Ask Dr. Forgiveness
There are certain psychological disorders which some people exhibit, making it very difficult to interact with them. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of these. It is considered to be a chronic state of self-absorption. Some of the symptoms that go into the diagnosis include these: extreme reaction to criticism such as excessive humiliation or even rage; takes advantage of others to achieve his or her goals; excessive preoccupation with beauty and ideal love or power and success; has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment (the others in his or her life, for example, are expected not to show any anger whatsoever); and disregards the feelings of others.
Living or working with someone who consistently shows these symptoms is a challenge. You are probably demeaned for small things and you have to guard against believing the false accusations against you as true. This requires standing in the truth of who you are as a person and seeing the distortions that the other person has. Because the narcissistic patterns are consistent, you are faced with consistent challenges.
Under such circumstances, it is easy to slip into the incorrect thought that the other is not human. The struggle is to work on seeing the inherent worth of this person, not because of what he or she has done, but in spite of this. I recommend that you read pages 179-182 in my new book, The Forgiving Life. It will help you see the truth about this person, who in all likelihood is deeply hurting. He or she is human. Your struggle now is to see this, to see beyond the frustrating behaviors. Your forgiving the person will help you to see his or her humanity.
I further urge you to read this section of the book and apply it directly to yourself. Sometimes we start to devalue ourselves because of the constant criticism given out by someone suffering in this way.
There was a rash of strong tornadoes in the Midwestern United States last week. Is it appropriate to encourage children, who become frightened by such serious natural disasters, to forgive such weather events? I am thinking that forgiveness might reduce anger and calm the children when they think of these dangerous weather conditions.
In your asking this question, I can see that your intentions are honorable toward children. You are trying to find a way to reduce their anxiety. Yet, we do not want to distort what forgiveness is for the sake of people’s comfort. Forgiveness occurs when a person has been treated unjustly by other people. Weather events cannot act unjustly for obvious reasons; they do not have motivations to act in morally good or bad ways; they do not have free will. Thus, no weather event, no inanimate object can do moral wrong and so it cannot be the target of forgiveness. Instead of asking the children to forgive in such circumstances, I recommend that you work with them to accept what happened. Acceptance might also calm the nerves. By not introducing forgiveness in this context you are preserving its true meaning for when a child does have to forgive another person.
To forgive is to substitute a happy feeling for a sad and angry feeling, it seems to me. As long as you can do that, then you are forgiving the person. What do you think of this?
You seem to have part of the essence of forgiveness correct and yet there is more depth to it. When a person goes through the process of forgiveness, then he or she (usually slowly) transforms negative emotions (anger, discouragement, resentment) into more positive ones (happiness, joy, love). Because this is a process that can take time, we probably should not use the word “substitute” to describe the emotional transformation because “substitute” sounds as if we just quickly switch out one set of emotions for another.
Besides a transformation of emotions, the forgiver transforms thoughts from negative to more positive and behaviors also to the more positive. Besides all of this, as a person forgives, he or she grows more competent and consistent in the practice of forgiveness, sometimes reaching the goal of forgiveness more quickly after the 100th attempt compared with the first attempt. I point out all of these characteristics so that you are not left with the view that forgiveness is primarily emotional and that the change typically occurs quickly, which it does not for most people who are deeply hurt by another’s hurtful actions.
Not all the time, but sometimes I feel guilty when I forgive someone who has been very cruel to me. I question whether the person deserves to be forgiven. What can you offer me to reduce my feeling of guilt?
You may be feeling guilty when you forgive because you think you are letting the other person off easily. If so, then you are thinking of forgiveness as part of the virtue of justice (doing what is fair, giving someone what he or she deserves). If you are thinking this way, then it follows that you might see yourself as thwarting justice as you forgive, which would increase guilt. After all, we want to do what is fair, not contribute to injustice. Yet, forgiveness is part of mercy (giving goodness to a person who hurt you, not because of what he or she did, but in spite of this). When you forgive, please try to remember two issues: a) You are not letting someone off easily, but instead you are expressing mercy, and b) as you express mercy in the form of forgiveness, you can exercise justice. In other words, hold the other to a high standard. This should help you not feel guilty as you forgive.
My therapist said that if I keep forgiving my boss for his boorish behavior, then I am just “enabling” him. I guess what he means is that I am just falling into his ridiculous pattern without standing up for myself or giving him appropriate feedback. So, is forgiveness the act of “enabling” bad behavior on the other guy’s part?
The question assumes that the one who forgives cooperates with a person’s unjust behavior. That is basically what is meant by the word “enabling.” Someone acts badly, such as excessive drinking, for example, and the spouse minimizes this and even gives money to the other to support the habit. If this were the case for forgiveness, then it would not be a moral virtue at all. It would be a vice. Yet, if forgiveness is a moral virtue concerned with offering goodness toward (not “enabling”) another person, then forgiveness must: a) recognize injustice as injustice; b) offer the goodness of mercy without condoning what the other is doing; and c) bring justice alongside the forgiveness so that the other is given an opportunity to correct the behavior.