Criticisms of Forgiveness: Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Offender

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.

We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Coerced Forgiveness

I recently read an article by an abused person who seemed angry at forgiveness itself. The person talked of a cultural demand for forgiving an abusive person. This put pressure on the one abused. The culture of forgiving, as it was called, seemed to create a sense of superiority in those who forgive in contrast to those who refuse to forgive. Further, the person seemed angry because this cultural demand for forgiving was creating a sense of entitlement for the abuser, an entitlement that forgiveness be granted.

My heart goes out to this person who now must live with a horrible action perpetrated. No one deserves this.

At the same time, forgiveness itself deserves accuracy. If forgiveness is to be criticized, it is my fervent hope that the criticism comes from a place of truth about forgiveness’s flaws, and not from a position of error.

I think there are errors in the criticism of forgiveness which I would like to correct here and I do not want to be misunderstood. By this essay, I am not saying that the person should forgive. I am not saying that this person is inferior. I am saying that forgiveness should not be dishonored because someone does not want to avail themselves of that forgiveness.

So, please allow me three points:

1. People who forgive rarely feel superior based on my own experience talking with those who have forgiven. The path of forgiveness is strewn with struggle and tears. After walking such a path, a person can feel relief, but it is difficult to feel superior as the person wipes off the emotional stress and strain from that journey. If a person happens to feel superior, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness itself is innocent.

2. Anyone who demands that others forgive is creating the pressure. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating it. Forgiveness is seen in philosophy as a supererogatory virtue, not demanded, but given if and only if the person wishes to do so. A supererogatory virtue does not make demands, even if people do demand.

3. Some who perpetrate injustice do play the forgiveness card and tell the victim that without forgiving, then the victim is a hypocrite.  “Sure, you talk of forgiveness, but then you do not forgive me,” the story goes. This is a power-play by the one who perpetrated the injustice and should be recognized as such. Again, as in points 1 and 2, the fault is with particular people, in this case those who act unjustly. It is not the fault of forgiveness itself.

Forgiveness can be given a black eye by people, those who misunderstand. My client, forgiveness, is innocent and I ask the court to dismiss the charges against it.



On Being Treated Unfairly: Don’t Let Them Win Twice!

So often when I talk with people who have suffered severe injustices, they are not ready to forgive.  This is a normal reaction because a time of anger and adjustment to what happened is important.  Forgiveness never should be rushed or pushed onto anyone.  To the injured does the decision to forgive belong.
Within the past few weeks, I was talking with a teenager who lives under very trying circumstances.  He lives on the West Coast of the United States.  He has a history of violence against others because “this is the way you survive,” he told me.  “Forgiveness is a sign of weakness,” he added.  “You just can’t imagine what my family would say if I came home and proclaimed that I am forgiving those who hurt me.  They would get a big laugh out of this.”
Yet, his strategies are not necessarily working for him.  He is in a special program and could be expelled from his school and even from his school district.  Three of his relatives are in maximum security prison.  I hope we can keep him from following them.
Dr. Robert Enright

What strikes me in particular about this young man is his apparent kindness.  He does not have angry eyes.  He talks in a respectful way to me.  We are engaged in a conversation, not engaged in a battle of wills.  He wants to learn more about forgiveness, but he knows he could pay a dear price for practicing it, especially if his family and peers begin to mock him.

“You can forgive and not tell anyone you did this, not even the one who hut you,” I said.  “Those you forgive will know by how you respond to them, by how you are civil to them.  You do not have to use the word, ‘forgive.’”

“I need my anger,” was his studied response.

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song
“Don’t let them win twice!” I said to him.  “You have been hurt by others’ actions.  Now you are carrying around the **effects** of those injustices against you.  In your hurt, you are hurting others.  In your hurt, you are being told over and over that you are the one who needs rehabilitation.  You are the one being stereotyped.”
He looked at me with insightful eyes.  He wanted to learn more.

“Yes, you have been hurt by others.  Now you are hurting others.  You are even hurting yourself by your actions. Do you see how those who hurt you at first are hurting you again?  They may not be present to you, but they are inside of you, disrupting you, angering you, causing you pain and causing you to give pain to others.”

“They have hurt me twice,” was his insight.  He got it.

“The key now is to deliberately commit to do no harm to those who have injured you. Another key now is to deliberately commit to do no harm to others.  Don’t let your pain become others’ pain.  When you do that, those who have hurt you win again.  Those who originally hurt you win twice.”

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song
I added: “When you forgive, you do not throw justice out the window.  When people hurt you, try to exercise both justice and forgiveness together.  And justice is very different from revenge.  When you seek revenge, you are letting the other win as you come to the attention of authorities, when you are punished…..again.”
“They have hurt me enough.  They will not win again.”
And with that he committed to working on his own anger… that “the bad guys” don’t have a chance to win a second time.  We shook hands.  We have a mutual respect for each other as persons.

Forgiveness Stops the Hurt So the “Bad Guys” Don’t Defeat You

How about you?  Have others hurt you?  Are you allowing them to win again?

Forgiving allows you to win for a change.

Posted Nov 11, 2017


Does Forgiveness Victimize the Victim?

In the latest round of false criticism against the moral virtue of forgiveness, we find this: Forgiveness places an extra burden on victims because they already are burdened by injustice.  Now asking them to forgive or even assisting them in forgiveness adds a new challenge, a new burden and this is unfair.  Leave the victim alone, is the advice.

Let us examine this claim of a new unfair burden in forgiving.  Suppose that Person A deliberately hits Person B’s knee with a baseball bat, breaking the knee.  Person B has a burden: the broken knee and the resentment toward Person A.

If Person B now wishes to take seriously the responsibility for physical healing, should this person now go to the emergency room and endure the bright lights and the MRI and the surgery and the physical rehab?  Or, would this be too much of an added burden for Person B.  Perhaps it is unfair to encourage Person B to seek medical help……if we follow the logic of the forgiveness criticism.

Yet, this added burden of medical care, which can be a challenge, is hardly a burden relative to living with a broken knee that may not heal well with the resultant pain and limp that may last indefinitely.  The “burden” of healing is not nearly as troublesome as the burden of neglect of the injury.

Now let us turn back to the argument against forgiveness.  Let us even stay with the baseball bat incident.  Person B not only has a broken knee, but now also a broken heart from the shocking and unexpected incident.

Is it a burden to assist this person in healing the broken heart?  Should we just let the victim be?  Should we just let the victim live with the broken heart…..perhaps for the rest of the person’s life?

Do you see how this latest criticism against forgiveness is false?  Do you see how the major problem is the error in thinking by the critics and not in forgiveness itself?

When a person is morally injured, it seems to be charitable to offer healing.  Yes, healing can be challenging, but ignoring healing can be much worse.


What Is Meant by “Forgiveness and Justice Occur Together”?

In many of my writings, I make the point that when you forgive, you also should seek justice from the one who hurt you.  As an example, if someone continually verbally abuses you, it is good to ask that person to stop the abuse.

One person recently asked me if he now must—-must—-seek justice even if it is not expedient or helpful to do so.  As an example, suppose you have a boss who is annoying but not abusive.  Suppose further that your pointing out the annoyances will harm your position in the company.  Are you morally obligated to seek justice as you forgive?  No.  As with your choice to forgive or not, it is your choice whether or not to seek justice.

We need to keep a balance here.  There is no rule that says when you forgive you must not seek justice.  There is no rule that says when you forgive you must seek justice.

Instead, use your wisdom and sense of fairness as you ask yourself: Should I be seeking justice in this particular case?

If seeking justice is the reasonable option, it may be best first to forgive so that you do not approach with deep anger the person from whom you will be asking fairness.


Misunderstanding Forgiveness as One Reason Why We Need Forgiveness Education

Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense.  This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing.  Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender.  The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense.  Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened.  Only 8% of the respondents correctly understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 yearsold, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.

Robert Enright

More on Why We Need Forgiveness Education

On the Psychology Today website, I recently posted an essay entitled, Why We Need Forgiveness Education.  One person’s comment on this piece does seem to suggest that, indeed, we need forgiveness education starting at a young age.  The commentator’s point is that forgiveness is costly, perhaps too costly for some.  Forgiveness becomes so costly when for-reca person now senses the obligation, upon forgiving, to stay in a relationship that is highly abusive.

The assumption that a forgiver, because of forgiveness, now must stay in the deeply hurtful relationship is not correct.  Forgiveness does not obligate a person to remain in a hurtful relationship.  The assumption equates forgiving and reconciling and they are quite different.  Reconciliation is based on trust as two or more people come together again.  One can forgive from a distance without reconciling, if the other may do harm and is not trustworthy based on past and current behavior.

If we all had forgiveness education from childhood through adolescence and then applied the learning in adulthood, the assumption that equates forgiving and reconciling would not come up.  The lesson would have been learned in school……a long time ago.  Yet, current educational practices rarely make room for forgiveness education.research6

It seems to me that much of the misery in our own hearts could be eliminated if we took the time to learn the lessons of forgiving.  Such lessons would question those assumptions which keep us from forgiving because we falsely see danger in the act of forgiveness when that danger actually does not exist.

We need forgiveness education for our little ones…………now.