When a close friend really hurt me deeply I felt attacked mentally, physically, and emotionally. I always felt out of control. I faced humiliation and suffered anxiety. I developed migraine headaches and spent time in the hospital. Their words made me feel worthless. Am I worthless?

You most certainly are not worthless.  Why?  It is because all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.  There never was a person on this earth quite like you…..and there never will be again.  As with the case of self-esteem or negative feelings toward the self, your thinking sometimes can become too general about who you are relative to the betrayals which you have experienced. You might slowly, and without even noticing it, drift into negative self-statements about who you are as a person. It is time to resurrect the truth: You are a person of worth no matter what, not matter how much pain you have, no matter the condemning statements from others. I urge you to re-read the previous sentence until this new thinking about who you are is solidified and consistent within you.  You….have…..great……worth.

You favor forgiveness education programs in world conflict zones. Yet, haven’t these conflicts gone on and on for centuries in some places? If so, why bother with forgiveness education since the conflicts likely will not end even in these young children’s lifetimes?

You are correct that some people live with injustices that are not likely to end in their lifetime. Even if forgiveness does not completely get rid of all injustices, that forgiveness will heal individuals, families, and communities from the damaging effects of the injustice (deep resentment, hatred, and the resulting anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that too often accompany unsolved injustice). A quest for justice is good and important. Yet, the quest for justice alone in these circumstances can lead to frustration, anger, and the displacement of that anger onto one’s own children and community members, leading to serious psychological compromise. Forgiveness can reverse and prevent these negative effects.

I continue to feel much guilt for some of my unjust behaviors toward others. I can’t seem to shake off this guilt. If you could summarize self-forgiveness in a few sentences to help me with that, what would you say?

Here is a summary of self-forgiveness for you: Commit to doing no harm to yourself (for example, better nutrition, more rest and exercise). See yourself with “new eyes.” Yes, you are imperfect, but your strong guilt shows that you now have good intentions toward yourself and toward others whom you might have hurt. You are a person of worth. Try to bear the pain so you do not subvert yourself or even toss that pain to others. Try to be good to yourself as an end in and of itself… and then go to those whom you have offended and seek forgiveness.

We have been in this new year for almost a month now. The idea of being happy in the new year is lost on me because of how I have been treated in the past. I am angry. Can you suggest a way for me to truly have hope for a happy new year this time?

We sometimes think that those who hurt us have far more control over us than they actually do. We often measure our happiness or unhappiness by what has happened in the past. My challenge to you today is this: Consider forgiving those who have hurt you, who have hurt your happiness.  Your response of forgiveness now to the one (or ones) who hurt you can set you free from a past influence that has been toxic. Try to measure your happiness by what you will do next (not by what is past). Your next move can be this––to love regardless of what others do to you. I gently urge you to try this and see if your happiness increases.

What do you think is the highest reason to forgive? For example, is the morally highest reason to forgive to preserve my own emotional health in self-care? Is it to help the other person to live a better life?

Those are very good reasons to forgive.  I would say one of the highest reasons to forgive is this: to exercise goodness, particularly love, as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to your offer of forgiving and whether or not you show immediate psychological improvement.  In other words, to offer love regardless of the consequences seems to me to be a special reason to forgive.

I think that to forgive deeply, we need humility. How would you define humility?

Although Aristotle did not explicitly use the word humility, philosophers following in the Aristotelian tradition have seen humility as a moral virtue between the vices of dogmatism or arrogance on the one hand and timidity or moral weakness on the other (Hazlett, 2012).  In other words, humility is a quest for truth about the self and others that avoids extremes. 

Hazlett, A. (2012). Higher-order epistemic attitudes and intellectual humility. Episteme, 9, 205–223.

May I follow up on my question about humility? It seems to me that the value of humility has waned in the past few centuries. What do you think of this diminishing of the importance of humility in the eyes of the academic thinkers?

I think you are right that the negative view of humility within philosophy has been with us for centuries, with the writings of the Scottish philosopher David Hume and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. For example, in the late 1800s, Nietzsche stated that those who try to humble themselves are actually trying to exalt the self. The famous philosophers Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre, in post-World War II France, split over the theme of humility. Whereas Camus embraced moral humility, rejected absolutism and violence, and acknowledged human fallibility, Sartre was not convinced (Dresser, 2017). I am not surprised, then, that philosophers such as David Hume have a negative view of forgiveness, which he called “a monkish virtue.”  I wonder what Mr. Hume did when holding resentment toward those who were less than fair to him.

Dresser, S. (2017). How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free.  Aeon, January 27, https://aeon.co/ideas/how-camus-and-sartre-split-up-over-the-question-of-how-to-be-free

What is secondary forgiveness?

The philosopher, Trudy Govier (2002) has used this term.  Secondary forgiveness occurs when you are hurt because of a person’s actions toward a loved one. In other words, the mother truly is offended and hurt when someone bullies her daughter in school. It is secondary in the sense that the mother was not directly bullied. Yet, the fact that she is resentful and legitimately so because of the actions toward her daughter, the mother then can go ahead and forgive the one who bullies. It is important to note that the mother is not forgiving the one who bullies on behalf of the daughter. It still is up to the daughter to offer primary forgiveness or not. It is the daughter’s choice. The mother’s forgiveness does not substitute for the daughter’s response.

Govier, T. (2002). Forgiveness and revenge.  New York: Routledge.

Can forgiveness be too self-centered and therefore morally wrong? In other words, if a person is forgiving for the self—to feel better—it seems all about the self. Also, if a person forgives, isn’t he just letting the other person know that it is ok to engage in the unfairness?

The short answer is no, forgiving others never is overly self-centered or selfish when truly practiced as a moral virtue.  Why?  This is because forgiving is given to the other as a gift of mercy and love (even if the forgiver never reaches this difficult endpoint of love). Is forgiveness ever immoral because it enables bad behavior?  No, it never is immoral precisely because it is a moral virtue and all moral virtues are good in and of themselves.  Forgiving does not enable bad behavior because forgiveness and justice need to be a team.

I have been so belittled throughout my life that I have come to think of myself as little, as of not much significance. Can you help me in some way to reconsider this?

As with the case of self-esteem or negative feelings toward the self, your thinking sometimes can become too general about who you are relative to the betrayals which you have experienced. You might slowly, and without even noticing it, drift into negative self-statements about who you are as a person. It is time to resurrect the truth: You are a person of worth no matter what, not matter how much pain you have, no matter the condemning statements from others. I urge you to re-read the previous sentence until this new thinking about who you are is solidified and consistent within you.