Mediation and the Healing Journey Toward Forgiveness
by Janet P. Schmidt
Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Mediation and the Healing Journey Toward Forgiveness." In Conciliation Quarterly, 14:3 (Summer 1995), pp.2-4.
The main theme of the article is the process of forgiveness and the role mediators play in this healing journey. The author describes the healing process from tow point of view: the victims' journey and the offenders' journey. Each journey follows a set of stages, although this is not necessarily a linear process: the stages might overlap, repeat or follow in different order.
In the victims' journey the first step is usually denial. Victims try to minimize the offense and look for what they did wrong to cause it. Mediation does not usually happen at this stage, but even if it does, it is not effective. Victims quickly accept an apology and the offenders do not experience much guilt and might repeat the offense. The next four stages the author adapts from Lewis B. Smedes' book, Forgive and Forget. The second stage is hurting. The victims acknowledge the offense and feel the pain. The victims will easily agree to meet with offenders during the mediation session, but only because they feel that an apology will bring a release from the emotional distress. Anger is the next step on the way to forgiveness. The victims realize the harm that the offense imposed upon them. The suggestion for mediators is to be patient and allow not just one meeting, but two or more to let the victim(s) analyze the information and move beyond the anger stage. The intervenor should understand the destructive force of the victims' anger against the offenders, but encourage the anger against the offense.
Overcoming the feelings of hostility and displeasure, the victim(s) will want to gain a better understanding of why the event happened. They will ask for some kind of compensation and will want a promise that the event will not happen again. This is the stage where the offense does not control their behavior any longer and they might grant their forgiveness conscientiously. This is the best time for mediation. Not always possible, reconciliation between victims and offenders does happen and marks the transformation of their relationships, moving them to a higher level of trust.
As with the victims, the offense has control over the offenders' lives as well. Thus offenders, too, must go through a healing process. The offenders' first stage is denial. Mediation can be harmful for the victims at this stage, since the offenders do not acknowledge their wrongdoings. However, the transition to the next stage might take years, or may never happen. When progress is made, the second stage, remorse, begins. The offenders admit their deeds but tend to concentrate on the circumstances that "led" them to commit the offense. They are looking for excuses. The role of the mediator is to encourage them to listen the victims' stories. Repentance happens when the offenders fully recognize the harm they have done and experience pain from the victims' suffering. Mediators should strive to bring offenders to that stage. The healing process will be successful when the offender authentically asks for forgiveness.
The healing journey does not end with mediation. Another event could bring the pain back, which will again need healing. Mediators should support the parties in going through the whole process, up to its final stages. Only in this way are true personal transformation and growth possible.