Ask Dr. Forgiveness

When I forgive someone, am I supposed to have no negative emotions at all any more?

Sometimes people think that they have not forgiven if they have some residual anger. I disagree with this. We are all imperfect in our forgiving and when we are treated very unfairly, it is not uncommon to have some anger left. The key is this: Are you in control of your anger or is the anger in control of you? When we forgive, our anger is reduced to manageable levels. After we have forgiven, there still may be room for more forgiving, so please be open to that. At the same time, please do not falsely accuse yourself of not being a forgiver if anger re-emerges from time to time. When that happens, do more forgiving if the anger builds to uncomfortable levels.

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Isn’t anger a natural part of reacting to injustice? When we forgive, do we suppress some anger?

Anger does seem to be a natural part of reacting to injustice. We need to remember that anger can be felt and expressed along a continuum. If the anger is short-lived and not extremely intense, then it can be useful in energizing a person who then strives to correct the injustice. When the anger becomes extreme, both in its duration and its intensity, forgiveness can be one effective way of controlling that anger. Forgiveness exercised in the right way (by not denying the injustice and not denying the angry reaction) can actually reduce the anger. When this happens, the anger is not suppressed, but instead is diminished.

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Are there some offenses that are so bad that they are unforgivable?

There are some offenses which some people will not forgive, but there is nothing I know in the world so horrible that no one has responded with forgiveness.

An example is the murder of one’s child. Many may not be ready to start a forgiveness process, but there are other people who would and have forgiven the murderer of their children.

We must be gentle with those who refuse to forgive. At the same time, we should not stand in disbelief when some do offer forgiveness in this circumstance.

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Found out recently that my husband had a lady friend who he was close to on facebook. To the extent that he sent her a message on valentines reading: Happy valentines sweeting. I confronted him about it but he says there was nothing between them, which i don’t believe. Now i’m hurting and finding it difficult to believe him. I wish it was the first time he has had a lady friend whom he gets too close to but it is not and we’ve fought over this issue on two occassions and I just don’t know what to do.

Hurt from betrayal is very difficult. Hurt from continued betrayal is even more difficult. Your forgiving him will help your inner emotional world and it may help you talk with your husband in a calm and respectful manner (which may help open the lines of communication a little more). Beyond forgiving, you have an issue of trust. Forgiveness by itself will not restore trust, although it may make you more open to trusting. Trust has to be earned. Your husband, as you say, has had issues like this on at least two other occasions. It is time to let him know that you are having difficulty trusting, and then see what he says. He will have to repair the mistrust by small and consistent behaviors (one step at a time) so that you are feeling safer. What do you need from him to feel safer? After you start the forgiveness process and your anger is lessened, approach him with this and see what he has to offer by way of increasing your sense of feeling safe.

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I run a business and most of my employees are men. I was thinking of holding a forgiveness workshop in the firm, but I am concerned about the reactions I will get. I think you know what I mean. We have had “diversity training” and “sensitivity training” somewhat forced on us. Will the guys in particular think the forgiveness workshop is just one more imposition for them?

“Diversity and sensitivity training” sometimes makes employees angry because such training can imply that any given employee is not sensitive to others. When employees do not share such an implicit message, then attending a workshop like this can appear to be something forced on them.

A forgiveness workshop does not imply that a given employee is insensitive or disrespectful. Instead, the point of such a workshop is to help any employee who is resentful, with the possible consequence of coming to work with low morale, to overcome this sometimes debilitating resentment. Forgiveness presents a problem (excessive anger) and then presents a scientifically-tested solution (forgiving those who have been unjust to the employee).

If you think about it, a forgiveness workshop gives the exact opposite message of sensitivity training. It is the employee who is treated unjustly and who seeks a solution when we shine the light on forgiveness. In contrast, it is the employee who is implicitly judged as being the unjust one when he or she is asked to undergo diversity and sensitivity training.

If you approach the forgiveness workshop with an attitude of “Come, see what this is about; you can take it or leave it after you hear the message,” then your employees may be more receptive. Forgiveness is not forced on anyone, or at least it should not be. Forgiveness is each person’s individual choice to try or not. If the men in your company have some anger that is getting in their way, all you are doing is offering a way out of that anger.

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