I have been taught to forgive since I was a child. I think I am pretty good at it now. Recently, I have hit a road block and I just can’t seem to forgive a particular person. Given all of my experience with forgiving, since childhood, I am perplexed about my inability to forgive now. Help!

Because you have not described the current injustice, I am not able to say for sure, but I do have this question for you: How severe is the current injustice relative to all others you have faced in your life? If it is very severe, then please note that your forgiving this particular person may take more time and effort. This is ok. It does not mean that you are unforgiving. Please note that forgiveness is a process that can take months if the injustice is severe and if it is recent. Try to take the time to examine this person from what I call the personal, global, and cosmic perspectives in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. Taking time with these perspectives may help you in moving forward with your forgiveness of this person.

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 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 am newly married and my wife seems to have some suppressed anger from her childhood. Here is what I mean. At first, she talked about how idyllic her childhood was. Yet, over time, she has begun to develop nightmares about some of her interactions with her parents. These are not just nighttime fantasies because, as she looks back now, she is seeing some ignoring by the parents and putting-her-as-second best within her family of origin. What do you suggest?

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I recommend an exercise that I call the Forgiveness Landscape in which you begin to think about all of the people who have ever been unjust to you. You rate what the injustice is and how deeply that injustice hurt you. You then order these people from the least-severe hurt to the most-severe hurt. You start with the least-severe hurt and begin the forgiveness process with that person. Once you finish the forgiveness process with that one person, you move up to the next person, and then the next until you are experienced enough with forgiveness to start forgiving those who have been the most hurtful to you. This exercise may prove worthwhile for your wife. In other words, she does not start with the parents. As she forgives others, who are less hurtful to her, then her psychological defenses toward her parents, in which she may have been denying the degree of hurt, may change so that she sees the deeper hurt that she has. At that point, she may have the strength, the resolve, and the expertise to forgive the parents. At that point, the nightmares may end. I wish both of you the best on this forgiveness journey.

For additional information, see: How to Forgive.
To order Dr. Enright’s book, see: The Forgiving Life.

How can I introduce forgiveness into my own family. I am a mother of three children, ages 6, 8, and 11.

We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier.