Ask Dr. Forgiveness

I have heard people say that forgiveness is like giving someone a second chance. Is this what forgiveness is, or are these two ideas different?

When we forgive, we are indeed giving the other a second chance. We are extending mercy to the one who was not merciful to us. Yet, our forgiving does not necessarily lead to an actual second chance because sometimes the other rejects our offer. So, forgiveness is the offering of a second chance. The realization of that second chance now depends on both people accepting that mercy and coming together again in mutual respect.

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You talk about “forgiving communities.” What are some of the dangers in introducing such communities too soon in the home?

Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it is not a dangerous idea or action. ??What is dangerous is the all-too-human trappings surrounding forgiveness. Some of these dangers include: 1) forcing children to forgive rather than helping them to be drawn in love to it; 2) misunderstanding forgiveness as reconciliation so that children are not protected as they think they have to re-enter unhealthy interactions, such as with those who bully them; 3) so over-emphasizing forgiveness that children put aside the quest for justice; and 4) introducing forgiveness-as-a-forgiving community out of grim obligation so that children see your frustration with the idea of forgiveness.

If you avoid these traps and approach forgiveness with a loving heart, the family should benefit. ??We recommend what we call “The Family Forgiveness Gathering” in which you discuss (once a week for about 15 minutes) the themes of hurt and mercy which occurred that week for each person (who wishes to share this).

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Suppose that there is ongoing abuse, should I forgive in this circumstance? It seems so difficult.

Suppose, instead, that you had an ongoing bacterial infection on your arm. Would it be a good idea to treat that? Why should emotional pains be any different? Yes, it probably is the case that it is more difficult to forgive in this context, but it may be all the more necessary….to prevent infection of the heart, in an emotional sense.

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Why do you advocate all the time for forgiveness when the research on assertiveness shows that it is effective in stopping another’s inappropriate behavior? The passivity of forgiveness just does not compare to this.

Why should we take sides on this? For those who reject forgiveness, there are other approaches. For those who view assertiveness approaches as too harsh, there is forgiveness.

Regarding research, we respectfully disagree. You can find the research based on forgiveness therapy with adults at: Peer Reviewed Experimental Studies. You can find the research based on forgiveness education with children and adolescents at: Journal Articles on Forgiveness Education. As you will see, the research shows that those who forgive experience considerable emotional healing.

Finally, forgiveness is not a passive activity. It is an active struggle to love through pain, hardly an inactive approach.

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Nietzsche called forgiveness “sublimated revenge.” In other words, forgiveness is an illusion. I wonder if it only exists when we are hurt just a little.

Your statement attributed to Nietzsche assumes that he was correct. Was he? Let us examine the evidence.

Sublimation is a psychological defense of responding with the opposite of how one really feels. For example, a person whistles as he walks by a cemetery. The whistling, which represents a relaxed, happy attitude, is masking its opposite—-fear of cemeteries.

In the case of forgiveness, according to Nietzsche, the person takes on a loving, humble attitude to mask extreme anger. If he is correct, then those who learn to forgive through a deliberate intervention to do so should become even angrier and more revengeful. Why? Because forgiveness supposedly is always “sublimated revenge,” the attitude of great anger. Yet, our research shows that as people learn to forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, and more hopeful toward their future.

The science suggests that Nietzsche had it wrong when it comes to forgiveness.

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