Archive for April, 2012

How Does Forgiveness Relate to Trust?

Excerpt from page 27 of the book, The Forgiving Life by Dr. Robert Enright:

“When you forgive, you do not say, ‘Because I forgive you, I now trust you.’ No. You can forgive and still not trust. If the person is showing you that he or she is a danger to you, then mistrust of his or her behavior is warranted. At the same time, and this is stated specifically to those who have experienced trauma, be careful not to confuse a general mistrust and particular mistrust toward a particular person. In other words, many traumatized people have a pervasive mistrust that needs work. Sometimes the traumatized person meets someone who truly is a good person, reliable, and safe to be with, yet the mistrust from past relationships is so great that he or she just cannot give of oneself in the new relationship. Knowing this and working deliberately on the previous issues of mistrust will help. Forgiveness will help. Time will help. Trust is such a delicate thing and needs work if it will improve.”

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To forgive is to substitute a happy feeling for a sad and angry feeling, it seems to me. As long as you can do that, then you are forgiving the person. What do you think of this?

You seem to have part of the essence of forgiveness correct and yet there is more depth to it. When a person goes through the process of forgiveness, then he or she (usually slowly) transforms negative emotions (anger, discouragement, resentment) into more positive ones (happiness, joy, love). Because this is a process that can take time, we probably should not use the word “substitute” to describe the emotional transformation because “substitute” sounds as if we just quickly switch out one set of emotions for another.

Besides a transformation of emotions, the forgiver transforms thoughts from negative to more positive and behaviors also to the more positive. Besides all of this, as a person forgives, he or she grows more competent and consistent in the practice of forgiveness, sometimes reaching the goal of forgiveness more quickly after the 100th attempt compared with the first attempt. I point out all of these characteristics so that you are not left with the view that forgiveness is primarily emotional and that the change typically occurs quickly, which it does not for most people who are deeply hurt by another’s hurtful actions.

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Must the Offender Make Amends Before a Person Can Forgive?

In reading some recent blogs that focus on forgiveness, I have seen a particular theme, that of the necessity of the the offender making amends before someone can or should forgive. This requirement on the part of the offender seems incorrect to me for three reasons.

First, if the offender must–must–make amends before the offended person can forgive, then he or she is trapped in unforgiveness until the other decides that it is time to make amends. This is not fair to the one in pain from the offense.

Second, why cannot one forgive and seek justice at the same time, forgive and help the person toward amendment? Waiting for the offender to make amends seems to be confusing the mercy of forgiveness with justice itself. Once the other makes his or her behavior right, what is there left to forgive? Surely, there may be issues from the past, but to now offer forgiveness for good behavior confuses mercy and justice.

Third, there is no other moral virtue (such as justice or patience or kindness) that requires a special response from someone else before it is given. Why should forgiveness be the one extraordinary case of all of the moral virtues?

Must the offender make amends before a person can forgive? It does not appear to be the case.

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Not all the time, but sometimes I feel guilty when I forgive someone who has been very cruel to me. I question whether the person deserves to be forgiven. What can you offer me to reduce my feeling of guilt?

You may be feeling guilty when you forgive because you think you are letting the other person off easily. If so, then you are thinking of forgiveness as part of the virtue of justice (doing what is fair, giving someone what he or she deserves). If you are thinking this way, then it follows that you might see yourself as thwarting justice as you forgive, which would increase guilt. After all, we want to do what is fair, not contribute to injustice. Yet, forgiveness is part of mercy (giving goodness to a person who hurt you, not because of what he or she did, but in spite of this). When you forgive, please try to remember two issues: a) You are not letting someone off easily, but instead you are expressing mercy, and b) as you express mercy in the form of forgiveness, you can exercise justice. In other words, hold the other to a high standard. This should help you not feel guilty as you forgive.

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