I tried to expand my perspective of the one who hurt me. When I did this, I truly saw all sorts of hurts in this person.  Do you know what effect this had on me?  It made me not like myself because I now ask this: “How could I not have seen all of this before?” I think I am stupid and so now I am not liking myself very much. Help!

Let us take comfort from Aristotle here.  This ancient Greek philosopher instructed us that it takes much time and effort to grow in each of the moral virtues such as justice, patience,  kindness, and forgiveness.  None of us is perfect as we try to exercise any of these virtues.  As part of the process of growing in the moral virtue of forgiveness, we are challenged to take this wider perspective on those who have been unjust to us.

I have found that it is quite rare for people to take this wider perspective without some instruction.  So, please be gentle with yourself.  You still are growing in this moral virtue.  You cannot be expected to be perfect in this process. So, as you take this longer perspective on the one who hurt you, please try to be encouraged that you, like most of the rest of us, do not automatically generate such thinking.

Therefore, you definitely are not, in your word, “stupid.” We are all on this journey of discovery and it is all right that we are not perfect at this point.  In fact, Aristotle counsels us that we never reach full perfection in any of the moral virtues.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Starting forgiveness is not so bad, but continuing with it is rough.  I kind of want to move on to other things in my life.  So, how do I persevere to the end and complete forgiveness without giving up?

In the book, The Forgiving Life, I talk about the good will, the free will, and the strong will.  The good will allows you to see those who hurt you in all of their woundedness and to respond to them with kindness.  The free will allows you to say “yes” to the forgiveness process itself.  The strong will allows you to keep going even though it is difficult.

Try to be aware of the strong will.  Cultivate it in other areas even apart from forgiveness.  For example, stay with the challenge of an exercise program; finish the book you started; complete a home-project that you started a while back.  These efforts can strengthen the strong will which can advance you toward the finish line of forgiveness.  Please keep in mind that even when you reach that finish line of forgiveness, anger can resurface later.  Apply the good will, the free will, and the strong will again as you revisit the forgiveness process.

For additional information, see On the Importance of Perseverance when Forgiving.

Can I begin the forgiveness process without an actual commitment to forgive, or must I have a firm inner commitment before starting?

Because forgiveness is a process, you do not need a firm commitment to forgive as you start.  You can tentatively try forgiving and see how it goes.  You can stop for a while and start again.  As you progress and deepen in your understanding and appropriation of forgiving, you then may move to the conviction that you are committed to the forgiveness process.  One way to start this commitment is to say to yourself that you will  do no harm to the one who injured you.  This “do no harm” often is the beginning of the commitment for many people who go through our Process Model of Forgiveness.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I have a problem with this whole idea of forgiveness.  Forgiveness asks me to “just move on” or to “leave it in the past.”  How can I “leave it in the past” when it is constantly  nipping at my heals and the memories just won’t leave me alone?

Forgiveness is not just moving on or leaving something in the past.  As a moral virtue, forgiveness is focused on goodness toward particular persons, those who have been unjust to you.  As you forgive, you begin changing your view of that person and so this memory of “nipping at your heals” lessens.  Without this paradox of struggling to be good to those who were not good to you, it is very difficult to “leave it in the past.” Forgiving allows you to move into the future without that burden of continual unfinished business.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness. 

I hate to admit it, but I have been hating someone for years. How long now will it take me to forgive? I want it all wrapped up this week.

Please do not think of forgiving as a kind of pill one takes for a headache. You do not take a forgiveness pill and then wait a little while for complete relief. Forgiveness, instead, is a process, a challenging process, that takes time to develop. We find that the more severe the injustice against a person, then the longer it may take to forgive. If you work at it, we find that people tend to feel some relief in about 12 weeks; others still may take much longer, but even in this longer process, you might sense that your anger is diminishing, which can motivate you to keep at the forgiveness process. Anger is not necessarily entirely eliminated when a person forgives, but hatred (very deep and abiding anger) does tend to diminish. I am encouraged that you are considering forgiving even with hatred in your heart. This, to me, is a good sign that you will make progress in your forgiving.

 

I am having a hard time persevering in forgiving someone. What do you suggest?

When you say that you are having a hard time persevering, do you mean that you have stopped trying to forgive? If so, I suggest that you reflect for a while on what I call your strong will. A strong will is the motivation and behavior intended to keep you on a path, any path, that you deem as worthwhile. Philosophers often talk about the good will (wanting the best for others), a free will (choosing to do good rather than being forced to do so), but rarely talk of the strong will. This strong will, or the desire and effort to continue toward the goal, needs reflection and it’s development within you. As the strong will develops, you likely will stay on the path of forgiving. Also, please note that it is fine to take breaks from the forgiveness process. We do this with work vacations or taking time out from the fitness workouts in the gym. We can do the same with forgiving, but with the intent to return.

For additional information, see: On the Importance of Perseverance when Forgiving.

I still don’t get your point that when we forgive a person then we try to see them in a positive light. Why can’t we just be indifferent toward that person?

We need to think of forgiveness as a process that is imperfect. We often start with negative feelings toward a person who has been deeply unjust to us. This can change to the indifference which you suggest. Eventually, this can transform to a small amount of compassion and even develop into a sense of agape love, or a love that is in service to the other for that person’s own sake. From the perspective of Aristotelian philosophy, there is an essence or a perfect bottom-line to what forgiveness is in its ideal state. That essence, as I explain in my book, The Forgiving Life, is agape love toward the one who was hurtful. Defining the essence of forgiving as agape love does not mean that all who forgive reach this endpoint. Yet, it is important to know the endpoint so we know the ultimate goal toward which we are striving. Knowing this ideal endpoint is important as we practice any virtue, whether it is forgiveness or justice or courage or patience, as examples.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.