I started the process of forgiving my mother. As I went on this journey, I realized that she was treated very badly by my grandmother, who passed away before I was born.  Should I also forgive my grandmother, even though I never met her?

Yes, you can forgive your grandmother.  This is what the philosopher, Trudy Govier, calls secondary forgiveness.  Even though your grandmother was not directly unjust to you, she was indirectly unjust to you because of what she did to your mother.

You might want to read this essay from Psychology Today: Can You Forgive a Person Who Has Died? 

Starting forgiveness is not so bad, but continuing with it is rough.  I kind of want to move on to other things in my life.  So, how do I persevere to the end and complete forgiveness without giving up?

In the book, The Forgiving Life, I talk about the good will, the free will, and the strong will.  The good will allows you to see those who hurt you in all of their woundedness and to respond to them with kindness.  The free will allows you to say “yes” to the forgiveness process itself.  The strong will allows you to keep going even though it is difficult.

Try to be aware of the strong will.  Cultivate it in other areas even apart from forgiveness.  For example, stay with the challenge of an exercise program; finish the book you started; complete a home-project that you started a while back.  These efforts can strengthen the strong will which can advance you toward the finish line of forgiveness.  Please keep in mind that even when you reach that finish line of forgiveness, anger can resurface later.  Apply the good will, the free will, and the strong will again as you revisit the forgiveness process.

For additional information, see On the Importance of Perseverance when Forgiving.

Can I begin the forgiveness process without an actual commitment to forgive, or must I have a firm inner commitment before starting?

Because forgiveness is a process, you do not need a firm commitment to forgive as you start.  You can tentatively try forgiving and see how it goes.  You can stop for a while and start again.  As you progress and deepen in your understanding and appropriation of forgiving, you then may move to the conviction that you are committed to the forgiveness process.  One way to start this commitment is to say to yourself that you will  do no harm to the one who injured you.  This “do no harm” often is the beginning of the commitment for many people who go through our Process Model of Forgiveness.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I really do not understand this pie-in-the-sky idea that I must feel positively toward the people whom I forgive.  How about just some indifference toward them?

Think of forgiveness as a process.  We start out with anger or sadness or some other emotion that we find unpleasant.  As we grow in the moral virtue of forgiveness, the anger (or sadness) begins to diminish and we then can develop a kind of indifference toward that person. Yet, over time, and because forgiveness is a  moral virtue, we might continue to grow even more deeply in our appreciation of the other as a person.  This can lead to compassion, respect, generosity, and even love (the kind of love that is willing to be in service to the other for the other’s sake) toward that person.  So, you might want to think of indifference as one stop on the journey to greater perfection in the growth of this moral virtue of forgiveness.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness. 

My mental health professional seems to think that I have a genetic predisposition to psychological depression.  If this is true, then biology and not past trauma is responsible for my current condition.  Can I just forget about forgiving then under this circumstance?

Even if you have a biological predisposition to depression, forgiveness can help with the medication you might be taking.  Think through your history of being treated unfairly from childhood to the present.  You can do this by consulting the Forgiveness Landscape from my book, The Forgiving Life.  If you identify certain people toward whom you still have considerable anger, then it would be good, if you so choose, to forgiven them.  See if this aids your recovery from depression.

For additional information, see Why Forgive? 

I have a problem with this whole idea of forgiveness.  Forgiveness asks me to “just move on” or to “leave it in the past.”  How can I “leave it in the past” when it is constantly  nipping at my heals and the memories just won’t leave me alone?

Forgiveness is not just moving on or leaving something in the past.  As a moral virtue, forgiveness is focused on goodness toward particular persons, those who have been unjust to you.  As you forgive, you begin changing your view of that person and so this memory of “nipping at your heals” lessens.  Without this paradox of struggling to be good to those who were not good to you, it is very difficult to “leave it in the past.” Forgiving allows you to move into the future without that burden of continual unfinished business.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness. 

What steps can we take to forgive non-living things such as illnesses or natural disasters?

Actually, we do not forgive illnesses or natural disasters because these cannot act unjustly toward us.  The key is to accept (rather than forgive) these when we are affected by them.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

My partner forgives me.  I cannot forgive myself.  I now am feeling guilty that I cannot let myself off of that emotional hook after my partner has taken the time and trouble to forgive.  What do I do now?

It is not unusual for a person to not let the self “off of the emotional hook” even after knowing that the other forgives.  Why?  It is because we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others.  So, I recommend chapter 7 on self-forgiveness from my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness.

For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.

In your intervention research, have you ever encountered a person who was made decidedly worse when going through the forgiveness process?

In our scientific studies, we have not seen any dramatic examples of people becoming decidedly worse once they willingly start the forgiveness process.  Some people do not change their levels of anger, anxiety, depression, or self-esteem.  This often is the case because the person has not spent enough time in the process and needs more of that time to effect the desired psychological change.  We have not encountered anyone, in a wide variety of settings (incest survivors, people in drug rehabilitation, people in maximum-security prison), who becomes more enraged as a result of truly being engaged in the forgiveness process.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Research. 

My spouse says that I am an angry person.  She is correct, but I cannot recall anyone in particular who treated me unfairly.  So, what’s up with my anger?

You might have what is called repressed memories in that you are in denial about some injustices from your past.  Sometimes, we so respect our parents, for example, that it is hard to admit unjust treatment from them.  See if this might fit your own case.  At the same time, it can be the case that you are angry because you reason that the world owes you a lot more than is reasonable.  In this case, you might have some narcissistic tendencies (a me-first mind set).  This can be hard to admit because narcissism exalts the self.  It takes the moral virtue of humility to see the narcissism and to willingly change the pattern.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.