Archive for February, 2014

Five Questions about Self-Forgiveness

Of all the people in the world, who do we tend to be hardest on when we mess up?

Right, ourselves.

If we self-forgive, is it illegitimate because we are then the judge and the defendant in the case?

Self Forgiveness2Self-forgiveness is not about jurisprudence.  It is about goodness.  We can offer goodness to ourselves.

If we self-forgive, aren’t we just letting ourselves off the moral hook?

No.  When we self-forgive we should go to the ones we have hurt and make amends.  We are not letting ourselves off the hook when we try to make things right.

But, self-forgiveness is about forgiving myself for offending myself.  Why are we talking about making amends toward other people?

We talk about this because we do not offend ourselves in isolation.  If you think about it, if you are very unjust to yourself, others such as partner, family, co-workers, and even the community might be affected, depending on what the offense is.

What should I expect if and when I forgive myself?

Inner peace and the conviction not to do that again.

Robert

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Are there different levels of anger? If there are, then will there be different strategies for forgiveness to be used with these different levels of anger?

In my book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, I make a distinction between healthy and unhealthy anger.  The healthy variety energizes a person to take action and to seek justice.  Unhealthy anger is the kind that turns into resentment and abides deep within a person for long periods.  Even within the category of unhealthy anger, there are resentments that are more intense than others.

As a general observation, I have seen that the deeper the anger and the more unhealthy it is, the longer forgiveness can take.  This does not mean that people with profound unhealthy anger cannot be emotionally healed.  On the contrary, we have worked with people who have moderate to severe depression and this has ceased at the end of treatment and has stayed away at follow-up testing.  In the case of the incest survivor study the depression had stayed away at a 14-month follow-up.

So, the short answer is that forgiveness therapy can take longer when deeper anger is present and so the person needs patience and perseverance to overcome that anger.  The process of forgiveness itself is not altered when there is profound anger.  The time required is the key.

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A Practical Application of “Seeing with New Eyes”

The late (and great) Lewis Smedes in 1984 wrote one of the early books on person-to-person forgiveness, Forgive and Forget. In that book he coined the term “seeing with new eyes” to describe what happens when we forgive. To “see with new eyes” means to begin seeing the person who has been very unjust to us as a person, as someone who is bigger than his injustices, as someone who is worthy to be called a human being, not because of what he did, but in spite of that. To “see with new eyes” means that you train your mind to see the inherent worth of all, inherent worthincluding people who hurt you. “Inherent” is built-in, unconditional, requiring nothing for its fulfillment. Worth suggests something or someone of great value, precious, and special. All people have inherent worth because they are special, unique, and irreplaceable, and bad actions on anyone’s part do not subtract one ounce of that inherent worth.

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with a 16-year-old girl (young woman, actually) who had made up her mind. She would tell her father what she had done. She would accept the consequences—-she would be thrown out of the house. Her father was not going to accept the fact that this young woman had erred. She was expecting a baby. “My father is very strict. He will not even think twice about this. He will toss me from our home as soon as I tell him. I have gained a child and lost my father.”

With the suggestion of “seeing with new eyes,” given to us by Dr. Smedes, there is no reason why she should lose her father and the father lose a daughter and a grandchild with one wave of his dismissive hand.

“May I make a recommendation?” I asked. “Before you speak with your father, I strongly recommend that you have a series of conversations with him “about one idea I learned recently.” That one idea is the inherent worth of all people regardless of who they are, where they live, how much money they have, how healthy they are, and even regardless of their behavior. I would start with people of different ethnicities, for example. Discuss with your father how people tend to pre-judge a person just because he or she is part of an ethnic group different from the one who is judging. I would then turn to the issue of poverty and ask your father if a very poor person is less worthy of respect than Donald Trump. I would eventually turn deliberately to political figures whom your father does not like. I would keep working with him, if you can, until he sees that these political figures possess inherent worth, not necessarily because of their political beliefs or what they do in the political arena, but because they are human beings and all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.

Eye1I would then turnEye2 to a person in the family—a cousin or an uncle or anyone who annoys your father. I would ask him to work with you to see this person as worthy of respect, possessing inherent worth because he or she is a person, regardless of his or her behavior. Once you think he “gets it,” I would turn to one prominent young woman outside of your family, perhaps an actress, who has hurt her own life and career because of drug use. Have your father reflect on the fact that she possesses inherent worth even though she engaged in unfortunate behavior that hurt her career and reputation. Once he “gets it,” then turn to you, not at first in the context of your pregnancy. Instead, simply focus on you, a precious person who possesses inherent worth regardless of what you do or think or say or feel. Then when he gets this, you might consider at that point telling him about your situation. This could take days or weeks to build up to finally discussing one aspect of who you are, a young, pregnant woman, worthy of everyone’s respect because of who you are.

“Seeing with new eyes” is built up one new thought at a time. As of this post, the young woman is on her way home. What will the next chapter in her father’s and her life look like? Forgiveness can give new life.

Robert

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I am in a close relationship with someone I hurt. I have asked for forgiveness but I keep getting ignored. Does it ever get to a point that I can demand forgiveness when I know that the other person is just being stubborn?

I sympathize with your frustration.  You are ready to be forgiven and the other is not ready to give it to you.  You should realize that forgiveness is not something that you can demand from someone.  That person is not obligated in an ethical sense to give forgiveness until he or she is ready.  Some religions ask a person to forgive under certain circumstances (such as happens in some of the rituals at Yom Kippur in the Jewish faith, for example).  If the one from whom you are seeking forgiveness is under no religious obligation to forgive, I suggest three things: patience, patience, and patience.  A little encouragement from you for him or her to forgive probably would be a good idea, but done sparingly and gently.

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Do I Really Want to Forgive When Traumatized?

Why would anyone want to forgive when another has traumatized you? I would like to suggest a different perspective on trauma and forgiveness. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating the sense of fear or disgust or danger or moral evil. Instead, it is the grave emotional wounds which are leading to these thoughts and feelings about forgiveness. When people are wounded they naturally tend to duck for cover. When someoneFacing Trauma comes along with an outstretched hand and says, “Please come out, into the sunshine, and experience the warmth of healing,” it can be too much. We then blame the one with the outstretched hand or the warmth of the sun or anything else “out there” for our discomfort when all the while the discomfort is what is residing inside the person, not “out there.” And this reaction is all perfectly understandable, given the trauma.

If you experience a blown out a knee while working out, and it is gravely painful, is it not difficult to go to the physician? There you face all the sharp white-lights of the examining room, and the nurses scurrying about, and the statements about surgery and recovery and rehabilitation. It all seems to be too much. Yet, it is not the physician or the nurses or the thought of the scalpel or the rehab that is the ultimate cause of all the discomfort. That ultimate cause is the blown-out knee. Isn’t it the same with forgiveness? You have within you a deep wound, caused by others’ injustice, and now the challenge is to heal.

Forgiveness is one way to heal from the trauma which you did not deserve. Like the blown-out knee, the trauma needs healing. So, I urge you to separate in your mind the Forgiveness Heals Youwound from forgiveness itself. My first challenge to you, then, is this: Is it forgiveness itself that is the basic problem or is it the wound and then all the thoughts of what you will have to do to participate in the healing of that wound? Forgiveness heals. Forgiveness does not further traumatize. To forgive is to know that you have been treated unjustly and despite the injustice, you make the decision to reduce your resentment toward the offending person and eventually work toward mercy for him or her. That mercy can take the form of kindness, respect, generosity, and even love. Do you want that in you life—kindness, respect, generosity, and love? Forgiveness can help strengthen these in your heart or even begin to have them grow all over again for you. – Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 2. Robert

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