Archive for June, 2012
“We believe that forgiveness is a choice,” Dr. Robert Enright is quoted in the June 7 issue of the Madison Catholic Herald. “If you have been deeply hurt by another, you can choose to forgive rather than hold on to debilitating anger and resentment. In doing so, an amazing transformation begins.”
The founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, Dr. Enright, further explains, “When you forgive, you may benefit the person you forgive. But you benefit yourself far more. By liberating yourself from pain and sorrow, you can reclaim your life and find the peace that your anger had stolen.”
According to the article, Dr. Enright believes his new book, The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, is the “best work I’ve ever done.”
He is also beginning work on another book, The Church as Forgiving Community, to be published by Our Sunday Visitor. Cardinal Raymond Burke (Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome who previously served as Archbishop of St. Louis, MO, and Bishop of La Crosse, WI) will be writing a chapter for this book, as will Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, WI, and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, CA.
I am a survivor of sexual assault and incest. My father was my abuser. The abuse went on for years and didn’t stop until I left home at the age of 19. Now I am 53. I have chosen not to have a relationship with my father and have a limited relationship with my mother, who knew for some time, but chose to look the other way. I think about forgiveness often. I try and see my father as an innocent. I think that this can help to forgive a person. My problem is this…..I have dealt with my abuse (though not intirely, and probably will always be until the day I die) I have confronted my parents and since then, they have acted as though I am making too much of a big deal about it. They openly speak to my siblings about how I am hurting them by not staying in touch and treating my father as though he doesn’t exisit. My father has said that yes, there was some abuse, but nothing as bad as I have said. It is THIS behavior that is making it so hard to even begin to forgive. They have told lies about when I have confonted them, for instance, saying that I had my 22 yr old son in the room at the time, when he was outside jogging. How is it possible to get past what is happening now, when the scars are so old and the new wounds are so deep? I facilitate a support group for survivors and we talk often about forgiveness.
First of all, thank you for your courage. You have endured a great deal and you continue to do so. I have five ideas for you to consider.
First, you say that you try to see you father as “an innocent” and that this helps in the forgiving. I would gently urge you to begin shifting your thinking so that you do not see your father as innocent because he is not. He made a tragic choice which was not in your best interest and his knowing that does not make him innocent.
Second, forgiveness occurs in the context of people who are not innocent. When we forgive, we offer a cessation of resentment and a gift of goodness in spite of the other’s culpability. This is what makes forgiveness so heroic, to begin to see the other as a person even though he or she acted badly.
Third, I would urge you to visit the Forums section of this website (the Adult Forum in particular) and read the exchange about Personhood begun by Amber, which will give you some insights on forgiving in this way (seeing the personhood in the other).
As a fourth point, as you forgive your father in this way, by beginning to forgive him for the incest, I encourage you to forgive your mother in a similar way for not protecting you when you were younger.
As a fifth point, your current forgiveness issue is a large one because of the denial of the abuse by both your father and mother. This is a separate and legitimate issue worthy of your time. Here you should consider forgiving your father and mother for their unwillingness to see the grave injustice which you suffered. This one will be a challenge because it is in a context of ongoing injustice as they deny the seriousness of the wrongdoing. Again, one of the Forum subjects could prove helpful to you here. It is again in the Adult Forum and is entitled, “Forgiving the same person over & over?” It might provide support for you as you forgive because you will see that others have a similar issue of continued forgiveness in the face of continued injustice.
It takes perseverance and courage to forgive. I admire your determination.
My brother owes me some money. Recently, he came to me asking if I would forgive him, with the understanding that he no longer would owe me the money. Something does not seem right about this. Am I supposed to cancel the debt when I forgive?
Your brother is confusing forgiveness with legal pardon. To pardon is to cancel a debt that is rightly owed. To forgive, in contrast, is to try as best you can to offer goodness toward your brother. Both are merciful, but they are not the same. You can forgive and not offer legal pardon (cancel the debt). You can forgive (offer goodness) and at the same time present him with the I.O.U. And if you forgive him first, you are likely to present that slip to him with graciousness and gentleness rather than with anger.
When you have been hurt by another person, try to look far beyond the injustice itself and your current feelings. Try to see long into the future and ask yourself this question: How might my reaction to this situation affect my legacy, what I leave behind when I die? If you stay even mildly annoyed for a long time, you might be leaving behind the disappointment and even anger that you passed to others, even without intending to do so. If you forgive, you might be leaving behind a sense of love in the face of hardship. Which would you rather leave to others?
“When people withdraw love from us, we might develop resentment. After all, we do not deserve unfair treatment and we do require love, not from all but at least from some. Resentment occurs when anger not only comes to visit, but sits down in our hearts, takes off its stinky shoes, and makes itself too much at-home in our hearts. After awhile, we do not know how to ask it to leave. While some anger might be good, persistent and intensive anger that is resentment is not healthy. It can distort in the short-run how we think (as we dwell on the negative), what we think (as we have specific condemning thoughts), and how we act (reducing our will to act in a morally good way).” Excerpt from The Forgiving Life, chapter 1