Ask Dr. Forgiveness

I think I have forgiven my friend for betraying my trust. I no longer am angry. Yet, I do not trust the person now. Does this mean I have not forgiven?

I think your issue now is one of reconciliation, not forgiveness. To forgive is to offer goodness, as best you can, to those who have not been good to you. Reconciliation is a negotiation strategy of two or more people coming together again in mutual trust. If your friend is showing behaviors that are untrustworthy, then your forgiving and not yet reconciling is reasonable. This does not mean that you are unforgiving.

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My friend has a very negative mindset about forgiving. She is skeptical that it has any worth. What do you suggest I do in this case?

She certainly is entitled to her own opinion. At the same time, if that opinion, about what forgiveness is, contains substantial errors, then you might consider talking with her about the basics of forgiveness. To forgive is not to find excuses or to abandon the quest for justice. To forgive is not to necessarily or automatically reconcile. Forgiveness is a choice and should not be forced on her by others. Does she understand all of this? In my experience, those who are highly skeptical of forgiving often misunderstand what it is.

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I have started to forgive, but sometimes my anger gets the better of me. I get so angry that I lose focus. What would you recommend?

I would recommend first being aware of the increase in your anger and the degree to which this is happening. Then I would reflect on how the anger itself is compromising you and your health in particular. This can be a motivation to exercise your strong will to continue forgiving. As you continue to persevere in forgiving, then the anger will not be controlling you, but you will be in control of your anger.

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I have begun conversations with someone with whom I have been estranged for about a year. She claims that she wants to forgive and reconcile, but I so often see non-verbal cues such as frowns and even rolled-eyes coming at me. What part of the forgiveness process should I engage when this happens?

I would recommend starting at the beginning and seeing your frustration or anger and then move through the entire process again. This may occur more quickly and with deeper results when you begin again. Only after you have worked through the forgiveness process to some degree might you consider gently talking with her about the discrepancy between her words of forgiving and her non-verbal cues that she is not forgiving.

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Have any of your research participants simply dropped out of the forgiveness process because it was taking too long?

Actually, no, we have not experienced that in our over-twenty-five-years of doing forgiveness interventions. Once people are motivated to try forgiveness and we give them help that encourages them, they keep going until they have forgiven, at least forgave to a degree. Progress in forgiving can help people want even more restored emotional health.

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