I was very upset with my boyfriend. He came to me to ask forgiveness, but I could tell that he was doing this only because I was upset. His overture of seeking forgiveness did not seem genuine to me at all. Under this kind of circumstance, should I have confronted him about his insincerity or should I have just accepted his superficial request and let it go?

It seems in this circumstance that you would be better off talking with him about your impression of his insincerity. This does not mean that you do so right then, when you were very upset. His lack of sincerity could be another event in which you need to forgive him. Your first working on forgiveness may make your conversation about his insincerity more civil and more productive. If you confronted him when you were very upset, without your first starting the forgiveness process, then this possibly could deepen the original argument.

For additional information, see: 5 Ways to Apologize to Someone You Love

When I forgive, do you think that I can trust the person in certain areas but not in others?

Yes, you can begin to trust someone in certain areas but not in others as you forgive.  As an example, suppose that Person A has a serious gambling problem.  These actions have hurt you.  Yet, the person is a good worker who gets the job done when asked to do so.  If Person A asks for a monetary loan, it would not be in your interest (or in Person A’s interest) to loan the money.  At the same time, if Person A’s work record is strong and you need this person to do a certain job, then relying on Person A to do and finish the job is not unreasonable, given the past behavior.  You can forgive the compulsive gambler for not paying back your loan and, at the same time, not trust the person in the one particular area of finances.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

Is it even wise to try to build up trust again when the person already has betrayed that trust?

This will depend on whether or not the other who has hurt you shows what I call in my book, The Forgiving Life, the “three R’s.”  Does this person show remorse (or inner sorrow), repentance (coming to you with a sincere apology), and recompense (trying to make it right, within reason)?  If the three R’s are in place, then you can begin to try to re-establish trust, which can be earned one small step at a time.  See if the person can handle the particular kind of responsibility that did not materialize in the past.  If, in the small steps, the person shows a good will and sound behavior, then you might trust in more substantial ways.  If the person cannot handle finances, but you give the person now a small responsibility with finances and this is handled well, you might consider a little more financial responsibility, and then a little more.  Trust needs to be earned and is often built up slowly.

For additional information, see The Forgiving Life.

What do you think the most common misconception about forgiving is?

I would say the most common misconception is the fear that once people forgive, they think they have to automatically reconcile, ignoring justice or the protection of the self.  This needs to be clarified for many people to begin trusting in the process of forgiving.

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

I was in a heated argument with my spouse.  We both needed to ask for forgiveness.  I did, but she refuses to apologize.  What do I do now?

Your spouse likely is still angry and so needs some time.  If she can find it in her heart to forgive you, this may give her the insight that she, too, acted unjustly at that time.  So, if she can forgive you (and your apology likely will help with that), then she may be open to apologizing and thus seeking your forgiveness.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

I forgave a betraying friend and yet I still suffer from sadness over this.  What can I do to get rid of this?

Think of forgiveness as a process that can take time rather than a one-time decision.  If you have a little sadness, this is normal.  If, however, the sadness is deep and is interfering with your well-being, I suggest starting from the beginning and forgiving the friend again.  Each time you practice forgiveness, some of the sadness may lessen.  Again, please do not expect that forgiving will wipe away all feelings of sadness or even anger.  If such symptoms are manageable for you, then you are advancing well in forgiving.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

The Idea of Forgiveness Lives On

Two recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on this: Forgiveness as an idea for all of humanity is powerful and so such an idea tends to persevere across time and not wither.

For the first example, I unexpectedly received on Facebook a message from a person who coaches people before they give Ted Talks.  His name is Brendan Fox and he had this message for me in the context of forgiveness for sexual abuse victims/survivors:

“Hi, Robert! Hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that I read your book, and I watched one of your online lectures. I think your work is so good for the world. Recently, I coached a Ted Talk featuring a sex trafficking survivor. Your work was hugely influential in inspiring the talk and message (as you’ll see). I wanted to credit you, and share it with you, because I think this represents part of your legacy, and how you are making the world a better place (in many indirect ways!). I’m rooting for you in the Game of Life!”

Here is a link to the talk to which Brendan refers.  The video (10:21) is quite inspirational: Escaping the Pain of Human Trafficking Markie Dell.

I find Brendan’s message and the video very interesting in this: Suzanne Freedman, whose blog on forgiveness education we recently posted here, and I had an idea in the mid-1990’s that a forgiveness intervention might be helpful for women who have been sexually abused.  At the time, this idea was exceptionally controversial.  People thought that we were saying this, “Oh, you were abused?  Forgive and go back into that situation.”  No.  This is not what forgiveness is at all.  A person can forgive, rid the self of toxic resentment and hatred, and not reconcile.  Suzanne’s ground-breaking forgiveness intervention with incest survivors was important in helping the social scientific world see the importance of forgiveness interventions.

That study was published in 1996, almost a quarter of a century ago: Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

After almost a quarter of a century later, Suzanne’s ideas live on and are helping people to heal from extreme injustices against them.  If we can get this far with forgiveness in the face of grave sexual abuse, perhaps there is a place for forgiveness in other areas of woundedness, such as helping people who have no homes, who are living on the streets, to forgive those who have crushed their hearts.  Will this aid their recovery?  Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute is taking the lead right now on this question.

Here is the second of our two examples regarding the staying-power and influence of forgiveness.  In 2002, a team of us decided to start what we now call forgiveness education with children.  We reasoned this way:  If we can help children learn about forgiveness and how to forgive, then  when they are adults, they will have the tool of forgiveness for combating the potentially unhealthy effects of unjust treatment against them. 

These students at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are learning about forgiveness at the same school where Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides were first used more than 17 years ago.

We developed forgiveness education guides for grades 1 and 3 (Primary 3 and 5 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and we brought these guides to the principal, Claire Hilman, and the teachers at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast.  Claire said yes and so we launched forgiveness education there as the first place in the world where there is a deliberate curriculum to teach forgiveness, about once a week for 12 to 15 weeks.  The program has expanded to include pre-kindergarten (age 4) all the way through 12th grade (this is a designation in the United States and includes ages 17-18).  These forgiveness education guides have been requested now by educators in over 30 countries. 

Just recently, Belfast had its almost 2-week annual 4Corners Festival.  The theme for 2019 was “Scandalous Forgiveness.”  The term “scandalous” was inserted as an adjective because, even in 2019, some people consider the act of forgiving others to be outrageous and inappropriate.  The point of the festival was to gently challenge that thinking and try to fold themes of forgiveness into the fabric of Belfast society.

I gave a talk on February 1, 2019 at this 4Corners Festival.  When Mr. Edward Petersen of the Clonard Monastery introduced me to the audience prior to my talk, he stated that the theme for this year’s festival was inspired by our 17-year presence of supporting Belfast teachers in their forgiveness education efforts.  We started in 2002 and an inspiration by community organizers blossomed in 2019, many years after we first planted the idea of forgiveness education in Belfast.  The idea of forgiveness lives on and now expands city-wide because of the vision and wisdom of the 4Corners Festival organizers.

Forgiveness: it does not wither.  It survives over time and grows.  I think it does so because forgiveness gives life.  Forgiveness unites people in families and communities where injustices could divide.

The idea of forgiveness lives on, and for good reason.

Robert