You have what you call the Process Model of forgiveness in which you walk people through a series of steps toward forgiveness. It seems to me that this approach is too limiting. Why impose a particular system rather than let people forgive as they wish, when they wish, and with their own freedom of expression?

Let me start with an analogy. Suppose you are from Spain and you fly into Chicago in the United States. As you exit the airport, your goal is to get to Green Bay, Wisconsin. You have no road map and you never have been in the United States before now. Would it be an imposition if someone gave you a road map that leads from Chicago to Green Bay? Certainly, the map-giver knows that there are many different routes you could take to your final destination, but this particular road map is time-tested and gets the person to Green Bay in the shortest time possible. Would this be a service to the person from Spain or an imposition, especially when the map-giver is not insisting on the use of this map?

It is the same with the Process Model of forgiveness. Think of it as your road map to forgiving and it is your choice whether or not to use that map and even whether or not to engage in all of the units of the Process Model. In my own experience, when people want to forgive, many do not know how to do so or to do so in as efficient way as possible. The Process Model is an empirically-verified treatment. In other words, it has been shown in scientific studies to work in aiding people’s forgiving and in reducing emotional distress. It then is the person’s own choice to use it or not, when to use it, and how to use it.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I was told I have not truly forgiven someone, because I do not trust the person anymore. I thought we can forgive an offense, but have to work on restoring trust. Sometimes trust can be restored and reconciliation occurs, but other times it does not. I thought it was also possible to forgive someone without ever trusting them again. Is this not true? Please advise.

You show wisdom in making the distinction between forgiving and reconciling.

Forgiveness is a moral virtue that can start as an interior response to the one who acted unjustly. In other words, forgiveness starts with an insight that the other person has inherent worth, as you do. It also eventually can include what the philosopher, Joanna North, calls the “softened heart,” or compassion for the other.

In contrast, reconciliation is a negotiation strategy between two or more people who come together again in mutual trust. One can have the forgiving thoughts and feelings toward the other without interacting with the other person if that person continues to act in a harmful way. A goal of forgiving is to reconcile, but this does not always occur. Reconciliation involves trust, which can be difficult to re-establish unless the other shows what I call “the three R’s” of remorse (inner sorrow), repentance (a verbal expression of that sorry), and when possible recompense (making up for the injustice). These three can help re-establish trust, which usually takes time as the offending ones show a little at a time that they can be trusted by their new actions.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?

Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

How can I keep the light of forgiveness burning in my heart? There are so many distractions in contemporary culture. Forgiveness could be easily forgotten.

A key is this: Know that what you call “the light of forgiveness” is important to you. Know further that it could fade in you if you do not give it the attention it deserves. Aristotle emphasized practice as a way to grow in the virtues. The more you practice forgiveness, the better you become at it. The better you become at it, then the more you develop what Aristotle called a love for the virtue.

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I focus on what I call the strong will. You need this strong will to persevere in the practice of forgiveness, even though all around you are opportunities to ignore forgiveness and seek pleasure to avoid pain. Forgiveness can be painful work, but the pain, in my view, is far less than carrying the pain of deep resentment for many years.

I wish you the best in your persevering journey to develop a love of the virtue of forgiveness.

Learn more at The Forgiving Life.

If I forgive another, I am worried that I then will no longer see the truth: What they did was wrong. Can you help me with this?

There is a large difference between forgiving people and excusing their behavior. Forgiving necessitates this: You continue to see their actions as wrong, but those actions no longer are the exclusive or primary way in which you think about those people. You begin to see them as far more than their actions against you. Again, you do not invalidate the wrong, but you make room in your heart for the person as person. Reconciliation then is possible if they are trustworthy and do not continue to harm you.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I forgave my ex-partner and all was forgiven and forgotten. This was years ago. All of a sudden, I find myself angry all over again after three years. Did I not go through the forgiveness process the first time?

Forgiving others is not a perfect straight line that gets you to the end of anger and then all anger is finished. The late Lewis Smedes said that forgiving is an imperfect process for imperfect people. Sometimes anger does resurface and it is good to once again go through the forgiveness process. This time, it likely will be a shorter journey, well worth your time and effort. Anger does not necessarily go away completely and so please be gentle with yourself as you forgive again. You may have to do this in the future and this is not unusual.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

In Chapter 5 of your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you talk about overcoming anger. I am wondering: Do I overcome the anger **before** I forgive, or is the anger diminished as I go through the process of forgiveness?

Your anger diminishes as you go through the process of forgiveness. If you think about it, how would you overcome the anger **before** forgiving? There are no known psychological approaches to reduce the anger and keep it away for a very long time other than forgiveness, in my opinion. As an example, relaxation training can reduce anger, but once you are no longer in the relaxed state, and you think about the injustice, the anger can return. Relaxation focuses on anger as a symptom and covers over that symptom in a temporary way. Forgiveness has you confront that anger and heal from it so that when you recall the unjust event and the person, the anger is diminished. This does not mean that all anger vanishes, but it does mean that the anger no longer is in control.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.