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. . .

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

Robert

Does forgiveness work with those who are addicted to drugs?

Yes, and we have a randomized experimental and control study to show this. We did two sessions a week with the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, for 6 weeks. After the forgiveness sessions, the participants went from clinically depressed to non-depressed. In contrast, those in the drug-treatment program as usual (the control group) went down in depression, but they remained clinically depressed. Here is the reference to that research:

Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.

I am working with clients who had alcoholic parents. These clients, now adults, tend to downplay the seriousness of their parents’ addiction. In other words, the clients tend to say this: “My parents simply did the best that they could.” There is an obvious denial of injustice by the parents. Here is the complication: The clients in so denying any wrongdoing by the parents are taking out their anger on their own children. What do you suggest I do to break this hurtful denial in my clients?

Denial can take time, but I find that emotional pain can break through the denial when you ask about that inner pain. So, to start, I suggest that you ask these questions of your clients: How are your children doing? Are they having any adjustment problems? What is the nature of these problems? Do you feel sad or frustrated or scared when you see the challenges in your children?

Give the clients a chance to see the children’s adjustment challenges and to assess their own (the clients’) pain regarding those challenges. Once the clients can see their own pain with regard to their own children’s struggles, now it is time to ask the clients: Are your children possibly inheriting your own discontent, anger, sadness, or other emotional challenges?

It is at this point that you can begin to explore the family-of-origin hurts that the clients had experienced. In summary, start with the clients’ children’s difficulties which likely are present. Then turn to how the clients’ own challenges are affecting their children. This can serve as motivation for the clients to see how they have inherited pain and now are passing this on to their own children. At this point, the clients may be open to forgiving their own parents.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Which of your books do you recommend for a prison setting?

Two of my books have been used successfully in prisons: Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001) and 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015). The latter book has a chapter on self-forgiveness which prison counselors tell me is important in this context.

Learn more at Shop: Books.

I know that self-forgiveness follows a similar path as occurs when forgiving another person for unjust behavior. Do you think there is more to self-forgiveness than this?

Yes. As people realize that they have broken their own standards, it is common that they also have offended other people. For example, even if someone was intoxicated, was speeding alone in the car, crashed and broke a leg, this is not an isolated event. Family members may have to drive the person to work for a while. The employer may be inconvenienced because of days missed in rehabilitation of the leg. The insurance company now has to pay for this intemperate action. So, as you self-forgive, consider who has been hurt by your actions. You might want to go to at least some of them (family members, for example) and ask for forgiveness.

For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.

I have a follow-up question regarding the study you cited earlier by Reed and Enright (2006) in which divorced women forgave their ex-husbands. The findings showed that the women decreased in Post Traumatic Stress. Why do you think this positive result happened?

I think this positive result happened for the following two reasons: First, in forgiving others, people begin to see the inherent worth of those who offended. As this occurs, the forgiver begins to see that the self also has inherent worth. This tends to raise the self-esteem of the forgiver. Second, as people forgive, they begin to develop compassion for the offending person which tends to reduce anger in the forgivers. This reduced anger can lead to a reduction in anger, anxiety, and depression, all of which are associated with Post Traumatic Stress.

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.