Ask Dr. Forgiveness

What do you recommend when someone is obviously mentally ill and they spread rumors about you to the family? I have a relative in another state who has been telling my nephews that I have a compulsive gambling problem. I have never gambled in my life. Do I forgive? I wonder because this relative does not seem to be doing something deliberately wrong, given the mental illness.

Whether the intent is deliberate or not, the outcome is hurtful and so, yes, I think it is legitimate to forgive. Knowing that the person has a mental illness, and I do not want to venture a speculation about what it is, should make it easier to forgive. We have to keep in mind that even if a personality disorder of some kind is involved here, there still is free will at least to a degree. In other words, even with most mental illnesses the person can choose to express himself or herself in a variety of ways. For some reason, this relative has chosen condemnation and has chosen you. That is forgivable.

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With the holidays coming up, I am feeling depressed. Family conflicts stress me out. My brother, who is coming in from another state, and I just do not get along. What do you suggest? I really do not like being so civil when I am not feeling that way inside.

The holiday time can be stressful for many people because of past memories and current conflicts. I suggest that you start a daily exercise of forgiving your brother for little things, those that can make you irritable. Try to take one small incident at a time and work on the process of forgiveness as outlined??in the “Need to Forgive?” section of our website. More detailed advice is in the book, The Forgiving Life.

Our most recent Forum discussion for adults addresses this issue of forgiving the small things.

With daily practice in forgiveness, you likely will be more ready to meet and interact positively with your brother.

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Is there such a thing as preventive forgiveness in which we can practice forgiveness before we are deeply hurt by others?

This is an important question with deep implications for growing in the virtue of forgiveness. Aristotle reminded us that if we are ever to advance in the virtues, then we have to practice them regularly. What better way to advance in forgiveness than to forgive people daily for “the little things” even if we are not deeply hurt by them?

We have started preventive forgiveness education programs in Milwaukee’s central-city and in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The point of the programs is to help children understand and appreciate the virtue of forgiveness in the calm instructional setting of the classroom long before the stresses of adulthood come to visit. By being equipped with knowledge and appreciation of forgiveness as well as a familiarity of how to forgive, these children, when they are grown up, may face the challenges of life more successfully than those who do not yet know about forgiveness and might be at greater risk of excessive anger.

Read about our preventive forgiveness education programs in Milwaukee, “The Forgiving Child” and in Belfast,??“Waging Peace through Forgiveness in Belfast, Northern Ireland II.”??

You also might want to read in our Adult Forums section the topic entitled, The Little Things about Forgiveness. The discussion includes issues of prevention.

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In the Work Phase of forgiveness, I understand that I am to see the one who hurt me in what you call a “larger perspective.” I am to see how he/she was wounded as a child and as an adult. I am then to see how these wounds affected me. My question to you is how can I avoid continual pessimistic thinking if I am always seeing people as wounded and as hurting me?

When people forgive, they tend to take what we call the personal, the global, and the cosmic perspectives on the one who was unjust. For the personal perspective, you are correct that we encourage the forgiver to see the wounds in the offending person. If all we did was focus on his or her emotional wounds and on our own emotional wounds, you have a fascinating point that we as forgivers may begin to see the world as one big wounded mess.

Yet, there is more to each of our forgiveness stories as we go farther into the process. As we take the global perspective, we begin to see the personhood of the other. The offending person is special, unique, and irreplaceable in this world, as you are. This is not a negative perspective, but a positive one. Then when we take the cosmic perspective, we see that all humans are connected in some way, and the particular way will depend on your own world view, your own philosophy and theology of who people are. These perspectives on personhood are described in the book, The Forgiving Life.

I hope you can see that when we do the work of forgiveness and see the offending person in a larger perspective, it is not all negative. Forgiveness does require that we stand in the truth that someone was unjust to us and that he or she may be a wounded person. Forgiveness does require, further, that we stand in the truth that this individual is a person and all persons have inherent worth, a positive thought.

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How does one forgive on behalf of another? My child was molested by my sister’s husband while in her care. I feel I cannot forgive for my daughter. Everytime I think of this person and this act, I feel hatred and do not believe I could ever feel any other way toward such a monster (and don’t really want to?), yet relise I need to release these feelings to alleviate the pain and anger I am carrying around. This particular form of forgiveness, when the ‘crime’ was commited against another, seems not to be covered in lierature, etc.

We are very sorry to hear of the mistreatment of your daughter. This should never, ever happen to a child. We discuss the kind of forgiveness you target in your question in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. You would not be forgiving on behalf of your daughter. Instead, you would be forgiving him for his injustice to you. He hurt your daughter. You are legitimately angry. You can then forgive him for the pain he has caused you by hurting your daughter. Once you learn the depth of forgiveness in this way, we recommend working with your daughter on forgiving him, if she is ready to do that. Please remember: When we forgive we do not toss out justice. As we forgive, we can and should ask fairness from those who have hurt us or who are a danger to others.

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