Archive for October, 2020
I think I have forgiven someone for betraying me. Yet, I actually do not want to have anything to do with this person anymore. Does this mean I have not forgiven?
We need to make a distinction here between forgiving and reconciling. The late Lewis Smedes, in his 1984 book, Forgive and Forget, made the compelling point that we know we have forgiven someone “if we wish the other well.” If you wish the other well, hoping that bad things do not happen to the person, then you have forgiven.
Forgiveness usually leaves us with some residual feelings of anger or sadness about what happened, but these emotions then are not intense and dominating us. In contrast, reconciliation is when two or more people come together again in mutual trust. Given that you were abandoned, your trust in that relationship likely is low and should be low if the other is continuing the hurtful behavior. So, yes, you very well may have forgiven, but you rightly are not ready to reconcile.
I have anger left over after having gone though your forgiveness process. Does this mean that I have not forgiven?
The answer depends on how much anger you still have. As you know, when a person has a sports injury and seeks medical help, there often is a chart in the doctor’s office with a 1-to-10 scale showing different levels of pain and the patient’s task is to place a number on the pain. I now ask you to take that 1-to-10 chart and turn it into a measure of anger. How much anger is in your heart, most of the time, when you think back to the person who hurt you? Let us say that 1 equals very minimal anger and 10 equals almost unbearable anger. Where do you place your anger on this 1-to-10 scale? If the level of anger is in the 1-4 range this is quite typical. Many people do have some residual anger left over after they have forgiven.
For additional information, see How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy?
Sorry again for another follow-up question. When I read your response that self-forgiveness is more than self-acceptance and leads to self-love, I can’t help but see narcissism in this. Isn’t the person now engaging in too much of a focus on the self, which can lead to an exaggerated sense of self-importance, inducing narcissism?
Narcissism is a vice. Genuine self-love is a virtue. When people genuinely love themselves following misbehavior, they are not saying how great and wonderful and perfect they are. Instead, they courageously acknowledge wrongdoing and this requires humility, not narcissism. When people conclude that they have worth on the same level as all other people, they are not exalting themselves above all others. Instead, they are leveling the moral playing field, seeing how all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable, including the self.
For additional information, see Inherent Worth.
Sorry for one or two more questions about self-forgiveness. I am trying to understand it. Why not just encourage people to engage in self-acceptance. Why go so far as using the words “self-forgiveness” to describe what actually is self-acceptance?
Self-acceptance and loving the self again are different. Self-acceptance has a certain ring of tolerance or putting up with the self despite the moral infraction done by the self. Loving the self is to go much more deeply than that. To love the self again is to place oneself on the same level of humanity as all others, to see one’s worth as a person, to be gentle with oneself despite imperfections. This is much more than simply tolerating the self.
For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.
As a follow-up to my question that there is no Biblical directive to forgive the self (and thank you for your answer), I have this question: A person cannot forgive his own sins. Therefore, there is no such thing as self-forgiveness. What do you think?
To self-forgive is not to absolve oneself of sin, but instead to welcome the self back into the human community after an offense that can lead to self-loathing. A religious person can seek forgiveness from God and at the same time try to love the self again after serious moral infractions. These two, seeking forgiveness from God for sins committed and loving oneself again are not incompatible.
For additional information, see How to Forgive Yourself for a Big Mistake–Even If No One Else Will.