I think I have forgiven a family member and then when the situation is mentioned again, I find that I get angry. Have I not forgiven?

It depends on your level of anger when the situation is mentioned again.  Do you get very angry?  On a 1 to 10 scale, are you up near the 9 and 10 range, or is the anger more manageable, say, in the 3 or 4 range?  It is common to have some anger left over when we have forgiven, but that anger no longer controls us.  So, if you are in control of the anger and its intensity is not high, then yes, I do think that you have forgiven.

I have forgiven someone who is not interested in reconciliation. I am interested in reconciling. It is ok for me to continue to give the gift of forgiveness in the hope of an eventual reconciliation?

Yes, you can offer overtures of forgiving from a distance, but please be careful that you do not use forgiving as a manipulation of the other’s feelings. When you forgive, try to make the motivation the other’s well-being.  Try to forgive for the other and not for what you can get out of this.  Respect the other’s decisions for now.  In other words, as you forgive, you have the other’s best interest at heart and if he or she does not want to reconcile right now, part of your task is to accept this.  Be open to the possibility of a reconciliation, but try also not to push too hard at that reconciliation.

What are the dangers to the one who forgives too quickly?

If a person forgives too quickly, this usually means that the person is not ready to forgive.  Thus, the person still may be:

  • too traumatized to forgive right now. We need time to settle down before forgiving,
  • misunderstand that forgiveness is a process and allow the self time to forgive and to heal,
  • denying his or her anger and therefore not allowing oneself time to be angry,
  • confusing forgiving and reconciling, thinking that one must go back into an unhealthy relationship right away
  • not respecting the self as someone who deserves fairness,
  • giving the other the wrong message that the forgiver will accept any and all injustices.

Taking the time to forgive can correct many or even all of the complications discussed above.

I worry that if I teach my children about forgiveness, then they may try it while misunderstanding it. They might excuse or even try to reconcile with someone who has bullied them in the past. What can you suggest so that I do not create a false sense of what forgiveness is as I teach them about it?

A key is to keep in front of the children the common misconceptions of forgiving:

  • When you forgive, stay tough-minded in knowing that what the other did was wrong.
  • When you forgive, that does not magically make the other’s actions right. Those actions remain wrong even when you forgive.
  • Reconciliation occurs when you feel safe and can trust the person.
  • If you do not feel safe, tell a responsible adult about this.
  • You can forgive without reconciling.
  • When you forgive, do not forget to seek fairness.
  • You can and should exercise justice and forgiveness together. Forgiveness does not mean that you put up with another person’s unfairness.

Is it easier to forgive a person if you understand their past or might this just make you angrier? I find that sometimes, the more I know about a person, the angrier I get. In other words, I do see their own hurts from the past, but I still find their behavior toward me unacceptable regardless of what they have suffered.

When you look toward the person’s past, do you slip into the error of excusing what the other did?  If you see that you are trying to excuse, that could make you angrier.  After all, past hurts are no excuse to hurt others.  If you can resist excusing and from a position of truly calling the other’s behavior wrong, what happens in your emotions when you see a wounded person, a confused person, perhaps a person manipulated or mistreated in other ways by important people in his or her life?  Does this stir in you a little compassion, as long as you resist the conclusion that he or she just couldn’t help it?

Dr. Enright Joins Two New Digital Media Ventures

Dr. Robert Enright, world-renowned forgiveness researcher and educator, has been selected by two of the nation’s premier blog sites to add his forgiveness expertise as a regular contributor.

Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute
Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute

1. Psychology Today is a New York City-based print magazine that will celebrate its 50th year of continuous publication in 2017. Its new blog site, according to the publication, is  “devoted exclusively to everybody’s favorite subject: Ourselves.”

To make and keep their new blog site relevant, Psychology Today has gathered a group of renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists and writers to contribute their thoughts and ideas on what makes us tick. According to the website,  “We’re a live stream of what’s happening in Psychology Today.”

The forgiveness blog section on Psychology Today’s website is called “The Forgiving Life”–which is also the title of one of the eight books Dr. Enright has written. Here are links to the first four blogs Dr. Enright has produced for the new site this month:
Dec. 7 – Forgiveness Saved My Life: Reflections from Prison
Dec. 16 – Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season?
Dec. 17 A New Approach to School Bullying: Eliminate Their Anger
Dec. 20 Is It True That Forgiveness Is “Ridiculous“?

Arianna Huffington’s New Venture

2. You’ve probably heard of Arianna Huffington, the 66-year-old digital media pioneer, bestselling author, and founder of The Huffington Post–the online news powerhouse that has spread its influence around the world in dramatic fashion. Oh, yes, and she is one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Huffington stepped down in August as editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post (affectionately called HuffPost), which she founded in 2005 andthrive-global-arianna-huffington sold to AOL six years later for $315 million, to concentrate full time on her new venture–Thrive Global. The new entity is partly based on her runaway bestselling 2014 book, Thrivewhich defines a new math for success based on the variables of well-being, wisdom, wonder and generosity.

One of the entities under the Thrive Global umbrella is The Thrive Journal–an online blog site that the company says goes “beyond informing and entertaining to action. Our goal is to help you bring about changes in your life by giving you concrete, actionable tips laid out in five pathways: Calm, Joy, Purpose, thrive-logoWell-Being, and Productivity. These microsteps and tips are embedded in every piece of content we produce.”

Similar to the new blog site developed by Psychology Today, the Thrive Global blog site will feature a wide array of international wellness experts, psychologists, medical doctors and other professionals. Here are links to the first five blogs Dr. Enright has produced for Thrive Global:
Nov. 25Forgiveness and the Presidential Election of 2016: 7 Tips
ov. 30 Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved My Life” 
Dec. 4 Forgiveness, the Marathon, and the Inspired Work of Art
Dec. 8 – How Evil Works
Dec. 17 
Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season? 4 Tips from Forgiveness Therapy

In Chapter 15 of your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you talk about false forms of forgiving. For example, a person may say, “I forgive you,” and do so with a sense of power and domination. My question is this: Are there false forms of seeking forgiveness and if so, how can I recognize them?

Yes, I think there are false forms of seeking and receiving forgiveness.  As an example, the offending person says, “I apologize.  I did not mean to hurt you.”  Then he or she continues doing the same kinds of behavior that injured you in the first place.  At that point, it may be helpful to first forgive (so that your deep anger does not come flying out) and say something like this, “You have apologized and yet you keep hurting me in the same way.  What can we do so that the hurtful behavior ends and we can move on well together?”  Apologies are not iron-clad guarantees that the person truly understands the depth of your hurt and the importance of changing the behavior.  A gentle reminder like this might help.

I try to separate the offense from the offender, but I am having a hard time doing that. Do you have some suggestions for me?

Not knowing the concrete details of your particular situation, it is not easy to answer this one.  Yet, here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Do you see the person only in terms of the injury against you?
  • Is there more to this person than those actions?
  • Can you see any examples of when he or she treated you well?
  • If you combine the injurious behavior and his or her good behaviors toward you, how are you seeing this person?
  • Is he or she more than those injurious behaviors toward you?
  • Who is this person when you see him or her more broadly like this?

Christmas Tree Thief Gets Tree Plus Forgiveness

WCVB Channel 5, New Bedford, MA – After a 9-year battle with mitochondrial disease, 14-year-old Noah Fernandes died last spring. His grieving parents buried him at Pine Grove Cemetery in New Bedford.

Christine and Noah (at age 5).
Christine and Noah (when he was 5).

Last week, they decided to spruce up his gravesite with a small Christmas tree, and decorated it with some of Noah’s favorite ornaments.

But over the weekend, someone stole Noah’s tree and all the ornaments.

Rather than express bitterness and resentment, however, Noah’s parents offered forgiveness and good wishes to the perpetrator. They said the Fernandes family lives by the creed: If you harbor bitterness, happiness will find another port.ornament

“If someone needed it more than Noah, and they couldn’t afford a tree, then maybe Noah blessed it, and the tree will bring them happiness,” said Noah’s mother Christine.

Noah was diagnosed at age 5. He fought the disease for about nine years. Finally, confined to a wheelchair, blind and unable to speak, Noah succumbed to the disease in March, at age 14.

The family has set up a website in Noah’s memory. It tries to provide logohelp for other families dealing with mitochondrial disease. They’re also using the website to raise money to build a playground for children in New Bedford. You can get more information at teamnoahfoundation.org.

Read more:

Mother forgives whoever stole Christmas tree from child’s grave – WCVB Channel 5, Boston, MA

New Bedford Mother Shows Grace After Christmas Tree Stolen From Son’s Grave – Boston.cbslocal.com

Christmas tree stolen from child’s grave, mother offers forgiveness – MSN.com (Microsoft)

Understanding the offender seems to be an important ingredient in forgiveness. Yet, what if I never understand why he did what he did? What if I just can’t understand his motives or his background? Is forgiveness still possible?

In the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, I talk of three perspectives a forgiver can take toward an offending other person: the personal, global, and cosmic perspective.  You basically are talking about the personal perspective in which you see the details of the person’s life so that you can empathize with his or her pain from being wounded by others.  When this is not possible, I recommend a focus on the global and cosmic perspectives.  For the global perspective, try to see your shared humanity with the other.  You share a lot in common: You both need air to breathe and a little plot of land on which to stand.  You both bleed when cut and both of you can be hurt by others.  Try to see these commonalities between the two of you.  The cosmic perspective will depend on your worldview or religion.  Can you see a very large picture of how the two of you fit into a divine plan, for example?  In other words, again depending on your worldview or faith, can you see that both of you are made in the image and likeness of God?  Such a perspective might help to soften your heart toward the other who has hurt you.