Archive for September, 2016
I work in my therapeutic practice with people who are anxious and depressed. Most do not have the insight that others in their life, by treating them unfairly, have played a part in the anxiety and depression. What would you suggest as a way to get started in helping my clients to see that others’ unfairness may be a central cause of this anxiety or depression?
I would recommend, when the client is ready, that deep anger from others’ injustices can cause anxiety and depression in some cases. Then I would present the Forgiveness Landscape questionnaire from my book, The Forgiving Life, as an exercise for the client. This questionnaire leads a person to reflect on all who have very deeply hurt him or her from childhood to the present. The client then ranks the people from the deepest hurting to the least (but still in the context of being treated very unfairly). Those at the top of the hurt-list are the ones who could be contributing to the anxiety and depression because of their past unfair actions against your client.
If it is assumed that all behavior can be explained only by material causes such as brain neurotransmitters, then we must realize the consequences of this assumption. The central consequence would be the invalidation of any moral concepts such as “right and wrong,” “justice,” and “forgiveness” because these concepts suggest that there is a person making his or her own decisions on matters involving other people.
How can one even consider forgiving someone “who just could not help it” because of a particular brain function? The short answer is that we cannot even consider forgiving in such a scenario because to forgive is to say to oneself, in one form or another: “He did wrong, and in that wrong he hurt me. I will now try to show love for this person who acted badly.”
Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (pp. 98-99). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
In my experience, people are so closed-minded to the other when that other is hurtful. In other words, the one who was hurt does not even hear what the other has to say. Why bother even starting the process of forgiveness before committing first to being open-minded?
If we wait for open-mindedness to somehow emerge on its own, we could be waiting for a very long time if the hurt was deep. Starting the forgiveness process, even if it is very slowly, can be the catalyst of opening the mind and heart to the other so that the one who is trying to forgive begins to hear, even if to a small degree, what the other is saying.
Why do so many parents teach children that they have to hear the words, “I’m sorry” before they can forgive a person? Yet in adulthood they are taught, and you encourage, a more unconditional approach to forgiving, offering it regardless of another’s apology?
I think that parents make a fundamental mistake when they engage in the ritual of: “Say you are sorry.” “Now, you should forgive because your sister apologized.” This ritualization of forgiveness almost trivializes the process and should be avoided.
We, instead, should focus on the heart of the forgiver and ask if he or she is ready to offer forgiveness. Yes, we can point to the one who offended and point out his or her readiness to seek forgiveness, but that is not the main point. The main point, which we teach to children and adults, is this: Forgiveness is a free offering of goodness toward the one who acted unfairly. Forgive when you are ready. If you think that you must wait for the apology, then you are trapped in unforgiveness until the person decides to offer that apology. That is not being fair to oneself.
There are many reasons why people forgive. A common reason is one’s own inner emotional pain. People grow tired of carrying around a lot of anger and bitterness and so they make a decision to try to forgive. Other reasons, less common, are these: knowing that forgiveness as a virtue is good in and of itself, taking seriously one’s faith that to forgive is important, and to try to reconcile with the one who was unfair.