeed all people through one of the most difficult processes human beings face. This experience of forgiveness is at times filled with pain, sometimes filled with joy, but as spiritual directors who have seen it in a spiritual direction session know, it is always filled with grace.
Monique CM Keffer, MA, is a writer, spiritual director, and teacher in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction training program in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.