Ask Dr. Forgiveness

As I forgive, I am finding that my anger comes and goes.  I find this frustrating as I expected a straight line from anger to no anger.  Can you provide some perspective for me?

The philosopher from ancient Greece, Aristotle, reminds us that we are all imperfect when it comes to the expression of any of the moral virtues.  Therefore, please try to be gentle with yourself and to humbly accept that you will not have a perfect straight line from anger to no anger.  You certainly are not alone in this as the vast majority of us can experience a resurgence of anger.  At that point, it is good to go back a few steps in the forgiveness process and begin again to see the inherent worth in the one who hurt you, try to cultivate some empathy, bear the pain of this anger, and when you are ready consider a gift to the other (such as a smile or a kind word about the person to others).

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I have forgiven someone, but I still feel like a victim.  I want to grow beyond this view of myself as a victim.  What is the next view of myself that you see as usually happening for people?

To see yourself as a victim means that you know you have been wronged.  As you are seeing, if you keep this as your identity, then you are seeing yourself in a one-down position in that someone is keeping you down, keeping you under that person’s power.  The next step is to see that you are a survivor.  You have survived the attempt by others to keep you in a one-down position.  The step after that is to see yourself not only as a survivor but also as a thriver.  In other words, in your surviving the injustices, you have grown in your humanity, and you are now even better than before.  I wish you the best in this journey of growth.

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I told my partner that I forgave him.  He did not accept it and told me he did nothing wrong.  This rejection has increased my pain.  I now have the pain from the original offense and now this.  How do you suggest I deal with this doubling of my pain?

Yes, his rejection of your gift of forgiveness is another pain for you.  If you think he is being unjust in this, you can deliberately forgive him for the original offense and then you can begin forgiving him for this second offense of denying any wrongdoing.  This double injustice does make the forgiveness journey harder, but it will be worth the effort if you are motivated to forgive both actions by your partner.

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If I “bear the pain,” how will this allow me to cry?

To “bear the pain” does not mean to resist sadness.  Instead, to “bear the pain” includes accepting the sadness as it comes without running away from it.  To “bear the pain” is not to deny pain and sadness, but instead to courageously experience these.  The wonderful paradox then is this:  As you stand in the pain, allowing yourself to feel it, and deliberately not pass it to the one who hurt you or to others, it is you who begins to heal.  In other words, the pain begins to lift.

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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.

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