Right now, I am alone and do not have a supportive person with whom I can do the forgiveness work.  Would you recommend that I wait until I have found such a person before I start the forgiveness process?

This depends on how deeply serious is the injustice against you and your inner reactions.  For example, on a 1-to-10 scale, how angry or sad are you (with a 10 being extreme pain)?  If you are near a 10, then I would recommend a mental health professional who knows Forgiveness Therapy or who is willing to read one of my self-help books (such as Forgiveness Is a Choice) along with you.  If your pain is in the 3 to 5 range, you might consider going ahead with that book yourself and let me, in my printed words, accompany you on the forgiveness journey.

For additional information, see How to Forgive.

The Idea of Forgiveness Lives On

Two recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on this: Forgiveness as an idea for all of humanity is powerful and so such an idea tends to persevere across time and not wither.

For the first example, I unexpectedly received on Facebook a message from a person who coaches people before they give Ted Talks.  His name is Brendan Fox and he had this message for me in the context of forgiveness for sexual abuse victims/survivors:

“Hi, Robert! Hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that I read your book, and I watched one of your online lectures. I think your work is so good for the world. Recently, I coached a Ted Talk featuring a sex trafficking survivor. Your work was hugely influential in inspiring the talk and message (as you’ll see). I wanted to credit you, and share it with you, because I think this represents part of your legacy, and how you are making the world a better place (in many indirect ways!). I’m rooting for you in the Game of Life!”

Here is a link to the talk to which Brendan refers.  The video (10:21) is quite inspirational: Escaping the Pain of Human Trafficking Markie Dell.

I find Brendan’s message and the video very interesting in this: Suzanne Freedman, whose blog on forgiveness education we recently posted here, and I had an idea in the mid-1990’s that a forgiveness intervention might be helpful for women who have been sexually abused.  At the time, this idea was exceptionally controversial.  People thought that we were saying this, “Oh, you were abused?  Forgive and go back into that situation.”  No.  This is not what forgiveness is at all.  A person can forgive, rid the self of toxic resentment and hatred, and not reconcile.  Suzanne’s ground-breaking forgiveness intervention with incest survivors was important in helping the social scientific world see the importance of forgiveness interventions.

That study was published in 1996, almost a quarter of a century ago: 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.

After almost a quarter of a century later, Suzanne’s ideas live on and are helping people to heal from extreme injustices against them.  If we can get this far with forgiveness in the face of grave sexual abuse, perhaps there is a place for forgiveness in other areas of woundedness, such as helping people who have no homes, who are living on the streets, to forgive those who have crushed their hearts.  Will this aid their recovery?  Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute is taking the lead right now on this question.

Here is the second of our two examples regarding the staying-power and influence of forgiveness.  In 2002, a team of us decided to start what we now call forgiveness education with children.  We reasoned this way:  If we can help children learn about forgiveness and how to forgive, then  when they are adults, they will have the tool of forgiveness for combating the potentially unhealthy effects of unjust treatment against them. 

These students at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are learning about forgiveness at the same school where Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides were first used more than 17 years ago.

We developed forgiveness education guides for grades 1 and 3 (Primary 3 and 5 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and we brought these guides to the principal, Claire Hilman, and the teachers at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast.  Claire said yes and so we launched forgiveness education there as the first place in the world where there is a deliberate curriculum to teach forgiveness, about once a week for 12 to 15 weeks.  The program has expanded to include pre-kindergarten (age 4) all the way through 12th grade (this is a designation in the United States and includes ages 17-18).  These forgiveness education guides have been requested now by educators in over 30 countries. 

Just recently, Belfast had its almost 2-week annual 4Corners Festival.  The theme for 2019 was “Scandalous Forgiveness.”  The term “scandalous” was inserted as an adjective because, even in 2019, some people consider the act of forgiving others to be outrageous and inappropriate.  The point of the festival was to gently challenge that thinking and try to fold themes of forgiveness into the fabric of Belfast society.

I gave a talk on February 1, 2019 at this 4Corners Festival.  When Mr. Edward Petersen of the Clonard Monastery introduced me to the audience prior to my talk, he stated that the theme for this year’s festival was inspired by our 17-year presence of supporting Belfast teachers in their forgiveness education efforts.  We started in 2002 and an inspiration by community organizers blossomed in 2019, many years after we first planted the idea of forgiveness education in Belfast.  The idea of forgiveness lives on and now expands city-wide because of the vision and wisdom of the 4Corners Festival organizers.

Forgiveness: it does not wither.  It survives over time and grows.  I think it does so because forgiveness gives life.  Forgiveness unites people in families and communities where injustices could divide.

The idea of forgiveness lives on, and for good reason.

Robert

I have forgiven my partner but at times I get angry about what she did to me.  How can I avoid these feelings and forgive permanently?

As the late Lewis Smedes used to say, forgiveness is an imperfect activity for imperfect people.  Even if anger surfaces occasionally, please do not grow discouraged.  You can forgive again and it likely will take less time than previously and lead to better results.  The idea of “permanent” forgiveness is not necessarily going to happen in all people for all circumstances.  Having some anger left over happens to many people, especially when the injustice is deep.  So, please be gentle with yourself and please do not expect absolute perfection as you grow in the moral virtue of forgiveness.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

What are the different meanings to the word “forget” when we say, “Forgive and forget”?

I think people usually mean this: Do not let the previous injustice get in the way of your relationship now.  It does not means this: Do not remember the other person’s weaknesses so that you are vulnerable to continued injustices.  In other words, “forget” means this: Remember in new ways, without deep anger, and watch your back.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

What is a healthy way of expressing anger?

A good way to start is by asking this question to yourself: “How will my specific way of expressing anger affect the other person(s) who are present when I express it?”  In other words, your expression has an effect not only on you but on others.  If you keep this in mind, your expression of that anger may be more temperate and thus not emotionally injure those who are present.

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

Politics are coming between my partner and me.  We have very different views.  I tell him, over and over, that I respect him as a person even though I disagree with his political positions.  It is not working.  He is angry with me for not seeing the world his way.  Help!  What do I do?

You can start by forgiving your partner for insisting that you change your political views.  This will not suffice to quell the conflict.  Once you forgive, and your exasperation lessens, try to have a heart-to-heart talk.  Be honest, and gentle, as you communicate your frustration with his insistence.  Try to reach reconciliation by talking out specific ways in which both of you can respect each other as persons even with political differences.  It will take time and effort, but may work.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

Syrian children have watched their parents die or have assisted in carrying out their parents’ bodies.  What would you advise for these children?

We first have to realize that forgiveness belongs to those who rationally conclude that they have been wronged.  Even if others say, “You have no right to forgive because there is no injustice here,” this does not mean that the children now are frozen in their decisions to forgive.  Some, perhaps the majority, of children who have such a traumatic experience, may develop severe resentment.  This resentment could destroy their lives in the future, even in the distant future because the damaging effects of resentment may not be manifested for years.  So, if there is the poison of resentment and if the children, as they grow up, decide to forgive, they should do so.  A question is whether they are able to identify specific people to forgive or whether they will end up forgiving a system and which system that will be.

For additional information, see Healing Hearts, Building Peace.