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Forgive and forget? It's not that easy, but worth it

A business partner double-crosses you, leaving you in bankruptcy court.

Your spouse is having an affair.

Your best friend betrays a confidence.

Can you ever forgive them?

The real question is: Do you want to?

Most of us are capable of forgiving even grievous offenses, experts say, but it's a matter of choice.

"If you don't believe something is forgivable, you're not going to try," says Shauna Laughna, a licensed psychologist in Winter Park.

"If you came from a critical, harsh background where you were faulted for a lot of things, you're likely to grow up to become a fairly self-critical person," Laughna explains. "People who are self-critical and unforgiving of themselves tend to be very critical and unforgiving of others."

Temperament plays a role, too, Laughna says.

Sensitive people are going to be hurt more often, she notes, so the issue of forgiveness will loom larger in their lives. The more easygoing person is harder to hurt and thus has less occasion to practice forgiveness.

Religious faith is a huge factor in the ability to forgive. For evidence of its power, one need look no farther than Lake County.

Dorothy Reid Lewis and her two children were abducted from a Eustis grocery store parking lot on Jan. 30, 1993. Lewis was raped, shot four times and left for dead. Jasmine, 3, and Jamilya, 7, were shot and killed.

Their abductors, Richard Henyard Jr., then 18, and Alfonza Smalls Jr., then 14, were convicted of murder. Henyard is on death row; Smalls is serving eight consecutive life sentences.

And Lewis says she has forgiven them.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel in 1994, Lewis said she doesn't hate Henyard and Smalls and feels no anger toward them. And she attributes her attitude to having put herself in God's hands.

Laughna says that "a spiritual framework often provides you with some wisdom and strength that's difficult to find otherwise."

If forgiving is good for the soul, it's also good for the body.

"Any time you stew in a lot of hatred, it can have a wide range of effects," Laughna says, including sleep and appetite disturbances, anger, hostility, high-blood pressure, ulcers, headaches, rashes and fatigue.

Despite the advantages of forgiveness, many of us would rather chuck a relationship with a relative, friend or spouse than do the hard work of giving up resentment.

"Living in a throwaway age, we have become accustomed to getting rid of that which is no longer functioning properly," writes Charles Klein in How To Forgive When You Can't Forget (Liebling Press Inc., $18.95). "We believe it's simpler and more convenient to replace than it is to repair."

Klein, a rabbi, says many people assume they must forget in order to forgive. Not so.

"Few of us ever can fully forget the wrongs which have been done to us," he writes. "Forgiveness is knowing that something happened which made us furious and then deciding, in spite of everything, to deny anger its power."

In Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve (Harper & Row, 1984, $5.50), Lewis B. Smedes says forgiving happens in four stages: hurt, hate, healing and reconciliation.

"When somebody causes you pain so deep and unfair that you cannot forget it, you are pushed into the first stage of the crisis of forgiving," Smedes says.

In the second stage, "you cannot shake the memory of how much you were hurt and you cannot wish your enemy well," writes Smedes, a former theology professor.

It's not until the third stage that you develop the ability to see the person who hurt you with new eyes _ as a frail, fallible, human being, Smedes writes.

But with reconciliation comes some hard truths.

"To be able to forgive, we must have the guts to look hard at the wrongness, the horridness, the sheer wickedness of what somebody did to us," Smedes writes. "We cannot camouflage; we cannot excuse; we cannot ignore. We eye the evil face to face and we call it what it is. Only realists can be forgivers."

And reconciliations don't always have happy endings, Smedes points out.

Sometimes the couple torn apart by adultery will divorce. But forgiveness can lead to civility and to peace between them, if nothing else.

In some situations, there can be no reconciliation; the wrongdoers couldn't care less that you forgive them.

Don't let that deter you, Smedes says.

"If you cannot free people from their wrongs and see them as the needy people they are, you enslave yourself to your own painful past, and by fastening yourself to the past, you let your hate become your future."