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.

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.

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.

What is your opinion of children who observe their parents fighting all the time. Do you think this observing child might become a bully in school or a difficult partner when an adult?

This depends on what the child, who now is an adult, has learned from what was observed about the parents.  It is possible that the person might gain wisdom from the parents’ fighting and realize that such a pattern is not healthy.  Thus, the person may deliberately commit to not following the parents’ behavior.  In contrast, if the person does not reflect on the potentially destructive pattern, then, yes, the person may grow up to show bullying behaviors in school and to repeat the pattern of a conflictual relationship with a partner.  In other words, insight along with a commitment to not imitate the conflictual behavior might spare the person from repeating the parents’ behavioral pattern.

Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.

You say that part of forgiveness is to offer compassion toward the one who offended you. The one who hurt me has passed away. How can I begin to have compassion on this person?

Compassion includes at least four elements:

1) Sympathy toward the one who hurt you.  Sympathy is an emotional reaction to another’s pain.  For example, if someone comes to you angry that he just lost his job and now is struggling financially, you have sympathy when you feel sorry for the person.  His anger and unfortunate situation leads to a different emotion in you: sadness.

2) Empathy toward the one who hurt you.  Empathy is stepping inside the other’s shoes (so to speak) and feeling the same feeling as the other.  Thus, when the other is angry, you empathize with that person when you also feel anger.

3) Behaving toward the other by supporting him or her in the time of distress.  This could include a kind word or talking about the strategy of solving the job problem, as examples.

4) Suffering along with the person.  This latter point is the deepest aspect of compassion.  It could involve helping the person financially before a new job is secured;  it could involve driving the person to a job interview.

In the case of having compassion for a deceased person, you can have sympathy and empathy (the first two elements of compassion), but you cannot engage in the other two elements because behavior with and toward the other is not possible.  Compassion need not have all four elements to count as compassion.  You can think of the hard times endured by the deceased person and react with sympathy and empathy.  Such compassion may aid your forgiveness.

Learn more by reading any of these books by Dr. Forgiveness -Dr. Robert Enright: