Ask Dr. Forgiveness

Is there such a thing as passive abuse? My spouse is constantly ignoring me, engages in long periods of silence, and is not receptive to my pointing out how harmful this is. I see the problem clearly. My partner does not. It is really hard to keep forgiving what is not seen as an injustice by the other party. What advice can you offer on this very difficult situation?

Yes, there is a form of abuse that is passive and silent as you describe. I am presuming that any offense you have perpetrated does not match the duration and intensity of her ignoring and silent behavior. I want to add that I am not saying that you did anything at all. You did not say. Passive aggression, as it is sometimes called, can result from the person being very angry at someone else—not you—and thus the anger could be displaced onto you.

Either way, whether you did something much smaller than the reaction toward you now or you are a victim of displaced anger, your job right now may be to forgive….every day. Ongoing abuse needs a courageous dose of forgiveness to keep your own anger low. So, I recommend that you roll up your sleeves, forgive, and then forgive again and again.

Keep striving for justice, too. After you forgive and are not angry, approach your partner and ask to speak about this situation. Your partner may not be receptive. Forgive again and strive for justice again. It is not easy, but it is a truthful and joyful way to live because you are doing your best and offering love in the face of a very challenging situation.

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What advice do you have for people who now want to forgive those who perpetrated 9/11?

My advice is specifically for those who want to forgive. In other words, they are ready to do so. First, I would recommend doing a little research on those who have been identified as planning and perpetrating the attacks. I say that so that you can concretely see who the people are. It is easier to forgive a person you can see rather than an abstract set of people.

From there, I recommend working on seeing them as persons. You can gain some insight into this from this post: We All Have Inherent Worth.

Next, you might want to consider what we call “bearing the pain” of what happened. You are not giving in or taking on pain that will not leave. When you bear the pain you commit to not passing the pain that you now have onto other people. Sometimes we displace our pain onto innocent others. As we bear that pain, the paradox is that it leaves.

Finally, you might draw inspiration from this video. It concerns one mother who lost her son in the attacks on 9/11 and another mother whose son was convicted in taking part in those attacks. They have formed a bond through forgiveness.

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Are some things so bad that they are unforgivable?

Thank you for the question. We have addressed a similar issue already on May 10, 2012. Your question, however, has given us the opportunity to clarify one issue. We actually do not forgive “things” or “offenses.” We forgive people and only people. So, we forgive people for “things” they do or “offenses” they commit. No person in the world has done something so bad that another person cannot forgive him or her. Some will choose not to forgive, but this does not mean that others could not or will not forgive him or her.

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Without the other guy apologizing to me, it seems so phony to offer forgiveness. How am I helping him if i just forgive? If he apologizes, then he sees the error of his ways. Waiting to forgive after the other apologizes is more loving than unconditional forgiveness. Do you agree?

Thank you for your challenging question. I think you and I have a confusion of terms. To forgive is to exercise a moral virtue of mercy toward an offending other person. All moral virtues, whether it is justice, or patience, or kindness can be expressed unconditionally. By this I mean we can choose to be fair or patient or kind without permission to do so, without someone else doing something first that then allows us to exercise the virtue.

Why should this not be the same with the moral virtue of forgiveness? Why should forgiveness be the one and only moral virtue that is conditional on someone doing something (apologize or repent or pay back something) before we can exercise that virtue?

I think you might have in mind the issue of reconciliation, which of course is related to forgiveness (but different than it). Reconciliation is a negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust. It probably is prudent (depending on the severity of the offense, of course) to withhold reconciliation until the person sees what he/she did, feels sorry for it, expresses the sorry as an apology, and decides to not be hurtful again (within reason because we are all imperfect).

So, you can lovingly and unconditionally forgive and then hold the person to a high standard in the act of reconciliation. This, then, does not render forgiveness “phony,” but instead shows the link between the moral virtue of forgiveness and the negotiation strategy of reconciliation.

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My fiance recently separated from me. During therapy she mentioned that she loved me, but was extremely angry at me. When we first started dating there were some infidelity issues on my end, and what’s worse, I lied about it or hid the truth. It has been several years, and there have been no further infidelity issues. I lied, because I was trying to protect our relationship. I have come completely clean in therapy, but I am not sure if there is anything I can do beyond the counseling…

Your fiancé appears to be harboring resentment from your past infidelity. Does your therapist emphasize forgiveness as part of the healing process? If not, you might consider asking him or her to work with both of you on giving and receiving forgiveness.

If your therapist will not do this, then you should consider switching therapists to someone who knows forgiveness therapy. I recommend that you purchase a copy of The Forgiving Life book for your fiancé, for the therapist, and for yourself. All of you can then have the same goal with the same content on which to work.

Your fiancé’s anger can be overcome through forgiveness therapy, especially if you have truly changed, as you have indicated.

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