How can someone become vulnerable enough to accept the pain caused by another person and to ask for help when needed so that forgiveness becomes possible?

I think the key to this is humility. We have to practice the virtue of humility if we are to admit to ourselves the depth of our pain, to accept that we are hurt, and then to bear that pain. It also takes humility for us to realize that we need help. Asking for help is not dishonorable. We do this when we need medical treatment for a broken bone, for example. Humility, it seems to me, is not emphasized enough in our “get tough” society. Assertiveness has its place, but it is not the only response to moral injury. Humility has a rightful place in accepting one’s suffering, seeking help, and starting the forgiveness process.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

I hurt someone and now I feel guilty. What are some pointers you can give me to seek forgiveness for what I did?

As you seek forgiveness you can:

  • practice humility, that insight that you are not perfect.
  • You certainly are deserving of respect because all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.
  • You can apologize and then
  • wait patiently for the other to consider forgiving. Just because you are ready to receive the other’s forgiveness does not mean that the other is on the same timeline.
  • Change the behavior that led to the difficulty.
  • Then go in peace knowing you are doing your best in this.

For additional information, see: Learning to Forgive Others.

As people start to practice forgiveness, it seems to me that they often develop in humility, too. I am wondering what your view is on this.

Yes, I do see that as people develop in the virtue of forgiveness that they often grow in humility.  Humility is not something to be condemned, as the 19th century philosopher Nietzsche seemed to do.  Humility is not a quality of allowing oneself to become a doormat for others.  Instead, it is a stance of not thinking of oneself as superior, or trying to continually win regarding one’s relationship with others.  Humility is seeing that one is neither superior or inferior to others, but instead that we all have built-in worth.  Forgiveness fosters this idea that all people have worth, including those who have acted unfairly toward the forgiver.  Thus, humility and forgiveness share this common view of all people.

For additional information, see:  Learning to Forgive Others.

Humility, Courage, and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is full of paradoxes.  Consider three examples of these paradoxes:

1) As one is kind to those who are not kind to the person, then the forgiver experiences emotional relief;

2) Rather than seeking justice as part of forgiveness, the person exercises the virtue of mercy and this can be part of the healing process between two people;

3) When emotionally hurting from the injustice the focus is not on the self, but on the other and this promotes healing in the forgiver.

Another paradox is that as forgiveness fosters humility, the lowliness of humility fosters the strength of courage.  As one forgives, one begins to practice humility which means lowering oneself from a potential power position to see the self and the other as at least somewhat similar in these: We are both imperfect; we both have hurt others; we are both human and therefore each of us possesses inherent worth.  The humility can help one stand firm in courage to persevere in the forgiveness process with all of its paradoxes.  After all, if the forgiver sees the inherent worth in both, then there is motivation to acknowledge this worth and see the process of forgiveness through to the end, which requires courage.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but moving forward even in fear.

Humility and courage each can be misunderstood.  There are two extremes to both humility and courage.  The first extreme for humility is to have a very lowly—too lowly—view of the self so that people think they deserve to be humiliated, even constantly humiliated.  The other extreme of humility is, in trying to see one’s own bounds or limitations, to distort these at too high a level.  The quest for humility, in this second case of extremes, leads to a distortion toward one’s own greatness, one’s own specialness above others.

The first extreme of courage is too much fear that leads to a lack of action.  The second extreme of courage is a reckless bravado, charging ahead without the ability to do so and therefore to endanger self and others.

Humility requires a middle-ground between self-deprecation and self-inflation to a more realistic view of one’s own (and others’) strengths and weaknesses.

Courage requires a middle-ground between being frozen in fear and being reckless.

As one forgives, the person needs to balance both humility and courage.  Genuine humility (without the extremes discussed above) helps the forgiver to see the shared humanity with the forgiven.  Genuine courage (without those extremes) helps the forgiver to persevere in the struggle to forgive and to bring justice as its own moral virtue into the process of reconciliation.

Humility, courage, and forgiveness are a team that, together, can lead to inner healing and the offer of reconciliation toward those who have behaved unjustly.

Robert