Archive for December, 2018
I have positive feelings toward my sister who was mean to me. Does this wrap up forgiveness for me then? In other words, are positive feelings the gist of forgiving or is there more to it?
Positive feelings by themselves are not the end of the forgiveness process. If you think about it, positive feelings by themselves can be passive. For example, you feel positively toward your sister as you sit on the couch and never make a positive move toward your sister. As a moral virtue, forgiveness includes thinking, feeling, and behaving (within reason) toward the one who hurt you. When you forgive, you are open to the possibility of reconciliation with the other. This openness toward reconciliation is not an automatic coming together again. The other has to be trustworthy for the reconciliation actually to occur.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
This is one of three ways (personal, global, and cosmic perspectives) of thinking about the one whom you want to forgive. For the global perspective, we ask you to see the common humanity that you share with the one who offended you. You both need a little air to breathe; you both need good nutrition to stay healthy; if either of you are cut, then you bleed. Both of you have unique DNA so that when either of you dies, there never will be another person just like you on this planet. This makes each of you special, unique, and irreplaceable.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
Forgiveness can be misunderstood and dismissed for the wrong reasons.
A colleague, Megan Feldman Bettencourt, has written an important article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “How Forgiveness Has Been Weaponized Against Women.” The gist of the article is that as people misunderstand the actual meaning of forgiveness, they can so discourage people from forgiving that emotional healing is blocked. In the case of sexual abuse of women, as Ms. Feldman Bettencourt points out, the “forgiver” is supposed to refrain from reporting the abuse and is expected to go back into the unwanted relationship.
In her article, Ms. Feldman Bettencourt gives stark examples of women who, in the name of forgiveness, think that they must keep the abuse against them secret, thus personally pardoning the offender. One woman who did stand up for justice (not condoning or pardoning) was shunned by her support group because that group misunderstood what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not abandon the quest for justice. The author’s call is for a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness so that it can exist side-by-side with justice-seeking and not block emotional healing. True forgiveness can enhance the forgiver’s well-being.
Another Example of Weaponizing Forgiveness:
I once was asked to help an organization set up small groups focused on forgiveness in the workplace because there was high tension among the workers. A Human Relations specialist in the company was convinced that adding a level of forgiveness into the workplace would be one strong way of diminishing the conflict and increasing productivity. When we met with the owner of that company, it took him less than five minutes to dismiss the specialist’s idea. “No. Forgiveness is inappropriate here,” he said with cold confidence. “Forgiveness asks too much of my workers,” was his reply.
When we asked him how this is so, he quickly responded, “Look, when there is conflict in our workplace, this is an emotional pain. Forgiveness adds another layer of pain to my workers and so why would I impose this second pain on them? Forgiveness is quite a struggle and we don’t need that at this time.” And that was the end of the specialist’s idea, which as of this writing has not been implemented… and the conflicts at that company continue with no end in sight. What the owner did not understand is this: When there is physical injury, sometimes surgery is needed. Yes, the surgery is an added burden, but it is temporary and restores what is broken. It is the same with forgiveness: When the heart is broken, we sometimes need surgery of the heart to restore emotional health.
Ms. Feldman Bettencourt sees how the weaponizing of forgiveness can actually hurt women who are trying to heal from sexual abuse. I have seen firsthand how the weaponizing of forgiveness can keep workers from reducing acrimony and striving toward greater cooperation.
The moral of this essay is that to misunderstand forgiveness is to keep people from a scientifically-supported way of reducing resentment and getting on with life in a healthier way. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at our own peril. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at the expense of others. It is time simply to define our terms — in this case forgiveness — and lay down the weaponizing against it.
This blog originally appeared in Psychology Today on October 08, 2018.
I have a hard time feeling compassion for a person if I cannot see that person, interact with that person, see the pain in the person. So, how can I genuinely forgive someone who is not in my life at the present time?
You probably should start with thinking exercises. In the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, I talk about taking wider perspectives on the one whom you want to forgive. These perspectives (personal, global, and cosmic perspectives) help you to see the other as vulnerable, as perhaps hurting, and this may lead to compassion for you.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
To accept the pain is not to put up with abuse. One first has to protect oneself by seeking justice from abuse. To accept the pain is not to live with this pain for the rest of one’s life. To accept the pain is to stand with that pain, to not run from that pain (because the injustice did happen). To accept the pain is to make a commitment not to pass that pain back to the one who offended or to anyone else. As one stands this way and commits to not passing the pain to others, the paradox is that the one who accepts the pain begins to notice that, over time, the pain begins to lessen.
For additional information, see the Four Phases of Forgiveness.