My brother was hurt at school by a harsh teacher. He has not forgiven that teacher. Now I am having a hard time forgiving the teacher. Should I wait until my brother forgives before I start the forgiveness process?

It is perfectly legitimate to forgive someone who hurts a family member when you have been hurt by that action.  You need not wait until your brother forgives because you are free to offer forgiveness whenever you are ready.  Your forgiving the teacher may show your brother that it is possible.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I know you make a distinction between forgiving and reconciling, but I still am afraid to forgive just in case by doing so I might accidentally let back my ex-husband into my heart. Do you have any suggestions on this for me?

A key, I think, is this: Be aware of the behaviors he exhibits that played a part in your breakup. Is he still showing such behaviors? If so, and if he remains unrepentant, then you need to remember those behaviors and realize that a renewed relationship is not possible without his sustained change. Even if your heart softens, keep a strong mind regarding what he will and will not accomplish with you. So, I think you can forgive and be rid of any deep resentment you may have and then be wise with regard to his behaviors.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness

Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous  political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”

While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the AntichristThe Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.

Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
Desmond Tutu


The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa.  This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.” 

I asked you a previous question regarding a friendship that went bad. If a person is toxic to you, how does a person handle that? Is reconcilition even part of the picture. How or why should a person want to be reconciled to a person who has raged at you 4 times, stonewalled 1x, for a year make diminishing remarks in social situations, and spit on my 2 x. Why would anyone want to be reconciled to this kind of person?

You ask why a person might want to reconcile with someone who has been abusive.  The short answer is that the other might change.  Forgiveness gives the other that second chance to actually alter a harmful pattern.

For those who want to examine the possibility of reconciliation, I recommend first asking yourself these three questions: 1) Does the one who hurt you show remorse, or an inner sorrow regarding what that person did to you? 2) Does the one who hurt your show repentance, or verbally apologizing to you? 3) Does the one who hurt you show any recompense or giving back to you in some way given that you are hurt?

These three (remorse, repentance, and recompense) are important for you to examine as you consider reconciling with the person.  These three, if they are in place, will show you that the person has changed and so it may be safe to try reconciliation, at least in small steps, a little at a time until you are sure the other is trustworthy and will not abuse you.

For additional information, see Questions about Reconciliation.

Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”

J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice:   Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.

If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.

In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”

The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.

In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.

As I write this, I want revenge on someone. Is this part of the forgiveness process?

Feelings of revenge can be part of the preliminary process before a person commits to forgiveness.  In other words, the process of forgiveness allows for a period of anger.  At the same time, you do not want to act on revenge-feelings, but instead realize that revenge-seeking can harm both you (because of harsh emotions that can lead to anxiety or depression) and the other person.  So, feelings of revenge are not part of the forgiveness process itself but can be present prior to the decision to forgive.  Forgiving can go a long way in eliminating feelings of revenge.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

What might be more fruitful: to forgive someone else or to forgive myself first?

Because we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on other people, I usually recommend first trying to forgive other people.  Become familiar with this process: seeing the inherent worth in the other, softening your heart toward the other, bearing the pain so you do not hurt the other.  Once you have a sense of these aspects of forgiveness, then apply the same themes to yourself: know you have inherent worth, not because of what you did but in spite of this.  Soften your heart toward yourself, again not because of what you did, but in spite of this.  Commit to not harming yourself.  One aspect of self-forgiveness that differs from forgiving others is this:  In your self-forgiving, examine whether you might have hurt other people by your actions (that require self-forgiveness).  Go to those whom you have offended and ask for forgiveness.

Learn more at Self-Forgiveness and Learning to Forgive Others.