My husband is hesitant to forgive because he says he does not want to act as if the problem (with his brother) never happened.  Do you have some advice for me?

It may help if your husband realizes that forgiveness and justice exist together.  One can and should seek justice, and in my view, the quest for justice works well once a person already has forgiven.  At the same time, once people forgive, they do not want to keep bringing up what happened. There is a tendency toward moving on.  Thus, your husband, if he forgives, will not want to keep bringing up the injustice and, in all likelihood, he will want to leave it in the past.

Can the Essence of Forgiveness Ever Be Altered?

Suppose that over time, a culture began to see forgiveness as simply moving on with a sense of tolerance. Have the people in that culture then changed what forgiveness is? After all, the current thinking in psychology and philosophy is that forgiveness is a moral virtue of goodness toward those who have been unjust.

I think it is impossible to alter the essence of forgiveness, no matter what happens in a particular culture or in a particular historical moment. We could, I suppose, see forgiveness as a relative concept, flexible in its meaning depending on the consensus of a group at a certain point in time, but that would be to invite error.

Here is what I mean: To label forgiveness as “moving on with a sense of tolerance” will mean that forgiveness is now equated with other terms, such as acquiescence and, as part of this definition, tolerance. Yet, forgiveness never gives in or acquiesces to wrong doing, but instead labels the wrong as wrong. Forgiveness never tolerates injustice but instead labels the injustice as unjust.

When it appears that a given group is defining forgiveness in an odd way, ask yourself this question: What else might this definition represent other than forgiveness? If you come up with a sound answer, then I urge you to stand firm in the truth of what forgiveness is, despite protests and even ad hominem attacks on you as a person.

Forgiveness is what it has been, what it is currently, and what it will be long after each one of us reading this post is gone from this world.

Robert

 

I have started the forgiveness process, stopped, begun again, and stopped again.  I am feeling guilty for not just following through and finishing the job of forgiveness.  What do you think?

We have to keep in mind that the forgiveness process is not the same as taking a journey in the car from point A to point B in the next 20 minutes.  Forgiveness takes time, sometimes months.  People need to take breaks to refresh.  There is nothing wrong with taking your time and sometimes stopping.  For how long do you stop?  If you stop, say, for months at a time, then you might benefit from asking yourself if there is something getting in your way of forgiving.  Are you afraid of forgiving?  Are you simply distracted by life’s tasks?  If so, then you might consider setting aside a certain amount of time each day or every other day to do the work of forgiving.  Try to ascertain the reason for the stopping: the need for temporary refreshment, fear, discipline?

What is the most difficult unit of your 20 forgiveness units?

Research has shown that the initial decision to forgive is the hardest because it includes change and change can be a challenge.  By change I mean this:  The forgiver now has to start a journey, one that may not be familiar for the one who just made the decision to forgive.  Those who decide to forgive know that they are committing to some hard psychological work.  The decision, while difficult, involves courage.

Criticisms of Forgiveness: Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Offender

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.

We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

You probably have heard the expression, “No pain….no gain.”  I sometimes wonder if forgiving, which reduces pain, gets in the way of growth.

The expression “no pain….no gain” does not imply that one must be in constant pain to grow as a person.  In weightlifting, for example, the pain is temporary for more long-term growth of muscles and strength.  I think it is similar for a person’s psychology.  The pain from unjust treatment is our forgiveness-gym as we develop our forgiveness muscles.  The point, as it is in weightlifting, is to stop the pain so that one can grow.  So, we do grow as we go though the pain.  We also grow in character as we forgive. In other words, pain, working through pain, and finding relief from the pain all work together to help a person grow in virtue and character.

Coerced Forgiveness

I recently read an article by an abused person who seemed angry at forgiveness itself. The person talked of a cultural demand for forgiving an abusive person. This put pressure on the one abused. The culture of forgiving, as it was called, seemed to create a sense of superiority in those who forgive in contrast to those who refuse to forgive. Further, the person seemed angry because this cultural demand for forgiving was creating a sense of entitlement for the abuser, an entitlement that forgiveness be granted.

My heart goes out to this person who now must live with a horrible action perpetrated. No one deserves this.

At the same time, forgiveness itself deserves accuracy. If forgiveness is to be criticized, it is my fervent hope that the criticism comes from a place of truth about forgiveness’s flaws, and not from a position of error.

I think there are errors in the criticism of forgiveness which I would like to correct here and I do not want to be misunderstood. By this essay, I am not saying that the person should forgive. I am not saying that this person is inferior. I am saying that forgiveness should not be dishonored because someone does not want to avail themselves of that forgiveness.

So, please allow me three points:

1. People who forgive rarely feel superior based on my own experience talking with those who have forgiven. The path of forgiveness is strewn with struggle and tears. After walking such a path, a person can feel relief, but it is difficult to feel superior as the person wipes off the emotional stress and strain from that journey. If a person happens to feel superior, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness itself is innocent.

2. Anyone who demands that others forgive is creating the pressure. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating it. Forgiveness is seen in philosophy as a supererogatory virtue, not demanded, but given if and only if the person wishes to do so. A supererogatory virtue does not make demands, even if people do demand.

3. Some who perpetrate injustice do play the forgiveness card and tell the victim that without forgiving, then the victim is a hypocrite.  “Sure, you talk of forgiveness, but then you do not forgive me,” the story goes. This is a power-play by the one who perpetrated the injustice and should be recognized as such. Again, as in points 1 and 2, the fault is with particular people, in this case those who act unjustly. It is not the fault of forgiveness itself.

Forgiveness can be given a black eye by people, those who misunderstand. My client, forgiveness, is innocent and I ask the court to dismiss the charges against it.

Robert