I have noticed that in both Hebrew and Christian scripture the central stories of person-to-person forgiveness focus on family issues only. Does this imply that we are to forgive only family members because of the love we share? Maybe it is too hard to forgive strangers.

While the story of Joseph forgiving his 10 half-brothers in the Hebrew scriptures and the story of the father forgiving his Prodigal Son in the Christian scriptures center on family issues, there are other passages showing the importance of forgiving people who are not family. Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter 18. In this story, the king forgives a servant who owes a large debt. That servant then refuses to forgive the debt of another servant, who is not a family member. The king is very unhappy about this lack of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father in Matthew chapter 6, people are exhorted to forgive and this is not centered on family members only. Thus, it appears that scripture does not focus on family only when teaching us about the importance of forgiving others.

For additional information, see the “Faith and Religion” page on this website.

Why is it so hard for us to make the decision to forgive when we know it is good for us?

Our research shows that the decision to go ahead with forgiving is one of the hardest parts of this process. I think this is the case because change in general is difficult. For example, if we decide to get into physical shape, going to the gym for the first time, seeing all of that equipment, and deciding on the type of gym membership can be stressful. Moving to a new town and apartment for a new job is change that can be stressful. I think the decision to forgive is similar. We have questions: What, exactly, is forgiveness? Will it work for me? Will the process be painful? These initial worries can be alleviated by courageously going forward, even slowly. As people enter the process of forgiveness and they see even small benefits at first, then this increases confidence in the process and hope for a positive outcome.

For additional information, see Why Forgive?

Is forgiveness correlated with resilience?

Resilience in layperson terms is “bouncing back” from adversity. Not only is forgiveness correlated with resilience, our science shows that learning to forgive actually causes resilience in terms of improved self-esteem and hope and reductions in anger, anxiety, and depression. You can read some of these articles on the “Research” page of this website.

For additional information, see “Research.”

I am very angry with my boyfriend. Is it better to confront him while I am burning with anger or wait until I cool down?

I think it is best to wait. You may say things while deeply angry that you regret later. He may have to forgive you for how you approached him. Waiting, thinking about forgiveness as a possibility, even trying forgiveness first may be best in this circumstance. The reduced anger may help you think through what happened and what you, realistically, would like to see changed in his behavior and in the relationship.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

How do I know when it is a good time to seek forgiveness from someone? I am afraid of being rejected.

Seeking forgiveness does require courage because the other may not be ready to forgive. This is part of the seeking-forgiveness process (being willing to bear the pain of the other’s rejection of your request for forgiveness). Yet, if you in a humble way seek forgiveness, even if the other is very angry, this might help reduce the person’s anger and thus might help the person to consider forgiving you earlier than might have been the case.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am not sure if I really want to forgive. How will I know when I am ready?

As you look within, consider asking yourself these questions: a) Have my attempts at this point to heal from this difficult experience been effective? b) If not, what other options other than forgiveness do I have? c) Am I hopeful that these other options will work for me?; d) Might forgiveness help me to heal? e) Have I confronted any fears about forgiving or any doubts about what the forgiveness process might involve? If you do not have viable options and if you have overcome fears or doubts about forgiveness, then perhaps it is time to give this a try.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

 

I have read the journal article by Suzanne Freedman and you regarding forgiveness by incest survivors. To be honest with you, I find those case studies unrealistic. So, I cannot see how it is possible for anyone to forgive someone for such acts. Can you convince me otherwise?

The science we report in that article on forgiveness interventions for incest survivors shows in a statistically significant way that the research participants improved substantially in their psychological health, including being healed from psychological depression. As you are skeptical, most of the incest surviving participants in that study initially were skeptical, saying that they did not think it was possible for them to forgive. Nonetheless, once they voluntarily agreed to work on forgiveness with Dr. Freedman guiding them, they were able to complete the forgiveness process with excellent psychological results. In other words, initial skepticism is not an indication of a final decision or a final outcome. Skepticism can aid us in asking the difficult questions and waiting until we receive reasonable answers, but skepticism need not be a final answer, as we saw in this study.

For additional information, see Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal With Incest Survivors.