Coordinating Forgiving and Seeking Forgiveness

When a person is ready to be forgiven, the other may not be ready to forgive.

I have stated previously that to forgive is courageous and even heroic when treated unjustly by others. As you do the hard work of being good to those who are not good to you, as you approach the other with this offer of forgiveness, it sometimes can get complicated. The complications then can lead to new hurts and even a new opportunity to forgive. Consider six issues regarding the granting of forgiveness and the seeking of it:

1.  When people forgive, they go through what can be a lengthy and challenging process. They commit to doing no harm to the one who was offensive. They try to see the offending person in a much wider context than only the offending behavior. They try to see the inherent worth in the other, offer compassion, stand in the pain lest they give that pain right back to the other, and they try to be merciful. Such overtures at times can backfire as the other is not ready to seek forgiveness. Thus the forgiver might be met with such statements as: “What do you mean? I did nothing wrong. You are overly sensitive and are over-reacting.”

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs

2.  When people have offended and seek forgiveness, they, too, go through a potentially lengthy and challenging process.  They try to see the offended person as wounded, as in need of some assistance to overcome the hurt. The offending people see the inherent worth of the offended, have empathy on what they are enduring, and want to reach out to make things right. Such overtures at times also can backfire as the offended one is not ready to forgive. The forgiveness-seeker might be met with these kinds of statements: “What’s your game now? You are constantly doing this and I have had it. Don’t bother me with your sob story.”

3.  The take-home message for those of you either trying to forgive or seeking forgiveness is this: Try to see where the other person is in the process (of either forgiving or seeking it). Both of you may be in very different developmental places in your respective healing journeys. Getting a sense of which of you is far along and which of you is not ready is highly important so that each of you can be patient with the other and with the self. . . .

Read the final three issues of this blog on the Psychology Today website where it was posted on December 5, 2018.

Robert

How Do I Forgive a Cheating Boyfriend? Six Suggestions

.Betrayal can be very painful and difficult to overcome.  When the resentment builds, it is important not to let it have its way.  Otherwise, it could live within you for a very long time,  chipping away at your happiness, making you mistrustful of those who may be worth of trust, and spilling over to your loved ones.  This is why betrayal is such a challenge, particularly the effects of such betrayal that can take the form of excessive anger, anxiety, and depression.

Here are six suggestions that may be helpful to you as you consider forgiving:

First, you need not have forgiveness wrapped up in a day or a week.  Forgiveness is a process that takes time.  Be gentle with yourself as you begin to consider forgiving.

Second, to experience some emotional relief in forgiving, you do not have to be a perfect forgiver.  Even if you have some anger left over, as long as the anger is not dominating your life, you can experience considerable emotional relief.  For example, in a study of incest survivors, all of the participants started the forgiveness therapy with very low scores on forgiving.  After about 14 months of working on  forgiveness, as the study ended, most of the participants were only at the mid-point of the forgiveness scale.  In other words, they began to forgive, accomplished it to some degree, but certainly had not completely forgiven.  Yet, their depression left and their self-esteem rose.  Forgiving to a degree, but not perfectly, made all the difference in their emotional health (see Freedman and Enright, 1996).

Third, as you forgive, try to see the humanity in your boyfriend.  Is he more than the cheating behavior?  If so, in what ways?  Does he possess what we call “inherent worth,” or unconditional value as a person, not because of what he did, but in spite of this?  Do you share a common humanity with him in that both of you are special, unique, and irreplaceable because you are human?  This is not done to excuse his behavior.  Instead, it is a thought-exercise to see both his humanity and yours.

Fourth, are you willing to bear the pain of the cheating so that you do not pass it on to your brother or sister, to your classmates or co-workers, or even to your boyfriend himself?  Bearing the pain shows you that you are strong, in fact, stronger than the cheating and its effects on you.

Fifth, as you forgive, bring justice alongside the forgiving.  In other words, ask something of him.  What is his view of fidelity?  Does he need some counseling help to deal with a weakness of commitment?  Does he show remorse and a willingness to change?  If so, what is your evidence for this?  You need not unconditionally trust him right away.  Trust can be earned a little at a time, but be sure not to use this issue of “earned trust” as a weapon or punishment against him. Allow him to redeem himself as he shows you he can be trusted.

Sixth, and finally, know that there is a difference between forgiving and reconciling.  If he does not deeply value you as a person, if his actions show self-centeredness, and if this seems like a pattern that he is not willing to change, then you can forgive and not reconcile.  Forgiving in this case may not give you this relationship that you had desired, but it will free you of deep resentment and allow you to be ready for a more genuine relationship in which you are open to the true affection and care of another.

Forgiveness is hard work.  It takes time because it occurs in the face of great pain.  If you choose to try it, then forgiving is worth the effort to do the important rehabilitation of your heart.

Posted in Psychology Today March 18, 2018

References:
Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.


8 Reasons to Forgive

Forgiveness within psychology is relatively new, having emerged as a research focus in the later 1980’s (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Over the next three decades, a host of studies have emerged within the mental health professions showing that Forgiveness  Therapy is beneficial for the client, for the one who forgives (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade et al., 2014). We have to be careful with these findings primarily because a false conclusion could emerge: Forgiveness is only for, or primarily for, the one who forgives; it has little to do with the one forgiven. This, actually, does not seem to be the case. A reflection on what forgiveness accomplishes, its purpose or goal, suggests at least 8 purposes to forgiving.

What does it mean to forgive? Although there may be different behaviors across the  wide variety of cultures to express forgiveness, in its universal essence, forgiveness can be defined as a moral virtue, centered on goodness, that occurs in the context of being treated unfairly by others. The one who then chooses to forgive deliberately tries to eliminate resentment and to offer goodness of some kind toward the offending person, whether this is kindness, respect, generosity, or even love.

The one who forgives does not automatically go back into a dangerous relationship. The forgiver can forgive and then not reconcile. The forgiver does not excuse the unfair behavior but offers goodness in the face of the unfairness. The forgiver should not think in “either/or” terms, either forgiving and abandoning a quest for justice, or seeking justice alone without forgiving. The two moral virtues of forgiveness and justice can and should be applied together.

With this understanding in place, here are at least 8 reasons to forgive. Which of these are in your conscious awareness when you offer this virtue to those who have wronged you?
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When I forgive, I do so:

1. to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.

2. to repair relationships as it helps me to see the other’s worth.

3. to grow in character because it can help me to become a better person.

4. to be of assistance, within reason, toward the one who acted unjustly. Forgiveness extends the hand of friendship even though the other may reject this.
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5. to help me to assist other family members to see that forgiveness is a path to peace.  Forgiveness for peace, in other words, can be passed through the generations.


6. to motivate me to contribute to a better world as anger does not dominate.

7. to help me to more consistently live out my own philosophy of life or faith tradition if that worldview honors forgiveness.

8. to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to my offer of forgiving. 

To forgive is to exercise goodness even toward those who are not good to you. Forgiveness is perhaps the most heroic of all of the moral virtues (such as justice, patience, and kindness, for example). I say it is heroic because which other moral virtue concerns the offer of goodness, through one’s own pain, toward the one who caused that pain? Do you see this—the heroic nature of forgiving—as you extend it to others?

Robert


References:

  • Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004).  Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
  • Enright, R. D., Santos, M., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989).  The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95-110.
  • Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014).  Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.

Posted in Psychology Today Apr 16, 2018

On Persistence for Well-Being

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.

Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Seeing Beyond the Tears

Sometimes when we are caught up in grief and anger, it seems like this is all there will ever be now in our life. Permanent tears. Permanent anger.

Yet, please take a look at two different times in your life in which you were steeped in heartache or rage. The tears came…..and they left.

Today it may seem like these will never end…..but they will.

Take a lesson from your own past. The pains were temporary.

They are temporary even now.

Forgiveness helps them to be temporary.

Robert

Persistence: The Path to Becoming Forgivingly Fit

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.  Yet, we must avoid under-doing it, too, if we are to continue to grow.
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It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit.
.
This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?
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Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Forgiveness, the Marathon, and the Inspired Work of Art

marathon4So, then, what do forgiveness, running the marathon, and contemplating a magnificent work of art all have in common?

They are all hard to accomplish, said one.

They are all impossible if we are realistic about the human endeavor, said another.

They are all cruel ideals to make each of us feel inferior, said the third.

And yet, I wonder.  Surely, one can forgive those who offend.  Some can run the marathon.  I know someone who finished the Boston Marathon nine years in a row.  And contemplating great art is feasible as long as we let the beauty speak to us rather than our trying to define it and therefore reduce it.

Michelangelo - The Pieta
Michelangelo – The Pieta

Forgiveness, running the marathon, and contemplating great art all stretch us, ask us to see farther down the road, challenge us to grow beyond our current self.

They all awaken in us the call to greatness.  They all challenge us to see that life is more than going to work, collecting a paycheck, and kicking back on the weekend, only to repeat the cycle seemingly endlessly until we retire.

Forgiveness is a heroic virtue because it asks us to so stretch ourselves that we are good to those who are not good to us.  The marathon shows us that we can go beyond our expected capacity, that we have a reserve that can be discovered by the strong will.  The contemplation of inspired works of art challenges us to see that there is more to this world than we can see and hear and taste and touch in our ordinary surroundings.  There is a greatness awaiting us, if only we have the courage to look.

forgivenesssetsyoufreeWe all can begin by forgiving a loved one for a minor injustice.  We all can start to walk and then run and lift that weight even if it does not translate into over 26 miles of challenge.  We all can create and contemplate what others around us create even if none of these will see its way to a Florentine gallery.  And we can keep raising the bar on whom to forgive, what exercises challenge us, and what magnificent art really is.

We all can start stretching ourselves today.  Forgiveness, the marathon, and inspired great art are all calls to us to move forward, to be better than we are today, to reach and then achieve.

Robert