First of all, my sincere sympathy for the pain you are being asked to endure. No one should have to go through this. The fact that you are even asking about forgiveness is showing a heroism that I want you, yourself, to see.
An important insight that you have is this: No matter what you choose, you will have pain. I would like to gently challenge one of your words: “stuck.” I can understand how you might feel stuck as someone who cries out for justice which is not forthcoming. You are not stuck, however, if you decide to forgive. I think you might be “stuck” right now because of indecision—Should you forgive or not? If you decide to go ahead, then you are no longer “stuck.” Yes, you will have pain because growth in forgiveness is painful. Yet, the pain of working through forgiveness is temporary. The pain of crying out for justice and not finding it may go on indefinitely. When you are ready to get un-stuck, please consider reading the book, The Forgiving Life. It helps you to grow in forgiving and to grow as a person of virtue—strong and even thriving in the face of great pain. I wish you the very best in your journey toward healing.
Learn more at What is Forgiveness?
Anger in the short run is seen as reasonable because the person is basically saying, “What you did was wrong. I am a person worthy of respect and that is what I am asking of you.” At the same time, if this anger stays with a person, deepens, and lasts for many months, it can be counter-productive. One then might demand too much from the other. One might turn the quest for justice into a motivation to seek revenge and hurt the other. So, we have to be careful when discussing the benefits of anger. There are such benefits in the short-run, but anger has a way of taking up residence in the human heart if we are not careful and thus the one harboring the anger can be damaged.
Learn more at Why Forgive?
You say that you still have anger. How much anger do you have relative to the amount of anger you had prior to forgiving? Forgiveness does not necessarily expunge all anger. A key is this: Is the anger controlling you or are you now in control of the anger? If the latter is the case, then you very well may be forgiving. As the late Lewis Smedes said, forgiveness is an imperfect act for imperfect people. You need not have perfect forgiveness in order to have accomplished it to some degree.
Yet, let us presume that you are not forgiving even though you have tried. If you still are motivate to forgive, you can start at the beginning of the forgiveness process and persevere with regard to this one person. As a final point, if you are having difficulty forgiving Person A, you might try first forgiving someone else, Person B. I suggest this because, for example, some people have trouble forgiving a partner if the partner’s behavior reminds them of one of their own parent’s behavior. Forgiving the parent first then frees the forgiver to have more success with forgiving the partner.
For additional information, see: Learning to Forgive Others.
Having the psychological defense of denial is not uncommon. People need time to adjust to an injustice and so please be gentle with your roommate. If, however, this has been going on for months and you see that his denied anger is affecting his well-being, you might want to focus on his inner pain, not forgiveness yet. If he can see his own pain, then he might be able to get at least a psychological glimpse of his anger. At this point, then your slowly introducing the idea of forgiveness might be helpful for him.
For additional information, see: What is Forgiveness?
In my book, The Forgiving Life, I recommend an exercise that I call the Forgiveness Landscape in which you begin to think about all of the people who have ever been unjust to you. You rate what the injustice is and how deeply that injustice hurt you. You then order these people from the least-severe hurt to the most-severe hurt. You start with the least-severe hurt and begin the forgiveness process with that person. Once you finish the forgiveness process with that one person, you move up to the next person, and then the next until you are experienced enough with forgiveness to start forgiving those who have been the most hurtful to you. This exercise may prove worthwhile for your wife. In other words, she does not start with the parents. As she forgives others, who are less hurtful to her, then her psychological defenses toward her parents, in which she may have been denying the degree of hurt, may change so that she sees the deeper hurt that she has. At that point, she may have the strength, the resolve, and the expertise to forgive the parents. At that point, the nightmares may end. I wish both of you the best on this forgiveness journey.
For additional information, see: How to Forgive.
To order Dr. Enright’s book, see: The Forgiving Life.
We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.
For additional information, see: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier.
Let us start with an analogy. Suppose you have a torn ligament in your knee and your physician recommends surgery. Suppose further that you are afraid of the surgery because it and the subsequent rehabilitation work will be painful. Would you just live with the knee pain, which could get worse and interfere with your quality of life, or would you go ahead with the surgery? Please notice that you will have pain either way—because of the torn ligament in the knee or because of the surgery and rehabilitation. The latter pain will end. The knee pain from the neglected medical treatment will continue and possibly get worse. Which do you choose?
It is the same with the process of forgiveness. You already have the “old wounds” because of the injustice against you. Forgiveness does not create more “old wounds” but instead introduces new and **temporary pain** because of the surgery-of-the-heart and the forgiveness rehabilitation, which could lead to permanent healing. Thus, I would not let the “old wounds” stand in the way of genuine healing.
For additional information, see: Holding Grudges? Forgiveness Key to Healthy Body.