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Forgiveness In Its Place

What does forgiveness mean to you? What can it do for you?
The focus here is on the forgiver

Presenter: Carrie Freitag

Workshop Themes

This workshop explores forgiveness as a tool of healing rather than a moral mandate. Personal, spiritual, and cultural beliefs about forgiveness vary greatly and conflicts both internal and external are common in the aftermath of murder. Forgiveness is ALWAYS at the discretion of the individual survivor and no one else. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It can't be rushed. It can't be feigned.

Embracing the spirit of forgiveness does not require that survivors make a judgment about whether the murderer is worthy or not worthy of being forgiven. None of us have the power to look into the heart of someone else and know for sure whether redemption and remorse are real or whether forgiveness is deserved.

Forgiveness doesn't mean the murder is o.k. with us. It doesn't mean forgetting what happened to our loved ones. You will never forget. Forgetting is a passive act largely outside of our control. Forgiving is a conscious choice to stop reminding ourselves continually of the ways we have been hurt and betrayed by others, so that WE don't have to repeatedly endure the emotional pain that comes with these thoughts.

Although some forms of forgiveness do pertain to the murderer, there are many forms of forgiveness that do not pertain to the murderer at all. If you forgive yourself and forgive for yourself first, your motives and expectations about forgiveness will be much clearer.

For further detail on the insights and perspectives covered in this workshop, please see the attached Chapter, "Forgiveness and Redemption" from Aftermath: In The Wake Of Murder.

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Presentation Format and Activities

This workshop will utilize several one-on-one and group discussions to explore the topic. Sample topics for discussion activities:

  • What values do you have about forgiveness? Are these values religious, cultural, or personal in origin?
  • Have your values about forgiveness changed or come into conflict since your loved one's murder?
  • What are some of the specific messages about forgiveness you have heard from others (ie. friends, family, clergy, etc) in relation to your loved one's murder? How did you react to these messages?

Workshop Length

90 minutes


No AV equipment needed. Handouts will be used.

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Forgiveness and Redemption

(Chapter 10 from Aftermath: In The Wake Of Murder)

Just because your loved one was murdered, doesn't mean that forgiveness and redemption of a murderer has to become one of your life's missions. There are others to carry out this calling. If you are one of them, you will hear the calling and discover what you need to do. Embracing the spirit of forgiveness does not require that we make a judgment about whether the murderer is worthy or not worthy of being forgiven. It does not require that we make a direct declaration of forgiveness to the murderer. We do not have to utter the words, "I forgive you." There is no sin in turning the responsibility of forgiveness over to a higher power. That's what Jesus did on the cross. He did not reassure his slayers that they were forgiven. He turned it over to his Father, God. He shouted, "FATHER, forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus was right, they know not what they do. If the murderer had the capacity to fully comprehend and care about the trauma, grief, and pain they inflicted, it would have been impossible for them to commit the murder to begin with. It is not the survivor's job to help the murderer develop this capacity, unless you have a compelling reason or drive to make it your job. In most instances, the victim's survivors are simply too close to the pain and the loss to assume the role of spiritual mentor to the murderer.

None of us have the power to look into the heart of someone else and know for sure whether redemption and remorse is real or whether forgiveness is deserved. Most murderers are masters of deception and manipulation, and their evil thrives on the trust and forgiveness of naive and innocent people. Forgiving those who don't deserve it, haven't asked for it, and repeatedly betray it, is throwing one of God's greatest gifts into the sewer. If a murderer is truly committed to walking the path of redemption, and experiencing the pain that true compassion and remorse would entail for them, they will walk it with or without your forgiveness. The murderer's redemption doesn't have to involve you unless you want it to.

Most murder victim survivors at least once during their healing journey are called upon to contemplate forgiveness of the murderer. The impetus sometimes comes from our heart, sometimes from our spiritual beliefs, and other times from the suggestion of another person. Some survivors believe that forgiveness is between them and the murderer, some believe it's between the victim and the murderer, and others believe it's between the murderer and their own higher power. Either way, forgiveness definitely has its place. When placed deservingly, it can be a new beginning. It can be peace. When placed undeservingly, it becomes an opportunity for cruel people to hurt more people.

Forgiveness can be a healing tool, but it can also be hurtful if we demand it of ourselves unconditionally as if it were an obligation to the murderer. The power and meaning of forgiveness is diminished when it is treated as an a decision or event instead of a process, or a moral mandate instead of something that the offender requests and the offended considers. Consideration of forgiveness may entail a deep exploration of the murderer's circumstances, acts of restitution, feelings, and beliefs, or it may entail words such as, "Go to hell!", flying out of the survivor's mouth quicker than projectile vomit. Both reactions are understandable. Both reactions are respectable.

If you choose not to forgive the murderer, there will always be people to tell you that you are wrong. You might hear things like..... "You have to forgive him to save your own soul...... It even says in the Bible, we should forgive... You have given yourself up to vengeance..... Your pain won't go away until you forgive.... Try to have some compassion for what makes a person grow up to be a killer..... But she is not the same woman that killed your son. 5 years in prison has changed herů.. He says he's sorry. Can't you just forgive.... Your forgiveness will help inspire him to find God. How can that be bad?" If you choose to forgive the murderer, there will always be people to tell you that you shouldn't have. You might hear things like..... "If it had been my sister that was strangled, I would have stood up to the bastard and shown him what it's liked to be choked to death....... You've crossed the line from martyrdom to idiocy.... Any self respecting individual would never forgive the killer of their child..... Your bleeding heart loves the murderer more than your own child......" You might even catch yourself thinking some of these things yourself. Dismiss the judgments and criticisms. They can only whittle away at your self-esteem, making it harder for you to clearly consider the process of forgiveness and whether it is a road that you need to take. There are valid reasons for choosing to forgive or not to forgive. Your forgiveness is at your discretion and no one else's. Forgiveness is meaningless if it is not sincerely felt. Some survivors sincerely want to forgive, but sincerely cannot.

Some survivors choose to forgive not for the murderer, but for themselves. They believe forgiving will release them from the emotional pain. Murder leaves some survivors feeling so betrayed they can no longer trust any of their fellow human beings. Murder leaves some survivors with such an overwhelming sense of loss, they find they can no longer give, or they resent the gifts, celebrations, and rites of passage of others. It's hard to celebrate the birth or wedding of someone else's child when you are intensely grieving the loss of your own. Grief and murder can leave survivors with such an intense case of could've, should've, would've, that they cannot free themselves of guilt and self blame, and they begin to see everything in life in terms of what should happen. They loose tolerance for the innocent mistakes of others. Murder leaves some survivors with such rage, that they feel angry all the time. These are all signs that we are holding on to something that is hurting us and possibly others. Forgiveness can be an incredibly powerful means of letting go of this pain, but it is not the sole means. If you are exploring forgiveness as part of your healing, and get stuck, it could mean that forgiving is not the best way to help yourself at this time.

Some survivors believe that if they go to the core of their pain, and forgive, all the pain will go away. So they seek out the murderer and make that desperate leap off the cliff into forgiveness, not knowing for certain whether they will reach the other side or what they will find if they do. Some find that forgiving the murderer did soften their anger and rage and brought them the peace they needed to reclaim their own lives. Others find themselves disillusioned because the magic words, "I forgive you.", did not end the pain. While others find themselves frozen at the cliff's edge too afraid or too angry to jump, asking themselves, "If I can't forgive, what hope of finding peace do I have? And , if I place my faith in my forgiveness, and later discover that my forgiveness has fallen prey to an insincere apology, what hope will I have of ever trusting my forgiving nature again?"

Forgiving doesn't necessarily have to entail the murderer apologizing, and the survivor accepting the apology with words of forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn't mean that murder is o.k. with us. It doesn't mean the murderer is o.k. with us. It doesn't mean forgetting what happened to our loved ones. You will never forget. Forgetting is a passive act largely outside of our control. Forgiving is a conscious choice not to continually remind ourselves of the ways we have been hurt and betrayed by others, so that WE don't have to repeatedly endure the emotional pain that comes with these thoughts. Forgiveness of this variety is not an all or nothing process. It can't be rushed. It can't be feigned. It is simply a choice to try to change the emotional energy we bask in every day. If we pre-occupy our emotions by recounting our past hurts, losses, and betrayals over and over and over again, there will be less energy left to count the blessings that come our way each day. We are at risk for developing very bad attitudes, not just toward the murderer, but towards life in general. It is hard not pre-occupy ourselves with the murderer's betrayals and violations of humanity. Our loved ones absence from this Earth is a constant reminder. Our grief is a constant reminder. Many survivors find that turning over the matter of forgiveness to God helps them accomplish the goal of choosing not to repeatedly remind ourselves of what the murderer deserves and why. From the survivor's standpoint, the murderer has very little to do with the process. The well being of the forgiver is the focus here.

Forgiving the murderer isn't a pre-requisite to healing, and it is certainly not the only aspect of forgiveness worth exploring. Sometimes the key to healing is doing just the opposite of forgiving the murderer, and instead placing every drop of blame and anger for your loved one's murder squarely on the shoulders of the killer, so you can first and foremost forgive yourself, forgive the rest of the world, and forgive God for not preventing the murder. We may even need to forgive our loved ones for falling victim to violence, for being too nice, for not taking heed and leaving the gate open for evil to walk in and steal their life. Doesn't it make sense to start your journey of forgiveness with those who bear the least responsibility for your loved one's death instead of the most? Taking forgiveness this far is sometimes far enough for survivors to find the peace that was stolen by the murderer.

Sometimes we try to take the journey of forgiveness backwards, from those most responsible to least responsible, because of our guilt and fear. We forgive those we fear in hopes that our gift will soothe the killer's violence and put it to sleep. It's like the abused child who shows the abusing parent more love than the non-abusing parent in hopes that their love and favor will somehow stop the abuse. Sometimes we forgive the killer to try to relieve our own sense of guilt. We rationalize that if we can forgive the unforgivable, then it will be easier to forgive ourselves. Sometimes we contemplate forgiveness simply because it is the only thing in the whole damn situation that we have control over, and sometimes we withhold forgiveness for the very same reason. If you do choose to forgive, it is important to sort out your feelings about yourself from your feelings about the murderer and to be clear about why you are forgiving. If you forgive yourself and forgive for yourself first, your motives and expectations will be much clearer to you.

Many want to forgive because they believe that God asks us to, and when they find that they can't without betraying their honesty and sincerity, they are thrust into a spiritual catch 22. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The Lord's Prayer does not say we have to forgive all wrongs that are done to us. It expresses the need to balance our shortcomings, our compassion, and our willingness to forgive. It is asking us to make the leap from understanding ourselves to understanding others and back again. If I want to be forgiven for stepping on your toe, then I should be willing to muster up the understanding to forgive someone else for stepping on mine. Likewise, if I forgive you of murder, then I can hope for my own soul to be forgiven if I ever commit murder. Many survivors are quite comfortable living without this assurance. Their moral revulsion to murder makes it unlikely if not impossible for them to commit such a deep violation of life. You don't have to reconcile your values and humanity with those of a heartless killer, especially if it means weaving something into your soul's fabric that doesn't seem to belong there. Sometimes we are spiritually better off not to understand the compulsions of evil that lure a person to kill. Sometimes it is best to merely be aware that such cruelty exists without trying to understand it.

Some survivors consider forgiveness because the murderer apologizes to them and asks for it. Some find comfort in the apology and others find it to be just another emotional dilemma to deal with. When you consider the magnitude of loss that murder entails, the words, "I'm sorry." just echo with emptiness. Not because the apology is or isn't sincere, but because the words are not much different than the ones used by a kid apologizing for breaking a window with a baseball. I don't know if our language has words of apology that go deep enough to reach the depth of violation we experience when someone is murdered. Survivors also may have difficulty trusting the sincerity of the apology. Sometimes convincing others of their remorse is nothing more than another manipulative power trip for the murderer. Is it real, or is it just something the murderer wants to present at the next parole hearing as evidence of their rehabilitation? Or, something to brag about to their cell mate? Am I supposed to accept the apology, and if I do, what does it mean? The position of receiving an apology is an emotional burden, you don't have to carry. You can ignore the apology until you feel ready to respond, or you can say, "Apology accepted", "not accepted", or "Good for you, but it changes nothing for me." If the apology is sincere, God and they will know and feel the difference for it. If the apology isn't sincere, well surprise, surprise, God and they will know the difference. It doesn't have to involve the survivors at all.

Sometimes survivors choose to forgive because there are circumstances that make forgiveness more worthwhile and important to the survivor to pursue. Sometimes the murderer is someone who we once knew, loved, and respected, or a member of our own family, such as a child that killed their own sibling, or a father who killed the mother of his children. The survivor embarks on the path of forgiveness and redemption with the murderer because they believe it is their duty, or to bring peace to their family, or to help resolve the great emotional conflicts that stem from hating the murderer for what they did, but still loving them anyhow for who they are. Or perhaps the survivor believes that if they help save the murderer's soul, it will help bring positive meaning to their loved one's death. Sometimes we choose to forgive because we truly believe the murderer never intended to kill, but rather made some bad choices that resulted in a tragic outcome that they too felt traumatized and horrified by. Sometimes the murderer is sick or mentally ill. Sometimes we choose to forgive because the murderer has said the right words and done the right things to make us want to forgive. Sometimes even when we want to forgive, the best we can muster is to dissect the murderer and dissect ourselves so that the best of ourselves can forgive the best of them.

Forgiveness involves a whole spectrum of feelings, beliefs, words, and actions. We can explore some of them, all of them, or none of them. It is much healthier to admit to and deal with our inability to forgive than to pretend. If you do forgive and it brings you peace, celebrate it and feel good about yourself. If you cannot forgive, don't want to forgive, and don't see where trying to will bring you any peace or benefit, it simply means that forgiveness of the murderer will not be part of your journey. Peace and healing are not contingent upon you forgiving the murderer. There are many other ways to heal.

Many survivors believe that their burning desire for the murderer to feel the pain they created is at odds with the process of forgiveness. "How can I forgive, when all I want is for the murderer to hurt, hurt like their victim hurt, hurt like the victim's parents hurt, hurt like the victims brothers and sisters hurt, hurt like the victim's child, or best friend hurt?" If we look spiritually at the process of forgiveness, we will see that pain and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. Since the pain that the murder created extends far beyond mere physical pain and into the emotional and spiritual realms, it takes more than physical acts to inflict upon the murderer all the pain they created by taking a life. God's forgiveness is not unconditional. Sincere repentance is required. Sincere repentance requires compassion and a conscience. When we hurt others, our conscience hurts us. A conscience is the only thing that can bring the murderer to fully feel the pain they created. Some survivors, rather than struggling with whether or not to forgive the murderer, turn the issue over to their higher power and pray that the murderer be blessed with a conscience, knowing this will hurt worse than anything they could ever do to the murderer. There are some survivors that go even a step further, and pray that not only the murderer be blessed with a conscience but that they find the strength to endure the pain that conscience brings long enough to follow it all the way to salvation.

The murderer's redemption is not dependent on your forgiveness. There are organizations and individuals whose mission is to help violent offenders develop compassion and pursue restitution and redemption. If the murderer really does make it through that journey of remorse, and feels all the pain they created, GOOD. Their sorry souls will need it. It would be a victory for humanity if every murderer were able to kill the monster within to save the best of themselves. Ultimately, redemption does help make our world a safer, more peaceful place. However, most survivors are too hurt by the losses inflicted by the murderer to celebrate their discovery of a conscience or validate the pain of their remorse.

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Letting Go Of Despair

Presenters: Carrie Freitag and Margaret Kerouac

Workshop Themes

There is nothing complicated about despair. It is simply misery without hope. Despair is a normal emotional response to loss and experiences of powerlessness, and it has the potential of growing into a chronic self-perpetuating state of being. Beyond this, the only thing anyone really needs to know about despair is how to let go of it.

Despair comes upon us without asking, just as the murders of our loved ones did, but despair does not really hold onto us, we hold onto to it. Reclaiming your life from despair is not about fighting and defending yourself from sadness, but rather about letting go and letting in- letting go of what hurts and letting in what heals.

This workshop will present and explore strategies for letting go of despair and offer insights intended to inspire and empower survivors to overcome despair.

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Special Attention Will Be Devoted To The Following Topics

Overcoming unrealistic social expectations about grief
Viewing grief as an act of love for the dead and letting yourself grieve fully
Viewing healing as an act of love for the living and letting yourself heal
What does healing really mean?
Lack of will and lack of energy
Understanding and re-investing in hope
Mindfulness (noticing the world around us) as a healing tool
Imagery and guided visualizations as a healing tool
Learning as a healing tool
Creativity and nurturing as a healing tool
Smiling and laughing as healing tool

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Presentation Format and Activities

Presentation will walk through topics using examples offered by workshop participants to illustrate the healing issues being explored. Workshop will also include one or more guided visualizations/meditations to illustrate the use of positive imagery as a healing tool.

Workshop Length

90 minutes


No AV equipment needed.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
In The Aftermath Of Murder

PTSD in survivors of homicide victims often goes unrecognized and untreated. The impact of secondary traumatization and secondary victimization is commonly misunderstood or minimized, especially when survivors did not witness the traumatizing event. Symptoms of PTSD may further be masked by aspects of the grieving process. This workshop offers participants information, perspectives, and tools to better recognize and treat PTSD in homicide survivors.

When survivors understand the traumas and conflicts they face, they feel more in control, and less likely to be thrown repeatedly into crisis every time a new issue or aspect of their tragedy arises. Unfortunately, homicide survivors encounter a deficit of information and resources because our society entertains with murder more than it educates about murder. Consequently, survivors seeking help often encounter further disillusionment and isolation instead. This workshop introduces participants to the breadth and intensity of issues that survivors of homicide victims face in the aftermath of murder.

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Special Attention Will Be Devoted To The Following Topics

Secondary victimization and re-traumatization
Impact of murder on family and social relationships
Managing fear when the illusion of safety has been pierced
Understanding and re-establishing trust
Expressing rage without violence
Survivors' guilt and self esteem
Letting go of despair without denying grief

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Trust and Secondary Victimization
Among Survivors Of Murder Victims

All forms of betrayal are trust violations. Murder is the ultimate betrayal. Post crime victims are required to trust a system the moment after they have been subjected to their life's greatest betrayal. In six major categories and several subsets beneath each major category, the workshop will explore all the areas of trust that have been violated by any form of traumatic events.

One of the major issues victims have to resolve to become survivors is trust. If the therapist is not aware of the multiple forms of trust issues violated, then the therapist will be ineffective or remiss in areas never treated. For example, a victim of childhood sexual abuse learns to distrust adults, distrust love, distrust their own body because bad touches may have felt good, distrust the community's ability to bare their burden, distrust the lawyers representing the perpetrator, and so on. Attendees will receive a therapeutic checklist helping them to identify many forms of trust violations that can co-occur.

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Rage Without Violence:
Helping Survivors Of Homicide Manage Anger

Many murder victim survivors experience thoughts, impulses, and fantasies about retaliating violently against the murderer that took their loved ones lives. This is the most frightening aspect of a survivor's rage. Anger and rage also manifest in many other more subtle ways. The normal anger of grief, compounded by anger about the cruel and murderous act itself, compounded by the frustrations and failures of justice, together can brew a bitterness and fuel a rage capable of devouring entire lives and relationships. This workshop offers participants information, perspectives, and tools to help homicide survivors cope with anger and rage.

Transitioning from perpetrator-focused coping strategies to survivor-focused strategies will be emphasized as a central theme in harnessing rage and channeling anger constructively.

Special Attention Will Be Devoted To The Following Topics

Rage as a natural survival response normal to the homicide survivor's circumstances
Beneath the rage- understanding rage as a reaction to fear, grief, and powerlessness
The cost of unmanaged anger
Understanding homicidal and suicidal fantasies
Getting the poison out! Expressing rage without violence
The role of validation in diffusing anger
Acceptance that sacred human rules, values, and moral beliefs can be broken

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