To my way of thinking, forgiveness is this: You have a trauma. You then admit that you were traumatized. You then enter directly into conflict with the trauma, and reconstruct the trauma in your own mind. What do you think about this?

While your description may be part of what forgiveness is, I do think there is more to it than only this. When you forgive, your focus is not directly on the trauma. The focus is on the person who created the trauma. You can “reconstruct” a trauma in many ways that are not forgiveness. For example, you could say, “Well, in thinking about the trauma, it really was not so bad after all.” You have “reconstructed” the trauma, but this is not forgiveness because, when you forgive, you know that what happened to you was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong. You do not “reconstruct” what happened as “not so bad.” Thus, while you may remember the trauma—the event—in new ways when you forgive, you actually “reconstruct” who the other person is by struggling to see his or her humanity, his or her inherent (built-in) worth. As you reconstruct the person and see a truly full human being who is more than unjust behaviors, then you are in the process of forgiving.

For additional information, see: What is Forgiveness?

I am a victim of what currently is called “micro-aggressions.” This is what I mean: I am a descendant of people from India, but I was born and raised in the United States. Sometimes people ask me, “Where are you from?” I find that kind of presumptuous. Can I forgive people for such micro-aggressions?

Yes, if you have been offended by another’s actions, you should feel free to go ahead and forgive. In other words, you need not get others’ permission to forgive. This is your decision. Even if your peers say that you should just let it go, you can make your own choice here. If you are feeling resentment and consider the questions unjust, then forgiving those who ask the questions is reasonable.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness: An Offshoot of Love.

I have tried and tried and tried to forgive a particular person, but to no avail. I still have anger. Should I move in a direction other than forgiveness?

You say that you still have anger. How much anger do you have relative to the amount of anger you had prior to forgiving? Forgiveness does not necessarily expunge all anger. A key is this: Is the anger controlling you or are you now in control of the anger? If the latter is the case, then you very well may be forgiving. As the late Lewis Smedes said, forgiveness is an imperfect act for imperfect people. You need not have perfect forgiveness in order to have accomplished it to some degree.

Yet, let us presume that you are not forgiving even though you have tried. If you still are motivate to forgive, you can start at the beginning of the forgiveness process and persevere with regard to this one person. As a final point, if you are having difficulty forgiving Person A, you might try first forgiving someone else, Person B. I suggest this because, for example, some people have trouble forgiving a partner if the partner’s behavior reminds them of one of their own parent’s behavior. Forgiving the parent first then frees the forgiver to have more success with forgiving the partner.

For additional information, see:  Learning to Forgive Others.

To me, forgiveness has to involve at least some degree of trust toward the one I am forgiving. This, of course, makes forgiving difficult because, in some cases, to trust is to be vulnerable again to the other person’s unfair actions. What are your thoughts on the interplay of trust and forgiveness?

Trust is not a necessary condition to forgive. As a moral virtue, forgiveness is: a) a conscious awareness that one is trying to be good to the one who was not good to you; b) a softening of emotions from deep anger to compassion, and c) actions that express kindness, respect, generosity, and love toward an offending other(s). This does not necessarily mean that the kindness occurs directly toward the other because reconciliation and forgiveness differ. You can say a kind word to others about the offending person without being in direct contact with the one who offended you, if the other’s behavior is dangerous for you. Forgiveness is unconditional (occurring whenever the forgiver chooses) whereas trust is earned as offending persons show, by genuine remorse and repentance, that they have changed their hurtful behavior. You can forgive and wait on the issue of trust.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Defined.

How can I make a breakthrough with my roommate who is exceedingly angry with his ex-girlfriend, but keeps denying it? Forgiveness seems to be out of the question for him because he keeps saying, with obvious anger, “I am ok. I have moved on.”

Having the psychological defense of denial is not uncommon. People need time to adjust to an injustice and so please be gentle with your roommate. If, however, this has been going on for months and you see that his denied anger is affecting his well-being, you might want to focus on his inner pain, not forgiveness yet. If he can see his own pain, then he might be able to get at least a psychological glimpse of his anger. At this point, then your slowly introducing the idea of forgiveness might be helpful for him.

For additional information, see: What is Forgiveness?

I hang out with friends and a constant norm in our group is to express, and keep expressing, lots of anger. I see this as so much unnecessary anger. Please, what should I do? I ask because this constant expression of anger is wearing me down.

You might want to gently share one of your own stories of forgiveness when the group is in a quieter state. Showing forgiveness through your own story could be the beginning of teaching your friends about what forgiveness is and what it can accomplish. With this approach, you are not demanding forgiveness from them, but instead are giving them a chance to see it in action as you describe what you did and the effects of forgiveness on you. With this approach, you might be establishing a new norm, one of forgiveness, into the group.

For additional information, see: Choose Love, Not Hate.

I am afraid to forgive because it could open up old wounds. Maybe I am better off just living with the pain.

Let us start with an analogy. Suppose you have a torn ligament in your knee and your physician recommends surgery. Suppose further that you are afraid of the surgery because it and the subsequent rehabilitation work will be painful. Would you just live with the knee pain, which could get worse and interfere with your quality of life, or would you go ahead with the surgery? Please notice that you will have pain either way—because of the torn ligament in the knee or because of the surgery and rehabilitation. The latter pain will end. The knee pain from the neglected medical treatment will continue and possibly get worse. Which do you choose?

It is the same with the process of forgiveness. You already have the “old wounds” because of the injustice against you. Forgiveness does not create more “old wounds” but instead introduces new and **temporary pain** because of the surgery-of-the-heart and the forgiveness rehabilitation, which could lead to permanent healing. Thus, I would not let the “old wounds” stand in the way of genuine healing.

For additional information, see: Holding Grudges? Forgiveness Key to Healthy Body.