Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 4: Waiting for the Other to Apologize

So many people think that it is improper and perhaps even morally inappropriate to forgive when the other refuses to apologize.  “My waiting for the other to apologize shows that I have self-respect.  I will not put up with the injustice,” I have heard people say.Barriers

Yet, why is your self-respect tied to another’s behavior toward you?  Can’t you respect yourself for who you are as a person rather than waiting for another to affirm your importance as a person?

“But, if I wait for the apology, this is a protection for me and for the relationship.  The apology is a greater assurance that the other will not do this again.”

Yet, cannot you forgive from the heart and also ask fairness from the other before—before—he or she apologizes?  One does not achieve justice through only one path, in this case the other’s apology.

No apologyIf you insist on the other’s apology before you forgive then you are saying this to yourself:  I will not allow myself the freedom to exercise mercy toward this person until he/she acts in a certain way (an apology in this case).  Do you see how you have curtailed your freedom, including your freedom to heal emotionally from the injustice?  Forgiveness has been shown scientifically to reduce anger, anxiety, and depression.  Your insistence on an apology may delay or even thwart your healing.

When you insist on the other’s apology before you forgive, you—you, not the other person—trap yourself in the prison of unforgiveness…..with its resentment and unhappiness.  This does not seem like the ethical thing to do.

Forgiving freely whether the other apologizes or not is the path to freedom, healing, and a clear-headed call to justice.


Dr. Enright Works with UN on Fighting Gender-Based Violence

University of Wisconsin educational psychology professor Dr. Robert Enright will speak at the United Nations next month and serve on an international “Expert Group” that will develop intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence around the world.

The Expert Group, which includes participants from six UN Flagscountries around the world, will meet in New York on September 29-30. That initial 2-day work session is being hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).  The UNFPA is the lead UN agency for “delivering a world with expanded possibilities for women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives.”

Globally, according to the UNFPA, 1 in 3 women face gender-based violence, usually at the hands of someone she knows. Furthermore, 1 in 4 women, including adolescent girls, have been subjected to intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence. Those risks of violence are compounded in countries experiencing conflict and disasters.

                                                            U.S. Domestic Violence Statistics
    ► Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in  the United States.1
    ► A woman is beaten every 15 seconds in the United States.2
    ► Every day, 4 women die as a result of abuse.2
    ► Every day, 3 children die as a result of abuse.2
    ► From 1-4 million women are battered each year by their  husbands or live-in partners.2
    ► Family violence costs the nation from $5 to $10 billion in  medical expenses, police and          court costs, shelters and foster care, sick leave, absenteeism, and loss of productivity.3
    ► Domestic violence is a major contributing factor to other problems including child abuse, drug &          alcohol abuse, emotional problems, job loss, homelessness, and attempted suicide.4

        1  U.S. Attorney General
        2  U.S. Department of Justice
        3 American Medical Association
        4 Office for Victims of Crime

 “There have been years of effort and advocacy by many individuals and organizations to address these sad statistics,” Dr. Enright says. “Yet there is still a tremendous need to provide support programs toward psychological healing.  Forgiveness therapy is one proven way of restoring psychological health following such trauma.”

UNFPA BannerDr. Enright said the UNFPA has established three main objectives for the Expert Group Meeting:
1) To provide an update on state-of-the-art integrative approaches to address the trauma and post-trauma caused by gender-based  violence;
2) To identify humanistic integrative intervention models to help victims and survivors of gender-based violence; and,
3) To develop a strategy and timetable for implementation.

The intervention model that Dr. Enright and the Expert Group come up with in New York will be piloted in three selected areas where gender-based violence is prevalent: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, and Israel/Palestine. Funding will be provided by the United Nations.

UN Heart“I’m delighted that one of the leading UN agencies has recognized the importance of our forgiveness research at UW-Madison and the development of intervention models like our Forgiveness Education Program,” Dr. Enright said of the upcoming meeting.

“That research has already demonstrated that forgiveness therapy can have a strong positive impact in dealing with trauma and post-trauma in both conflict and post-conflict situations,” he added.

Dr. Enright said he is hopeful that the forgiveness programs he has been operating in Northern Ireland for the past 12 years; in Liberia, West Africa for 3 years; and the one he just recently started in Israel-Palestine after 3 years of groundwork there, will soon be employed to address gender-based violence as well.

“If students are introduced at age 4 to the inherent (built-in) worth of all people, which we do in our Forgiveness Education Programs, would the amount of gender-based violence go down, perhaps dramatically?” Dr. Enright asks. “The world needs forgiveness education.”

What is the one book you would recommend for me as I adjust to a recent and messy divorce?

In the context of your “messy divorce,” I would recommend my book, The Forgiving Life, because it involves a Socratic dialogue between Sophia and Inez regarding a marital conflict that Inez is experiencing. The insights in the dialogue might give you insights into your own emotional-healing process. I wish you the very best in your courageous journey of healing.

Someone said to me recently that forgiveness is wrong because it asks too much of the victim. I saw your response to this in the blog post of August 4. Yet, don’t you think that an over-emphasis on forgiveness could put an excessive burden on the victim in that there is family and peer pressure to forgive even if the victim is not ready to do this?

Forgiveness is not the culprit in your example.  When people put pressure on another person to forgive, then the problem lies with those so pressuring.  Forgiveness itself has nothing to do with such pressure. Forgiveness is innocent of the charges.

Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 3: Pride

C.S. Lewis once noted that pride is that tendency to find pleasure in moving other people around like toy soldiers.  Pride seeks to win, to be superior, to have the light shining on the self.Barriers

When we are treated unjustly by another, then perhaps it is that other person who has moved us around as if we were toy soldiers.  It is at this time that resentment can take hold of us and if we are not able now to competitively move our injurer around like a toy soldier, we dig the trench of resentment and stay there for the battle.

If the other does not apologize, we do not want to budge from our pride-trench.  The central problem of waiting for the other to admit defeat is this: Too often those who hurt us do not apologize.

What we need is an antidote to pride, something that will extend a warm hand and help us out of the trench.  The antidote is the virtue of humility, a virtue that the philosopher Nietzsche looked on with distain, calling it a “monkish virtue.”  It is apparent Pride etc.that Nietzsche’s philosophy valued power and so he wanted nothing to do with humility.

The major problem with detesting humility is that sometimes the other’s power over us remains, despite our best efforts.  If all we have left is our pride-trench, then the other’s power could defeat us in an emotional sense as we develop unhealthy anger and even anxiety and depression.

To combat the barrier of pride, we need to value and practice humility, that sense that we need not always get our way and that power is an impostor not worthy of following.  With humility, we do not meet power with power.  Yes, we meet power with a call for justice, but this is very different from pride, which calls for its pound of flesh from the other.  Once we have developed the virtue of humility, which gets us out of our pride-trench, we are free to begin forgiving, which can actually eliminate the resentment so that it no longer has power over us.

I Forgive You and I Pray for You, The Patriot News, Harrisburg, PA –  The mother of 20-year-old Robert Burris, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in March 2013, has forgiven the driver of the car involved in the incident.

“I forgive you, and I pray for you,” said Shurone Carroll, Burris’ mother, at a July sentencing hearing for 19-year-old Jonathan Ramsey. After adding that she wants Ramsey to make every day count when he gets out of prison, she hugged him and shed a tear.

Hug“The court is very moved by Mrs. Carroll’s act of forgiveness,” Judge Andrew Dowling said. If something like this had happened to one of his own family members, Dowling added, “I’m not sure I could have done the same thing.”

During Ramsey’s appearance in court last month, the judge accepted the plea agreement Ramsey reached with the District Attorney’s Office, which called for 5 to 10 years in state prison on a third-degree murder charge – reduced from first-degree murder, which would have meant a life sentence.

The DA said Ramsey was an essential and critical witness in reaching a conviction of the drive-by shooter, Justin Clark. According to testimony at that trial, Ramsey drove Clark to 14th and Vernon streets in Harrisburg after they saw Clark’s intended target, Bennie Chisolm, with a group of people. Clark fired about 11 shots at Chisolm, missing him, but striking Burris fatally in the back of the head.

Just before receiving his sentence, Ramsey apologized to the victim’s family, and to his own family, for putting them through the situation. He thanked Burris’s mother for her forgiveness, and said, “She forgave me, so I think God will forgive me, too.”

Read the full story:  “‘I forgive you,’ mother of 20-year-old slain in Harrisburg drive-by shooting tells driver”

Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 2: Hatred

“A little hatred goes a long, long way. It grows and grows. And it’s hungry. You keep feeding it more and more people, and the more it gets, the Barriersmore it wants. It’s never satisfied. And pretty soon it squeezes all the love out of your heart and all you’ll have left is a hateful heart.” –Jerry Spinelli in Love, Stargirl    

In other words, hatred is an insatiable monster that demands its supposed due. When people hate, they can all too easily create the rationalization that the other deserves bad things, deserves to be punished…..and by the one who hates.

Hatred clouds the mind as it freezes the heart.  And it does so slowly enough that the one now with the clouds and freezings was not even aware of this progression from a sunny mind and a warm heart.  Yet, it can happen.  Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; the final scene in Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book; the list is long.

Hatred-HeartEventually, hatred becomes self-righteous; the person believes deep within the self that the hatred is not only justified but also moral.  It becomes a quest and even a way of life…….until it turns on the one with the self-righteousness and the sense of the moral quest…..and destroys him.

With hatred, forgiveness is not allowed to grow.  With courage, a person can begin to see hatred within and stand against it, giving forgiveness a chance to grow and to redeem and to lighten and to unthaw.


I thought I had completely forgiven my “ex” and last night I had a dream that reawakened all of my anger. I had forgiven, maybe, a year ago. Now here I am again fuming. Do you have a suggestion for me to really get over this and forgive permanently?

We have to realize that forgiveness, as the late Lewis Smedes said, is an imperfect enterprise for imperfect people. It is common to have forgiven and then to be triggered by something unexpected, whether it is a dream or meeting the person for the first time, as examples. Because you already know the path of forgiveness, I recommend that you get your backpack on again, and your hiking shoes, and travel the forgiveness road once again. This time it may be quicker with deeper results. And please do not be discouraged if and when you have another trigger for your anger in the months or years ahead. Go on the forgiveness journey once again.

One Reason Why We Need Forgiveness Education: People Misunderstand What Forgiveness Is

Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have aBarrier-First in Series different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.

Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense.  This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing.  Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender.  The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense.  Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened.  Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.

If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.


Woman Encourages Forgiveness After Being Shot by Her Father

KMPH Fox 26 News, Fresno, CA – After spending seven months in the hospital receiving treatment for her gun shot wounds, a California woman is back home and telling everyone that forgiveness was the key to her recovery.

Valerie Alvarez was shot by her father, after he killed her sister. He then killed himself.Forgiveness-word-collage

The woman’s story is remarkable not only because of here struggle to live but because she defies the odds every day.

Alvarez lives with Spina Bifida, a spinal condition with which she was born. She is 34 years old but was not expected to live past the age of 20. Then the seriousness of her condition was magnified, and her life changed forever, on May 27th of last year when the bullet fired from her father’s gun hit her spine.

The shooting occurred just a few months after Alvarez lost her mother. She says her father struggled with the loss and she thinks that loss,  coupled with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from serving in Vietnam, made him snap. After all, it was Memorial Day.

“I think he wanted us all to be together, I think that’s why he did what he did. I don’t think he did it out of anger,” she says.

Alvarez recalls that every day she spent in the hospital after the shooting was a battle. She couldn’t breath on her own. She lost the ability to move her hands.

I forgiveBut then, she says, everything changed with one key decision.

“I forgave my dad,” she says. “That’s the best thing I could have done, was forgive my dad to get better, get my strength back.

“I have my hands now, I can push my chair now. Knowing I can be out there in the world, means the world to me!” she says. “To have my life back again!”

And for those struggling with their own challenges, she offers this advice…

“You can never forget, but you can forgive,” she says.