Archive for December, 2016

I think I have forgiven a family member and then when the situation is mentioned again, I find that I get angry. Have I not forgiven?

It depends on your level of anger when the situation is mentioned again.  Do you get very angry?  On a 1 to 10 scale, are you up near the 9 and 10 range, or is the anger more manageable, say, in the 3 or 4 range?  It is common to have some anger left over when we have forgiven, but that anger no longer controls us.  So, if you are in control of the anger and its intensity is not high, then yes, I do think that you have forgiven.

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I have forgiven someone who is not interested in reconciliation. I am interested in reconciling. It is ok for me to continue to give the gift of forgiveness in the hope of an eventual reconciliation?

Yes, you can offer overtures of forgiving from a distance, but please be careful that you do not use forgiving as a manipulation of the other’s feelings. When you forgive, try to make the motivation the other’s well-being.  Try to forgive for the other and not for what you can get out of this.  Respect the other’s decisions for now.  In other words, as you forgive, you have the other’s best interest at heart and if he or she does not want to reconcile right now, part of your task is to accept this.  Be open to the possibility of a reconciliation, but try also not to push too hard at that reconciliation.

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What are the dangers to the one who forgives too quickly?

If a person forgives too quickly, this usually means that the person is not ready to forgive.  Thus, the person still may be:

  • too traumatized to forgive right now. We need time to settle down before forgiving,
  • misunderstand that forgiveness is a process and allow the self time to forgive and to heal,
  • denying his or her anger and therefore not allowing oneself time to be angry,
  • confusing forgiving and reconciling, thinking that one must go back into an unhealthy relationship right away
  • not respecting the self as someone who deserves fairness,
  • giving the other the wrong message that the forgiver will accept any and all injustices.

Taking the time to forgive can correct many or even all of the complications discussed above.

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I worry that if I teach my children about forgiveness, then they may try it while misunderstanding it. They might excuse or even try to reconcile with someone who has bullied them in the past. What can you suggest so that I do not create a false sense of what forgiveness is as I teach them about it?

A key is to keep in front of the children the common misconceptions of forgiving:

  • When you forgive, stay tough-minded in knowing that what the other did was wrong.
  • When you forgive, that does not magically make the other’s actions right. Those actions remain wrong even when you forgive.
  • Reconciliation occurs when you feel safe and can trust the person.
  • If you do not feel safe, tell a responsible adult about this.
  • You can forgive without reconciling.
  • When you forgive, do not forget to seek fairness.
  • You can and should exercise justice and forgiveness together. Forgiveness does not mean that you put up with another person’s unfairness.
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Is it easier to forgive a person if you understand their past or might this just make you angrier? I find that sometimes, the more I know about a person, the angrier I get. In other words, I do see their own hurts from the past, but I still find their behavior toward me unacceptable regardless of what they have suffered.

When you look toward the person’s past, do you slip into the error of excusing what the other did?  If you see that you are trying to excuse, that could make you angrier.  After all, past hurts are no excuse to hurt others.  If you can resist excusing and from a position of truly calling the other’s behavior wrong, what happens in your emotions when you see a wounded person, a confused person, perhaps a person manipulated or mistreated in other ways by important people in his or her life?  Does this stir in you a little compassion, as long as you resist the conclusion that he or she just couldn’t help it?

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