Ask Dr. Forgiveness

Must one feel or experience a sentiment of guilt about their resentment to truly forgive?

Not necessarily.  Anger within a temperate range (not so long and not so deeply intense) after injustice is normal.  One may experience true guilt if one has reacted in an unjust manner toward the other person or has harbored feeling of revenge, for example.

If one is harboring this sense of revenge, as an example, or if one has lashed out verbally and with intense anger to the other person, then yes, feelings of guilt are normal and forgiving the self and, if this is a religious person, asking forgiveness from God are important.

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In your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, would you please clarify what you mean when you say that children can become “instruments of revenge against the spouse” in the section on “Anger and Family Dysfunction”? If a youngster discovers that she is being used as a tool for retaliation, what should she do? What kinds of actions might an adult child display as well if she has been exploited as a tool for retaliation?

At times, one parent will talk disparagingly about the other parent to one of the children.  That child then starts to develop a negative impression of that parent (toward whom the other parent makes consistent disparaging remarks).  The parent is trying to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent.

This child, upon growing up, might end up reproducing a pattern, learned in childhood, now with an adult partner.  For example, if the child kept criticizing Mom because of Dad’s remarks about Mom, the child, now as an adult, might be overly critical of the partner.  The adult child being aware of this and learning to forgive can break this unhealthy family pattern.

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I would like to know about situations in which you were not personally harmed but nevertheless carry resentment because you believe that someone you care about was harmed. Since we were not harmed personally, do we even have the “right” to declare our desire to forgive the person who has wronged someone we love? How should we handle our anger in this situation? And should we continue striving to forgive the one who wounded our loved one if the one who was hurt doesn’t want to forgive?

The philosopher, Trudy Govier, makes the important point that, yes, you can legitimately forgive a person who has harmed your loved one.  Dr. Govier calls this “secondary forgiveness.”  Because you were emotionally hurt by seeing your loved one treated unjustly, you then can forgive the person, even though you were not directly treated unfairly.  You were hurt and so this is your open door to forgive.

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You recently answered my question about the abiding of unhealthy anger which can last for the rest of a person’s life.  Do you think this kind of anger can turn on the person, hurting him physically and psychologically?

Yes, there is evidence that long-term deep anger can hurt a person physically, psychologically, and relationally.  For an overview of this kind of anger, please see the book, Forgiveness Therapy (2015) by Enright and Fitzgibbons.

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