I am having a difficult time with forgiving. Here are some of my life’s stories. Perhaps you can help me see the usefulness of forgiveness or perhaps I can help you see the futility of it. 1. At work, a poor-performance report stays with a person forever. There is no mercy. Forgiveness seems futile in the workplace. 2. Politicians use forgiveness to dupe the public into accepting immoral or illegal behavior. Forgiveness is an excuse. 3. On a more personal level, I was repeatedly bullied in school, as a child. I was urged to “forgive” my aggressors, so they would not get punished, and I did. Later that day, they would ambush me after school and beat the living daylights out of me, and ridicule me for having “forgiven” them. Their take was that they had “gotten away” with it. 4. My mother refused to forgive me for the duration of my entire life. When I was in my mid-30s, she would scream at me at the top of her lungs with white-hot fury about misdeeds I had committed at age four. She never forgave me for anything. 5. I have had other life experiences in which people have been brutal. The result is that I feel that forgiving people for the sadistic acts they have inflicted on me is ridiculous…It merely gives them license to do it again and expose my weaknesses and insecurities to them, so they can hammer me even harder. Forgiveness is a fake.

Thank you for the challenge about forgiveness. First, I am sorry that people have treated you so poorly throughout your life. No one should have to endure that. Now, let us turn to each of your five points. I will show you that in each case, forgiveness is not the bad guy here.

1. A permanent record of poor-performance is not an indication that forgiveness itself is bad. People who do not show mercy are not giving forgiveness a chance.

2. Yes, politicians and others sometimes try to hide behind forgiveness for personal gain. That is not the problem of forgiveness itself. This is false forgiveness, playing pretend with it so that one can stay in power. This is not the fault of forgiveness.

3. At school, your teachers needed to help you to see that when you forgive you can and should seek justice at the same time. To “forgive” and then be seen as weak is a failure of the teachers, not a failure of forgiveness. If they encouraged you to forgive, they needed to encourage you to seek justice at the same time. They needed to help you stand up for yourself as you forgave. They were giving a wrong message about forgiveness and that is not the fault of forgiveness itself.

4. Your mother’s behavior showed a lack of forgiveness. This is not the fault of forgiveness, but it is your mother’s choice. She seems to have had a lot of built-up anger inside of her. Had she forgiven those responsible for this anger, she probably would not have taken her anger out on you. Forgiveness is not the bad guy here because your mother did not try forgiveness.

5. Forgiving people for acts of brutality and sadism should not cancel out your right to a fair solution. You need to realize, and this is very important in your case given what you have suffered, that you should place forgiveness and justice side-by-side. As you have mercy on people, expect fairness from them.

In none of these cases do I see forgiveness as ridiculous or fake. It is the failure of people in your life to forgive and to help you balance forgiveness with justice that are the problems. In the future please remember these issues. I challenge you this way so that you do not toss out forgiveness without a very good reason for doing so.

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Categories: Ask Dr. Forgiveness