Temperamental Forgiveness

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Christine Hall's Blog, Front Page Featured

EVER NOTICE HOW DIFFERENTLY PEOPLE APPROACH, AVOID, OR “DO” FORGIVENESS? I care about this a lot because I accompany individuals and groups in spiritual growth. Because I want to help people get unstuck with the life-changing possibility of forgiveness. Because the patterns of our thinking, feeling and doing impact every aspect of our lives, including whether, how, and when we forgive.

My Pendle Hill pamphlet, Forgiveness: Freed to Love, offered as many “ways in” to the practice as I could imagine. Today, I’m reflecting further on the influence of our varied temperaments.

The Enneagram is my primary lens, though I won’t name Enneagram Types here (except my own), and you don’t have to know a thing about it. In this reflection, I seek to connect what we already know about our own personalities with our unique forgiveness experiences: Are you extroverted or introverted? A procrastinator or someone who does first things first? Leader or follower or outsider? A verbal processor? Confident public speaker, life of the party, self-aware or self-forgetting? Organized or scattered? More empathetic or intellectual…?

  • How does your personality influence your experience of forgiveness?


Patterns I’ve Noticed

Some people easily forgive others, but rarely themselves. The very thought surprises them. Some hold on to small ways they’ve been hurt for years, simmering with hidden resentment. They may not recognize how spiritually tangled they’ve become. Some rarely imagine they need forgiveness from others; they barge ahead without recognizing who they hurt along the way. Some people bolster a claim that forgiveness is irrelevant by jumping right to horrific violence, mass murderers, or massive societal wrongs. They easily bypass all the small personal invitations to forgive themselves and people close to them. Plus we have varied relationships to the past, maybe regretting and rehashing, or shrugging and not looking back. No doubt you can add to this list.

There don’t seem to be “right answers” for these varied approaches. In my Pendle Hill Pamphlet, I noted some misconceptions of forgiveness we can reframe with a spacious definition of “forgiveness as release into the Spirit” (p 2-4). Mostly, we do our best with who we are and our experiences of being hurt or hurting others.

The patterns above map interwoven psychological and the spiritual realities. Through it all, I trust that the Divine is present and moving with the entire package of our human condition. And I’ve seen and known something remarkable can happen when we turn toward the Spirit with the messes we make and suffer. There’s a faithful path to freedom from hurts and hurting. Forgiveness as release into the Holy opens a door.


Forgiveness Through Our Unique Lens

We don’t forgive in part because we’ve learned to cope that way. Our ego structures and experiences shape us. Our temperament helped us feel secure, gain approval, and know some sense of control over our own early lives. Until we realize these hidden patterns also constrain us, we’ll probably keep on keepin’ on with what’s familiar. At some point, we may realize we need to look at the shadows, then open them to transformation in the Divine.

I’ve not found anyone who’s writing on this (If you know of a resource, please tell me!). It’d be presumptuous and premature for me to make sweeping pronouncements about anyone else’s personality here. Besides, I suspect the intellectual exercise might remain heady; you could easily disengage with, “That’s not about me.” But the interplay of our self-awareness with our willingness and capacity to forgive does matter.


Contemplative Letting Go of Self

The contemporary contemplative practice called the Welcoming Prayer suggests a way forward with forgiveness. This practice can help us recognize inner friction, then invite us to “release our desire for security, affection, and control” into the Holy. If that doesn’t make you gulp, you might read it again. Those of you who honor Jesus’ Way may recognize a kind of “dying to self” (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35; John 3: 3-7). And it can feel like death! The Welcoming Prayer prompts a radical acceptance of our experience in the present moment. Like the release of forgiveness, the Spirit then frees us to better respond with love to the situation before us.

So the queries on forgiveness below align with the themes of the Welcoming Prayer. They probe how you might be holding tight to ego or self-limited forms of “security, affection, or control.” Your responses could point toward how your personality patterns influence giving or receiving forgiveness:

  • What happens when you don’t feel secure or safe in the moment? What scares you?
  • What drives you crazy about other people? Yourself?
  • How do you react when someone doesn’t like you or something you’ve done?
  • What are you believing about holding onto a hurt, about not forgiving? Is that real?
  • What about your personality are you willing to loosen your hold on? Being right? Being in charge? Being accepted? Being seen as successful or easy going? Avoiding pain or boredom?
  • How do your personality patterns help and hinder trust in Divine mercy, the foundation of forgiveness?

Imagine what freedom from these tangles would look like! God’s mercy is big enough for the mixed bag of our glories and failings. There’s too much judging within and between us these days. It’s okay to relax into the Spirit with all that’s wrong and hurting. The story of freedom in the Spirit shouts that when we collaborate with the Holy One, Good can come through our messes.


Inner Explosions

We’re all so different. What gets under my skin might slide right off yours. Cluster bombs explode within me when someone doesn’t like something I’ve done. Outwardly, I’ll probably be backing up and hiding out.

My habitual cycles of thought and emotion depend mightily on others’ approval. But facing disapproval, I’ll easily default to “something’s wrong with me.” My ministry colleagues tell me I get more affirmation than anyone they know, yet I quickly forget it. The accumulation rarely feels like “enough.” It’s hard for me to notice when I’m being just mean to myself by rehashing and over-emphasizing the negative responses to my efforts.

Imagine me squirming in my seat with embarrassment. That’s what it’s like to recognize how our temperament shapes our experiences of hurt and forgiveness. Mostly I’m a grown up; if you don’t like something about this post, I can take it because I’m leaning into Divine Compassion. I recognize this seriously dense shadow of my personality. Yet I still experience shocking inner explosions.

Some years ago, I was deeply hurt when several members of a retreat group told me how I could improve a presentation. Even recalling the situation now, I’m tempted to add some drama: “They conspired,” “…were rebellious,” or “I was devastated.” It took me days to process with loving listeners and prayer. Weeks later I still wanted to “fire” the group and walk away (maybe run) from their critique and never meet with them again. What they said doesn’t really matter, just so you can track my immense self-absorption and unhealthy need for their approval. Bleaaaghck.

My Pendle Hill pamphlet notes the trouble I have with self-forgiveness. With that retreat group, I needed to forgive them as well as myself. Forgiveness required sorting my part in my pain and their contribution (not really proportional). I didn’t know Enneagram wisdom then, but WOW is it helpful looking back. Unhealthy Type Four patterns are all over the place. I “took it personally”—made it about who I am, my worth or value. Really, it was more like a mis-match of teaching style and group’s needs that weekend. They had no desire to harm me. Reliving the experience in mind and heart amplified my suffering. I finished the retreat gracefully, but crashed afterward.

The good news is that forgiveness did free me. I let go of my “defects,” and allowed myself to be a less than ideal facilitator for that group at that time. I released the group from my dramatic judgements of their words and actions, trusting the Spirit to give them what they needed. Good praying friends helped me heal, and the Holy One repaired the gouges in me.

I never told the group how hurt I’d been because it really wasn’t about them. And God really did ease my suffering. I really did meet with those same folks again, and moved forward in faithful, loving service. I can look back on that situation with chagrin, but not shame. I’m not pulled back into an inner narrative of failure or worthlessness. Plus, I did grow a bit more mature in ministry.


So What?

That’s the wild ride of forgiveness, in relatively benign circumstances, for someone with big emotionality and a nasty inner critic. Your patterns may or may not echo mine. The point is that our sense of ourselves influences what and how we forgive. If something here sparks recognition, or a new thought about yourself and forgiveness-as-release into God, I’m grateful. If new questions rise as you navigate your own situations and relationships in coming days, I’m thrilled. Please tend them with the Spirit.

In hope and trust,


  • The Pendle Hill Pamphlet, Forgiveness: Freed to Love is available here.
  • Forgiveness On Retreat, July 31-Aug 3 in Union, Washington, on Hood Canal near Tacoma: Six individual rooms remain in the lodge-style retreat house. Don’t wait to apply. Explore this powerful tool in supportive, prayerful community. Christine Hall, facilitator. Fee: $775 for three nights’ lodging, meals, and program. Applications close July 15th: Forgiveness Retreat Details