Is there anything I can do to encourage my brother to forgive me?

Did you apologize?  Did you show him that you are aware of your error and have taken steps not to repeat it?  This may help him establish trust in you which may help him to forgive you.  You will need patience as he makes up his own mind.  Your trying to put pressure on him to forgive will not be helpful.  He needs to see the value of forgiveness and willingly say yes to it.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I am growing impatient.  I have asked my partner for forgiveness and it is not forthcoming.  I have been waiting for weeks.  Do you have some advice for me?

The advice I can give at this point is patience.  Forgiving is the other person’s decision and that person may need more time.  Also, the person may not be convinced of your apology.  Have you done what you can to make up for the injustice?  This may help lower the other’s anger and lead to forgiveness for you.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Coordinating Forgiving and Seeking Forgiveness

When a person is ready to be forgiven, the other may not be ready to forgive.

I have stated previously that to forgive is courageous and even heroic when treated unjustly by others. As you do the hard work of being good to those who are not good to you, as you approach the other with this offer of forgiveness, it sometimes can get complicated. The complications then can lead to new hurts and even a new opportunity to forgive. Consider six issues regarding the granting of forgiveness and the seeking of it:

1.  When people forgive, they go through what can be a lengthy and challenging process. They commit to doing no harm to the one who was offensive. They try to see the offending person in a much wider context than only the offending behavior. They try to see the inherent worth in the other, offer compassion, stand in the pain lest they give that pain right back to the other, and they try to be merciful. Such overtures at times can backfire as the other is not ready to seek forgiveness. Thus the forgiver might be met with such statements as: “What do you mean? I did nothing wrong. You are overly sensitive and are over-reacting.”

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs

2.  When people have offended and seek forgiveness, they, too, go through a potentially lengthy and challenging process.  They try to see the offended person as wounded, as in need of some assistance to overcome the hurt. The offending people see the inherent worth of the offended, have empathy on what they are enduring, and want to reach out to make things right. Such overtures at times also can backfire as the offended one is not ready to forgive. The forgiveness-seeker might be met with these kinds of statements: “What’s your game now? You are constantly doing this and I have had it. Don’t bother me with your sob story.”

3.  The take-home message for those of you either trying to forgive or seeking forgiveness is this: Try to see where the other person is in the process (of either forgiving or seeking it). Both of you may be in very different developmental places in your respective healing journeys. Getting a sense of which of you is far along and which of you is not ready is highly important so that each of you can be patient with the other and with the self. . . .

Read the final three issues of this blog on the Psychology Today website where it was posted on December 5, 2018.

Robert

My mother refuses to accept my forgiveness.  I am an adult who lives away from home now.  She denies any neglect even though both my brother and I carry scars from her inattention when we were growing up.  My brother and I carefully have examined this issue and we are in agreement about the unfairness.  How do we get my mother to see this?

It seems that your mother is in denial about what happened.  Such a psychological defense mechanism can be hard to change.  Your mother may need time on this.  If she sees your support and unconditional love, then this may help reduce the denial.  When she sees and experiences your unconditional love try—gently—bringing up one concrete instance of neglect in the spirit of forgiving.  The concrete referent and the unconditional love in combination may aid your mother in breaking the denial and being open to your forgiveness of her.

For additional information, see My Mother Robbed Me of Trust.

Weaponizing Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be misunderstood and dismissed for the wrong reasons.

A colleague, Megan Feldman Bettencourt, has written an important article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “How Forgiveness Has Been Weaponized Against Women.”  The gist of the article is that as people misunderstand the actual meaning of forgiveness, they can so discourage people from forgiving that emotional healing is blocked.  In the case of sexual abuse of women, as Ms. Feldman Bettencourt points out, the “forgiver” is supposed to refrain from reporting the abuse and is expected to go back into the unwanted relationship. 

This is far from the truth because forgiveness is not the same as legal pardon (letting the other out of deserved justice), nor is it the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is the commitment to get rid of resentment as well as the commitment, at the very least, of civility toward the offender and then acting on these commitments.  Reconciliation is the act of two or more people coming together again in mutual trust.  One can forgive and not trust or reconcile.  When these two issues (legal pardon and reconciliation) are confused with forgiveness, then women who have been sexually abused do not have a scientifically-supported pathway (forgiveness) for reducing or even eliminating deep resentment.  That kind of emotional disruption could be hers for the rest of her life.  In other words, not only is she left with the original injustice but also is left with a second wound of resentment with little hope of relief from it because there are few alternatives to forgiveness in eliminating this inner poison.
.

In her article, Ms. Feldman Bettencourt gives stark examples of women who, in the name of forgiveness, think that they must keep the abuse against them secret, thus personally pardoning the offender.  One woman who did stand up for justice (not condoning or pardoning) was shunned by her support group because that group misunderstood what forgiveness is.  Forgiveness does not abandon the quest for justice.  The author’s call is for a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness so that it can exist side-by-side with justice-seeking and not block emotional healing.  True forgiveness can enhance the forgiver’s well-being.

Another Example of Weaponizing Forgiveness:

I once was asked to help an organization set up small groups focused on forgiveness in the workplace because there was high tension among the workers.  A Human Relations specialist in the company was convinced that adding a level of forgiveness into the workplace would be one strong way of diminishing the conflict and increasing productivity.  When we met with the owner of that company, it took him less than five minutes to dismiss the specialist’s idea.  “No. Forgiveness is  inappropriate here,” he said with cold confidence.  “Forgiveness asks too much of my workers,” was his reply. 

Source: KuanShu Designs

When we asked him how this is so, he quickly responded, “Look, when there is conflict in our workplace, this is an emotional pain.  Forgiveness adds another layer of pain to my workers and so why would I impose this second pain on them?  Forgiveness is quite a struggle and we don’t need that at this time.”  And that was the end of the specialist’s idea, which as of this writing has not been implemented… and the conflicts at that company continue with no end in sight.  What the owner did not understand is this: When there is physical injury, sometimes surgery is needed.  Yes, the surgery is an added burden, but it is temporary and restores what is broken.  It is the same with forgiveness: When the heart is broken, we sometimes need surgery of the heart to restore emotional health.
.

Ms. Feldman Bettencourt sees how the weaponizing of forgiveness can actually hurt women who are trying to heal from sexual abuse.  I have seen firsthand how the weaponizing of forgiveness can keep workers from reducing acrimony and striving toward greater cooperation.

The moral of this essay is that to misunderstand forgiveness is to keep people from a scientifically-supported way of reducing resentment and getting on with life in a healthier way.  We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at our own peril.  We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at the expense of others.  It is time simply to define our terms — in this case forgiveness — and lay down the weaponizing against it.

Robert


This blog originally appeared in Psychology Today on October 08, 2018.

I know you make a distinction between forgiving and reconciling, but I still am afraid to forgive just in case by doing so I might accidentally let back my ex-husband into my heart. Do you have any suggestions on this for me?

A key, I think, is this: Be aware of the behaviors he exhibits that played a part in your breakup. Is he still showing such behaviors? If so, and if he remains unrepentant, then you need to remember those behaviors and realize that a renewed relationship is not possible without his sustained change. Even if your heart softens, keep a strong mind regarding what he will and will not accomplish with you. So, I think you can forgive and be rid of any deep resentment you may have and then be wise with regard to his behaviors.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness

Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous  political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”

While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.

Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the AntichristThe Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.

Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”

The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.


“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
Desmond Tutu


The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa.  This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.”