Archive for October, 2012

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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Forgiving the Person Who Murdered His Only Son

The Huffington Post – Investment banker Azim Khamisa’s only son, Tariq, was shot and killed in 1995 by a 14-year-old gang member while Tariq was at work delivering a pizza in La Jolla, CA. Khamisa became so distraught that at one point he was suicidal.

But then, after much soul-searching, Khamisa did something most people would consider impossible. He reached out to the family of the young shooter by offering forgiveness and compassion.

“Forgiveness is not well understood in our culture,” Khamisa says. “But I have a better life because I forgived. I came to realize that resentment is very corrosive. If you’re out there carrying resentment, you’re not going to be living at 100 percent of your capacity.”

Read the full story: “Could You Forgive Someone Who Murdered Your Only Son?”

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My partner was very abusive for a long time at the beginning of our relationship. Verbally, emotionally, once physically. I stayed by her through it and through her hard process to fix herself. I didn’t realize that I had built up walls of self-preservation and anger in order to stay with her. I started to take that out on her and for 8 months was likely emotionally abusive as well. But I’ve since realized it and have begun to seek therapy and work on my anger towards her. She has decided to leave the relationship, but I think we can fix this. How can we both move forward and forgive each other? I know we have something good here.

Without having talked with your partner, it is difficult to know what her past has been like. I suspect that she was treated very unjustly at some time in her past. She needs to look at that first and, if she is willing, to forgive those responsible. It seems that her trust is damaged and it could stem from past injustice. Your relationship has its best chance to mend if she can see and confront past abuse and then forgive those responsible. She will then have learned the pathway to forgiveness when it is time for the both of you to forgive each other. I recommend Chapter 13 of the book, The Forgiving Life, when it is time for the two of you to work on mutual forgiveness with each other.

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Forgiveness in the Workplace

Almost two million people per year in the United States report that they are victims of violence in the workplace. Most of these incidents are unreported, which means that the victims are coming to work each day with an inner world that may be disrupted and resentful while the worker goes about his or her routine tasks.

The United States Department of Labor suggests that to reduce violence, no-tolerance policies along with encouragement to report incidents and prevention programs may be best. Yet, of what should the prevention programs consist?

Workplaceviolence.com recommends a series of steps such as a no-harassment policy, followed by reporting to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, followed by a lawsuit if such violence persists. Others have similar views: be vigilant in spotting potential behavioral trouble, report incidents, and offer help to those prone to violence.

Stopping behavior, however, is only one approach and not our favored one because the focus is on stopping symptoms rather than getting at the root cause of workplace aggression. So, what might be a root cause of workplace aggression? Of course, human psychology is too complex to definitively pinpoint one, exact cause for all. Yet, there are some themes worthy of reflection. The website Compassion Power suggests that low self-esteem, anxiety, and excessive anger are part of the explanation.

If you notice, all of these features (self-esteem, anxiety, and excessive anger) are part of a person’s inner world. In all likelihood, those who are internally disrupted are the ones who let all of this unrest out onto others, abusing them. Those who lack emotional integrity are usually the ones who hurt others.

Forgiveness is one proven scientific approach to healing internal disruption. Forgiveness can bolster self-esteem and be a protection against high anxiety. Forgiveness can reduce toxic anger.

For those looking for resources, we recommend Chapter 15 of the book, The Forgiving Life. For those of you looking for a more academic approach,  we recommend our on-line course based on the book, Helping Clients Forgive.

Forgiveness is one important way of quelling disruptive behavior in the workplace, by quieting the rage within. Co-workers’ productivity and cooperation are likely to improve when abuse is reduced.

Dr. Bob

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