Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”

J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice:   Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.

If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.

In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”

The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.

In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.

Criticisms of Forgiveness —— 2nd in a series:   “The Forgiver and Forgiven as Inferior”

The Forgiver as Inferior

When someone forgives so rapidly that he or she glosses over a legitimate period of anger, that person is not showing self-respect, as Jeffrie G. Murphy,  (1982, 2005) reminded us. Murphy’s concern, however, was not with forgiving per se but instead with the short-circuiting of the process. As long as the process of forgiving makes room for this legitimate period of anger, Murphy and those who agree with him should not be troubled by forgiveness.

The Forgiven as Inferior

Even if a forgiver does not try to dominate the offender, the latter may nonetheless feel very badly about having to be forgiven (see Droll, 1985; O’Shaughnessy, 1967). Derek may feel that Alice (his wife with whom he is having conflict), by her forgiving, is morally superior to him. Yet, Alice need not tell Derek of her gift. Even if he should suspect forgiveness on her part and then pine over this, Alice has done nothing wrong. Her gift remains a gift regardless of Derek’s response. If a child wails in protest over the gift of socks on Christmas morning, does this present then not count as a gift just because the child wanted a popular computer game and did not receive it?

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5076-5085). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

If I forgive, will my memories now be good memories or will they always remain bad?

When we forgive, we do not forget.  We tend to remember in new ways.  If you decide to forgive, and when you look back, the memories may not be good in that you see goodness from all involved.  You likely still will see unfairness and call it that.  The big difference after you forgive is this:  When you remember, you will do so with less pain and with more understanding.  You still may experience some sadness because of what might have been, but the deep pain of resentment should diminish.

Learn more at Learning to Forgive Others.

Criticisms of Forgiveness – 1st in a Series: “Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Forgiver”

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.

We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.; Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

What Is the Difference Between Acceptance and Forgiveness?

“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times.  When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness.  Forgiveness and acceptance are different.

Acceptance vs forgivenessWhen one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense.  It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others.  Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen.  To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened.  To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.

Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who Forgiveness is lovehave created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event.  Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur. 

A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person.  The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.

While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others.  Forgiveness is the active process for this.

Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.

Robert

Can you give me one example of how an attempt at forgiving can be immoral or inappropriate?

Forgiving in its essence is never immoral because it is part of the moral good of this world.  When you offer unconditional kindness and even love to someone who hurt you, while protecting yourself against further wrong, this is goodness itself.  Yet, when a person does not fully understand what forgiveness is, it is this distorted notion of forgiveness that can be inappropriate.  An example is using the act of forgiving to exert power over the other.  The “forgiver” might constantly remind the other of his or her offense and how hard and noble it is to forgive.  This, of course, is not forgiveness at all but a distortion of it.

Learn more at What Is Forgiveness.

I want to forgive but quite frankly it scares me.  I don’t get why I am so scared to forgive.  Can you provide some insights for me?

You might be scared because you think that to forgive is to cave in to the other’s demands and unjust treatment. To forgive is to offer goodness from a position of strength as you stand against the injustice, bear the pain of what happened, and offer a hand of encouragement to the other in the hope that he or she will change.

You might be scared because forgiveness is new to you and so, being unfamiliar with the process, it is the change itself that is scary. It is like moving to a new apartment or starting a new job. The unexplored is scary until we adjust. Trying to engage in the process of forgiveness will give you a chance to see its life-giving properties and reduce the scary part of starting this new journey.

Learn more about forgiveness in 8 Keys to Forgiving.