Archive for May, 2023
I have read in the psychological literature that forgiveness primarily is a motivation to offer goodness to those who hurt us. Is forgiveness primarily a motivation toward the good?
No, this idea that forgiveness primarily is a motivation is philosophical reductionism in which the writer takes one important part of forgiveness and blows it up so large that it takes over the entire spectrum of forgiveness. Here is why motivation is only one part of forgiveness: Suppose someone hurts you and you now are convinced that you should and will forgive. After that, you sit in your hammock, read your on-line messages, listen to music, and turn off all thoughts and actions regarding forgiveness, never to return to this. Have you forgiven? Of course not because you have not engaged in the difficult thoughts, feelings, and actions that make the forgiveness response more full, more accurate.
A paradox is an apparent contradiction that actually is not a contradiction. When we forgive, we give goodness to those who are not good to us. This seems contradictory to justice, but it is compatible with mercy. As we give such goodness, it seems that the other is taking advantage of us and so we will never heal emotionally. Yet, the paradox is this: As we give goodness to the other person, we as forgivers can heal quite deeply in a psychological sense through this act of goodness.
If I forgive a narcissistic person, doesn’t that just give that person a free license to keep abusing me? Doesn’t this make forgiving toxic?
The issue here is not with forgiving itself but with a failure to see that as you forgive you can and should seek justice from the one who is hurting you. Forgive and ask something of the other person.
The problem here is not with forgiving but instead with people not being gentle with those who are hurting. Putting pressure on others is not the fault of forgiveness itself.
I have addressed this question in a Psychology Today blog here: Does Your Brain Cause You to Forgive?
The short answer is: I do not think so. There can be a confusion of cause and effect. As people willingly practice forgiving, brain structures can alter. In other words, it is not the brain’s existing structure that causes forgiveness but the continual practice of forgiveness that may lead to an alteration of the brain.