Archive for January, 2018

Coerced Forgiveness

I recently read an article by an abused person who seemed angry at forgiveness itself. The person talked of a cultural demand for forgiving an abusive person. This put pressure on the one abused. The culture of forgiving, as it was called, seemed to create a sense of superiority in those who forgive in contrast to those who refuse to forgive. Further, the person seemed angry because this cultural demand for forgiving was creating a sense of entitlement for the abuser, an entitlement that forgiveness be granted.

My heart goes out to this person who now must live with a horrible action perpetrated. No one deserves this.

At the same time, forgiveness itself deserves accuracy. If forgiveness is to be criticized, it is my fervent hope that the criticism comes from a place of truth about forgiveness’s flaws, and not from a position of error.

I think there are errors in the criticism of forgiveness which I would like to correct here and I do not want to be misunderstood. By this essay, I am not saying that the person should forgive. I am not saying that this person is inferior. I am saying that forgiveness should not be dishonored because someone does not want to avail themselves of that forgiveness.

So, please allow me three points:

1. People who forgive rarely feel superior based on my own experience talking with those who have forgiven. The path of forgiveness is strewn with struggle and tears. After walking such a path, a person can feel relief, but it is difficult to feel superior as the person wipes off the emotional stress and strain from that journey. If a person happens to feel superior, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness itself is innocent.

2. Anyone who demands that others forgive is creating the pressure. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating it. Forgiveness is seen in philosophy as a supererogatory virtue, not demanded, but given if and only if the person wishes to do so. A supererogatory virtue does not make demands, even if people do demand.

3. Some who perpetrate injustice do play the forgiveness card and tell the victim that without forgiving, then the victim is a hypocrite.  “Sure, you talk of forgiveness, but then you do not forgive me,” the story goes. This is a power-play by the one who perpetrated the injustice and should be recognized as such. Again, as in points 1 and 2, the fault is with particular people, in this case those who act unjustly. It is not the fault of forgiveness itself.

Forgiveness can be given a black eye by people, those who misunderstand. My client, forgiveness, is innocent and I ask the court to dismiss the charges against it.

Robert

 

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How would you recommend that I talk with a friend who is constantly angry and is obviously (at least to me) not doing so well. He has been living with his anger so long that it has become a part of his lifestyle.  He says he has no problems at all. Thus, he is not open to change.  He doesn’t even see the problems it is creating.

Although you do not give specifics about the “problems” created either within the person or relationally, it does seem, based on your observations and concerns, that something indeed is bothering the person.  If it were me, I would gently—-gently—-approach the person with your observations.  As an example, you might consider saying something like this: “I am concerned about you as a person.  May I give you some feedback in the spirit of helping you?  You keep saying that you are doing fine and that your anger is not getting in the way (personally or relationally).  Please do not misunderstand me.  You are a friend and I like you very much.  Because of that, here is what I see as getting in the way for you: (you can then list a few—not all—of the issues and see how he reacts).”  If he begins to see some of these issues, then you have come a long way to helping him.  Thank you for your courage to try.  Perhaps you will succeed.

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On the Accumulation of Wounds

Has the struggle with the injustice made you tired? Let us say that you have 10 points of energy to get through each day. How many of those points of energy do you use fighting (even subconsciously) the injustice as an internal struggle? Even if you are giving 1 or 2 points of your energy each day to this, it is too much and could be considered another wound for you.

When you consider the person and the situation now under consideration, do you see any changes in your life that were either a direct or indirect consequence of the person’s injustice? In what way did your life change that led to greater struggle for you? On our 0-to-10 scale, how great a change was there in your life as a result of the injustice? Let a 0 stand for no change whatsoever, a 5 stand for moderate change in your life, and a 10 stand for dramatic change in your life. Your answer will help you determine whether this is another wound for you. As you can see, the wounds from the original injustice have a way of accumulating and adding to your suffering.

Excerpt from the book The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools), Robert D. Enright (2012-07-05).  (Kindle Locations 2750-2753). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 2784-2788). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

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Can being angry have positive consequences?

Yes, if the anger is short-lived and is a call to action to right a wrong.  My worry, as spelled out in the book, Forgiveness Therapy, with Dr. Fitzgibbons, is anger that becomes prolonged (months or years) and intense.  This can lead to a host of psychological compromises.  We need to make the distinction between healthy and unhealthy anger.

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I have a friend who has been deeply hurt in a family situation.  She keeps telling me that she can lead a perfectly healthy and happy life even if she puts forgiveness aside.  Is she correct?

She is correct if she truly can live a healthy and happy life without forgiving in the face of grave injustices.  A problem with ascertaining a healthy life is this: Ill health does not necessarily come on quickly.  Instead, in many cases, resentment can chip away at health such as poor eating habits that eventually take their toll on the body, or reduced energy that eventually leads to being out of shape physically.  Thus, people saying that they are healthy without forgiving is not so easy to discern.  With regard to happiness, she will see as she continues in life whether or not she has joy.  If she does, and finds this without forgiving, then she is correct.  If, on the other hand, she concludes that she is not joyous, then perhaps it is time to at least consider forgiving as an option.

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