Ask Dr. Forgiveness

My anger is what motivates me to solve problems and to uphold justice. Forgiveness is the opiate of the people, reducing anger and thus reducing our motivation to seek and to find fair solutions. Can you convince me otherwise?

This is a good challenge and so I thank you for the question. There are different kinds of anger. One kind,which I call healthy anger, is expressed within reasonable, appropriate limits and can energize us to seek fair solutions. You are talking about healthy anger.

We also have the kind of anger that sits inside of us and chips away at our energy, our well-being, our very happiness. This kind of anger we could call resentment or unhealthy anger. Forgiveness targets this kind of anger and helps to reduce it so it does not destroy the forgiver. As a person forgives, he or she sees more clearly, not less clearly, that what happened was unfair. Thus, someone who forgives is not likely to fall into an unnatural state of lethargy regarding the injustice.

So, keep your healthy anger and fight for justice. Forgiveness is not a foe of justice, keeping it at a distance. Instead, justice and forgiveness can work side by side for a better world. If you think about it, don’t you think that you will be better able to fight for justice if your energy is not brought low by unhealthy anger? Forgiveness can be of considerable help here in aiding the person to control the kind of anger that can thwart the quest for justice.

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It seems to me to be betrayal of a loved one if we forgive those who gravely hurt that loved one. My husband was unjustly fired from his job. I want to stand with him, stick up for him. To forgive the boss is to betray my husband. So, forgiveness to me is to disrespect my husband under this circumstance.

We need to keep in mind that to forgive is not to say, “What the company did to my husband is ok; it is fair.” Instead, when you forgive, you are aware that what happened to your husband was unfair and it will always be unfair. Forgiveness does not invalidate this truth. As you forgive, you offer a cessation of resentment (which can take time) and try as best you can to see those who hurt your husband as persons—possessing worth in spite of what they did. Forgiveness can help you reduce anger so that you have more energy to be with and help your husband as you both work through this.

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If someone hurt you but then says that they did nothing at all wrong, can you forgive? How can you forgive someone who looks you in the eye and denies any wrongdoing?

The question is important because of the confusion that might be engendered in the forgiver when the offending person claims innocence. A central issue here is this: The forgiver is the one exercising the virtue of forgiveness, which includes careful scrutiny regarding the other person’s right or wrong actions. It is part of the forgiveness process to determine this. Once the forgiver has determined wrongdoing on the other’s part, of course, this conclusion is open to revision based on new evidence. So, please try to think of the offending person’s challenge as an opportunity to further scrutinize his or her act to ascertain wrongdoing. The person could be correct, in which case there is nothing to forgive. If, however, you as forgiver once again examine the behavior and conclude that it is an injustice, then you should go ahead with forgiveness regardless of what the other person (or anyone else) says. Do not let a contrary opinion or consensus keep you from the truth of what is right and wrong. Do not let the opinion or consensus keep you from forgiving if you continue to conclude that there was injustice.

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says to you, ???I do not deserve to be forgiven. I do not ask for forgiveness. I do not want forgiveness. Please do not forgive me. It will be an injustice to me if you forgive me.??? Now what? Can the person forgive or should he or she respect the person???s wishes?

This question is asking what is more important: to stand in the truth of what forgiveness is or to honor a person’s own idiosyncratic notion of what forgiveness is. We should opt for the truth every time regardless of another person’s reaction. Surely, we are aware that it is not an injustice to forgive anyone. If we put it in a different context, what if some says, “Please do not be fair to me. I do not seek fairness. I do not want fairness from you.” Would you refrain from being fair to that person? Of course not. Why would it be any different with forgiveness? Stand in the truth that forgiveness is good and true. At the same time, you do not have to announce to a reluctant person that you, in fact, have forgiven him. You can demonstrate that without words, with a smile, a warm gesture, and similar overtures of forgiveness.

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My husband of 17 years had an affair. The other person became pregnant in effort to keep him. I reconciled with my husband as we have three children of our own. This other person lives in the same small town as we do, and has no respect for myself or my children. My anger and inability to forgive, move on is eating me alive. I’m becoming desperate for help. I just want to resolve it within myself so I can resume living again.

There is great hope for you to forgive and move on because of your strong motivation to do so. A willingness to forgive is part of the process of healing and you most certainly have that will. Because the other person lives in the same small town as you, it becomes more of a challenge. Note carefully that I am not saying your level of forgiveness will be lower because this is a challenge. I am only saying that you will have to work at the forgiveness every day—-every day.

I recommend that you start with my book, The Forgiving Life. The exercises for forgiving the person are in Chapter 10, The Forgiveness Pathway. It would be best to start with Chapter 1, which helps you to first explore the love that you have within you. I start there to fortify you, to make you stronger, before you forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply. Please then read Chapter 2, If You Are Traumatized. It may answer some of the tough questions about forgiveness for you. I urge you to then read Chapters 3-7 and then turn directly to Chapter 10.

Elicit help from your husband on this. You say you are reconciled with him. He therefore will be your helpmate on this. Talk with him about what you are experiencing especially with your responses to Chapters 1 and 10. These are the keys for you (learning to let love grow in you and then practicing forgiveness).

Every time you think about or see this person, I strongly recommend that you begin practicing forgiveness (from the material in Chapter 10). Persevere in this and never give up. Your strong will is important in this effort. You will prevail. Please contact me again to let me know how it is going.

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