Archive for September, 2020
“Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?”
Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.
For additional information, see On the Importance of Perseverance when Forgiving.
“You talk about forgiveness as a process, one that can take time. I find that as I go along the path of forgiveness, that I slip into revenge-seeking. I do not mean anything violent, just some nastiness or even verbal disrespect. Do you think this will delay my forgiveness process?”
We are all imperfect forgivers and so we cannot think of forgiveness as a straight line from the start to the finish. We go back and forth with forgiveness. At times, we see the one who offended us as possessing inherent worth. Then we might have a dream about the person and we wake up angry and do not want to even think about the person. The key here is to understand that the process is not a straight line. Have patience with yourself. Try to have patience with the one whom you are forgiving. In time, this back-and-forth will even out and improvements in forgiving are likely as you continue to persevere in the forgiveness process.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
“Is it harder to forgive if a person is filled with anger compared with another person who is filled with pain and sorrow after being treated unfairly?”
It seems to me that if the anger is very intense and includes resentment or even hatred, then, yes, it is harder to forgive. Some people who are fuming with anger cannot even use the word “forgiveness” because it intensifies the anger. At the same time, if a person has deep sorrow, sometimes there is an accompanying lack of energy and the person needs some time to mourn first. At such times, the person needs to be gentle with the self as emotional healing takes place.
For additional information, see If I forgive, might I repress my angry feelings? (FAQ-5.)
“I work hard on forgiveness, but sometimes I get to a week in which I do not want to even think about it or what happened to me. During these times, what can I do to not feel guilty or uncomfortable about setting forgiveness aside?”
Let us take an analogy here. Suppose you have a physical fitness regimen. Do you work out every week for an entire year or do you take some time off to refresh, to heal, to re-group? Physical trainers tell us to take some time off. It is good for us. Think of becoming forgivingly fit in the same way. Hard work is good, but we need some time off to refresh and re-group so that we come back to that work with renewed enthusiasm.
For additional information, see How often should I do the work of forgiving? (FAQ 12.)
When you suffer from another’s injustice, if you quietly endure that suffering, you are giving a gift to those around you by not passing on anger, frustration, or even hatred to them. Too often, people tend to displace their own frustrations and angers onto unsuspecting others. These others, then, end up inheriting the original person’s internal wounds because this person refused to bear the pain him- or herself.
I am not saying here that it is good to shoulder psychological depression or unhealthy anger by being silent and keeping it all in. On the contrary, here is the point: What happened to you is now a reality. It did happen and you cannot change that. You have inherited a certain amount of pain from another person. What will you now do with that pain? Will you try to toss it onto someone else in the hope that it somehow leaves you? Or, will you accept that this hurtful event in fact happened and you will not now pass the pain down the line to others? Consider taking this perspective in bearing the pain:
“If I can shoulder this pain now, I will not be passing it on to other people, even innocent people who never had anything at all to do with the original offense. My anger could be transferred to innocent people and they, in turn, could pass on this anger to someone else, who passes it to someone else, and down the generations my anger goes. Do I want that? Do I want my anger to live on as it is transferred for many years to come? I can prevent this from happening as I decide, today, to bear the pain that came my way.
I will not call what happened to me ‘good.’ It was not. But I will do my best to shoulder it, and, paradoxically, that pain is likely to start lifting from my shoulders as I accept it now. This pain is not forever and my bearing the pain may help reduce it faster.”
Reminder: As you bear the pain of what happened to you, you may be protecting others and future generations from your anger.
Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health), excerpt from Chapter 6. W. W. Norton & Company.