Ask Dr. Forgiveness

Sometimes my adolescent son and I argue just like my own father and I used to argue. It is kind of odd to see this reproduced across the generations. In your book, The Forgiving Life, you talk about this and recommend that we forgive people from our past who may be influencing our present. My question is this: How do I help my son to forgive his grandfather for what he inflicted on me without betraying a confidence and without hurting my son’s image of his grandfather?

The intergenerational pattern of forgiveness can get complex, as you are seeing. The good news here is that your son need not forgive his grandfather for what he inflicted on you. You need to forgive your father for this. You son should forgive his grandfather for what the grandfather did to your son. So, you can keep the issues of injustice private between your father and you without necessarily sharing the specifics with your son.

I do recommend that you point out the pattern of anger between the generations. This will help your son to see that you and he have learned a pattern of behavior that needs to be broken or else he and his children are likely to continue the unwanted pattern.

Please try to point out the intergenerational pattern of anger to your son in as non-judgmental a manner as possible. In other words, first forgive your father and then discuss the patterns with your son. In this way you are less likely to even subtly condemn your own father as you discuss the anger pattern with your son.

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I have an anger problem. I can go on and on when someone frustrates me. I have tried forgiving but it does not seem to be helping my anger issue. Any suggestions?

Think of anger as multi-layered. Suppose, as an example, that you have five layers of anger: 1) you are angry with your mother for shaming you many times when you were a child; 2) you are angry at the one who bullied you in middle school; 3) you are angry at something your boss did last week; 4) you are angry with your partner today for being insensitive; and 5) you are angry with your child today for showing disrespect.

Now, suppose you forgive your child for the disrespect, but you are still angry with your partner. This issue with the partner could spill over into your relationship with your child so that you “go on and on” with your already-forgiven child. The reason for your continued anger may center in your unforgiveness toward your partner.

At the very heart of the matter might be this: You still harbor resentment toward your mother for injustices that happened years ago. So, to benefit (with anger reduction), you may have to take an inventory of all who still need your forgiveness. Start with the smaller issues and work up to the big ones. Forgive each person for their injustices. Wipe the resentment slate clean. This should greatly reduce your anger. This approach is considered in a deliberate and systematic way in my new book,??The Forgiving Life, available in our Store.

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I am a homeschooling mom with a 6-year-old. I am interested in incorporating forgiveness into the curriculum. What would you recommend? How often would you recommend that we discuss forgiveness?

We have a wide selection of comprehensive, easy-to-use forgiveness curriculum guides for you in the Store section of this website. These range from pre-kindergarten (age 4) through grade 10 (age 15). We have written each guide so that the teacher, in this case you, can spend about one hour per week for about 12 to 15 weeks on forgiveness themes. The forgiveness curricula center on popular literature that should hold your child’s interest, such as Dr. Seuss books in grade 1 (age 6). You can read the first chapter of one of the guides in our Store.

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I am a product of the 1970’s when strong women were encouraged to assert themselves. I can’t say that I bought into all the hype, but a part of that is still with me. When I think of being assertive and forgiving at the same time, they seem at odds with each other. Can one forgive and be assertive at the same time?

Yes, one can be assertive and forgive at the same time. When you forgive, please realize that you should not ignore justice. Forgive and stand up for yourself. Yet, if you can practice forgiveness first and let some of your anger subside (if you are angry in these kinds of situations), then your assertiveness through justice-seeking is likely to be better. In other words, you are more likely to ask for only that which is necessary and not, out of anger, take a “pound of flesh” from the other person. When we are less angry we are likely to be more civil.

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I have seen that various groups have a “forgiveness day.” What is your opinion of that? Can we forgive in a day?

The idea of a Forgiveness Day, I think, is simply to bring awareness to people of the importance of forgiving. If people begin to think that they can wrap up all of their resentments in one grand, 24-hour effort to forgive all people for all offenses, I think this is unrealistic. Forgiveness is a process that can take time (weeks or months) and all who promote forgiveness days should make that clear.

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