My father abandoned our family when I was 6 years old. I am now grown, in college, and he has come around now that the pressure is off. He wants to establish a relationship with me, but I do not even know him. Does it seem kind of phony to now go ahead with this?

It is never too late to forgive. You see your father’s mistakes. I think that he sees them, too. You surely have a right to your anger. At the same time, you could give your father a huge gift of mercy and aid your own emotional healing if you have mercy on him and consider forgiveness. It will take a strong will and courage for you to do this. You will know if and when you are ready.

For additional information, see Why Forgive? 

I suffer from chronic anxiety. Will this alter how I go through the forgiveness process relative to those who are not suffering in this way?

Sometimes our anxiety comes from not feeling safe. Sometimes our not feeling safe emerges when others treat us unfairly. In other words, you may be expecting poor treatment from others now, even those who usually are fair.

A first step may be to think of one person who may have hurt you and at whom you still harbor resentment. You can forgive through the exact same pathway as described, for example, in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. With anger lessened, anxiety can diminish. Of course, this will vary for each person. We have to be gentle with ourselves as we learn to forgive, to give up anger, and to know with some confidence that we can meet the next interpersonal challenge with forgiveness, helping us to meet these challenges with less anxiety than in the past.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I was hurt in a 5-year relationship and now I am hesitant to get into any other relationship. Does this lack of courage on my part suggest that I have not forgiven the one who hurt me?

The issue here seems to be one of a lack of trust. You may or may not have forgiven the one with whom you were in a relationship for the 5 years. Even if you have completely forgiven, you still may lack trust and this is not a sign of unforgiveness. It is a sign that you know hurt is possible when you commit to others. Forgiveness can help with taking the risk and at the same time your using common sense in the new relationship, along with sincere acts of trustworthiness by the other, should help to slowly create a trust with the new person.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

What would you say to someone who is too stubborn to feel compassion toward the one who hurt him/her?

We would say this, “Your feeling compassion may take time. So, your feeling today that you do not want or need compassion is not necessarily your final word on the matter. If you refuse to examine at all the possibility of developing compassion, even over time, then you have to be careful that your own anger does not end up hurting you.”

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness. 

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.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am finding no excuses for what my husband has done to me. When I try to forgive, it is very difficult for me to cultivate any sense of empathy toward him. What would you suggest to help me forgive?

You need not find any excuses for your husband’s behavior if you are to forgive him. Forgiveness is not based on finding excuses, but instead is based on seeing his worth, not because of what he did, but in spite of this. Further, try to see his inner world. Is he wounded in any way? Confused? Do you see a human being rather than someone who is less than human? These kinds of perspectives can increase empathy and foster forgiveness.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I hear colleagues tell me that it is child abuse to impose the education of forgiveness on unsuspecting students. How would you answer such a charge?

Good philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Good education is the same. Part of being wise is to know how to control one’s anger, to reduce resentment, and to forge healthy relationships in the home and in the community. Forgiveness, seen in scientific studies, is one effective way of reducing resentment and fostering better behavior and relationships. If we then deprive a child of this part of wisdom, are we somehow aiding that child’s development or stifling it? Teaching about forgiveness is far from child abuse. Deliberately withholding knowledge of forgiveness is educational deprivation, which should happen to no child.

For additional information, see Your Kids Are Smarter Than You Think.

Is there any advantage in forgiving and reconciling compared with forgiving and not reconciling? If I forgive but do not reconcile, will this weaken my ability to forgive in the future?

There is no general rule regarding forgiving and not reconciling. In other words, your not reconciling with someone who is not remorseful or who is unrepentant (when acting very unjustly against you) should not weaken your ability to forgive in the future. In contrast, if you refuse to reconcile with someone who in fact has remorse, has repented and, where possible, has given recompense, then you need to examine your own inner world. Perhaps you have excessive mistrust or resentment and these can get in the way of future forgiving.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

Are forgiveness and trust the same?

Forgiveness and trust differ. Forgiveness as an act of mercy toward an offender can be offered unconditionally. Trust needs to be earned if the offense is deeply serious. Forgiveness is a moral virtue. Trust accompanies reconciliation, which is not a moral virtue but instead is a negotiation strategy between two or more people. Finally, you can forgive without trusting the other, at least in those areas of his or her weakness. For example, you can forgive a compulsive gambler and watch your wallet.

For additional information, see Do I Have to Reconcile with the Other When I Forgive?

One of my students asked me recently, ‘Why should I forgive? Doesn’t this just let the one who is hurting me see that I am weak?’ I did not know how to answer that. Can you help?

The student is confusing forgiveness with giving in to others’ demands. This is not forgiveness. To forgive is to know that what the other person did is wrong and yet mercy is offered nonetheless. When one forgives, one also asks for justice and so this idea of weakness or giving in is not correct. There are two basic ways of distorting forgiveness: to let the other have power over you or to seek power over the other because of his or her transgressions. True forgiveness avoids these extremes.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.