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

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.