Ask Dr. Forgiveness

From your own experience, what is the most difficult part of the forgiveness process?

Our research tells us that the decision to forgive is the most difficult.  I think it is because, for those who have rarely practiced forgiving, this is a large transition in their lives. They are walking through a door, the forgiveness door, that offers something new. Change can be difficult for many people and this change, in beginning to see an offending person in entirely new ways, can lead to doubt and even to a reworking of one’s own identity (Who am I now that I am starting to practice forgiveness?).

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Hi Dr. Enright, I’m enjoying your 8 steps book. I’ve also been enjoying learning about self-compassion from the works by Kristin Neff. She has a 20 minute self-guided meditation which I often practice. I wonder if you have something similar for forgiveness? I really appreciate the work you’ve done!

While we do not have a specific 20-minute reflection for forgiveness, we do have exercises that can be done on a regular basis in the self-help book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, an best seller. There are further exercises in the two other self-help books, The Forgiving Life and 8 Keys to Forgiveness.

Additional information about all three books is available in the IFI Store.

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In your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you say, “Forgiveness offers the best hope of creating a new fairness out of the past unfairness.”  Why would fairness be given to someone who has been constantly unfair to me over the years?

When you forgive, you reduce resentment and therefore you reduce any tendency of wanting to get even or to seek revenge.  Being fair is the right way to live, avoiding regret and guilt over acting unfairly toward others.  If you start practicing forgiveness toward the one who hurt you (presuming that you do interact with one another), then this opens the door to greater inner peace for you.  It opens the door for a genuine relationship of fairness if the other sees the great gift you are giving by offering forgiveness.  If the other sees and appreciates your gift, then this could alter the person’s behavior toward greater fairness and reconciliation.

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I have forgiven my father for some insensitive treatment of me when I was a child.  Yet, when I sometimes think of my father and those times, I still am sad.  Does this mean that I have not forgiven?

Forgiveness does not necessarily take away all of the sadness because you did have a rough time during childhood.  It is part of your history and you cannot reverse what happened.  Please keep in mind that some sadness is normal.  Forgiving can help reduce the sadness, and can reduce the resentment that can accompany sadness.  Living with some occasional sadness is very different than living with the constant mixture of deep sadness and anger.

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Lately, when I have an argument with my boyfriend, I find myself bringing up old issues that I thought were behind me, for which I thought I had forgiven him.  Do you think I truly have forgiven him for the past issues or not, given that I tend to bring them up?

It seems to me that you have begun the process of forgiving, because you state that forgiveness is part of you now.  At the same time, I would recommend more forgiving work toward your boyfriend for those past events so that you can leave them in the past.  Please keep in mind that still feeling some pain from past injustices is normal.  It is the excessive anger from those incidents that you want to diminish and more forgiving should accomplish that in you.

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