Ask Dr. Forgiveness

Why do you advocate all the time for forgiveness when the research on assertiveness shows that it is effective in stopping another’s inappropriate behavior? The passivity of forgiveness just does not compare to this.

Why should we take sides on this? For those who reject forgiveness, there are other approaches. For those who view assertiveness approaches as too harsh, there is forgiveness.

Regarding research, we respectfully disagree. You can find the research based on forgiveness therapy with adults at: Peer Reviewed Experimental Studies. You can find the research based on forgiveness education with children and adolescents at: Journal Articles on Forgiveness Education. As you will see, the research shows that those who forgive experience considerable emotional healing.

Finally, forgiveness is not a passive activity. It is an active struggle to love through pain, hardly an inactive approach.

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Nietzsche called forgiveness “sublimated revenge.” In other words, forgiveness is an illusion. I wonder if it only exists when we are hurt just a little.

Your statement attributed to Nietzsche assumes that he was correct. Was he? Let us examine the evidence.

Sublimation is a psychological defense of responding with the opposite of how one really feels. For example, a person whistles as he walks by a cemetery. The whistling, which represents a relaxed, happy attitude, is masking its opposite—-fear of cemeteries.

In the case of forgiveness, according to Nietzsche, the person takes on a loving, humble attitude to mask extreme anger. If he is correct, then those who learn to forgive through a deliberate intervention to do so should become even angrier and more revengeful. Why? Because forgiveness supposedly is always “sublimated revenge,” the attitude of great anger. Yet, our research shows that as people learn to forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, and more hopeful toward their future.

The science suggests that Nietzsche had it wrong when it comes to forgiveness.

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I am in the process of reconciling with a close friend. We are trying to forgive each other. I am now scared. Is it normal to feel scared about this? What can I do to get over this fear?

In all likelihood, you are scared because your trust has been damaged. Forgiveness can help with this, but you need more than just forgiveness. As you see the other person’s genuine attempts to be kind, to be respectful, note these: Trust usually is built up one action at a time. As you see that he or she means well and is trying, this should reduce your fear and increase your willingness to trust once again.

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What is involved if I start to forgive? I am new at this and it scares me.

When you forgive, you will not be excusing the person for wrongdoing. Instead, when you are ready you will be offering a cessation of resentment and, as best as you are able at present, to offer goodness of some kind to him or her. You may or may not reconcile, depending on the circumstances. You do not reconcile with someone who could physically hurt you, for example, until you have trust that the person has changed for the better. The gist is this: You will be trying to offer mercy to the one who hurt you. You can take your time and move at your pace so that the forgiveness journey is not overly burdensome for you.

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I believe in accountability. Even God does not forgive without repentance.

Our question for you is this: Must you choose between accountability and forgiveness? Do you see them as mutually exclusive? We should recall Aristotle’s counsel to us. We should not practice any of the virtues in isolation. Accountability is a form of justice. Justice and forgiveness exist side-by-side. Regarding God’s forgiveness, we must recall that God forgives sins. People do not forgive sins. If you base you understanding of forgiveness on the Bible, then please recall that the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers (in Genesis) was a story of unconditional forgiveness. The brothers did not repent to Joseph before he forgave them. It is similar in the New Testament, in the story of the Prodigal Son, whose father forgave him unconditionally, prior to the son’s repentance.

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