Both Downie (1965), a philosopher, and Droll (1985), a psychologist, raised the challenging possibility that someone who practices forgiveness may become overly sensitive to slights and minor hurts. As a forgiver begins to scrutinize injustices, he or she may begin to falsely see these at every turn. Yet, those who genuinely forgive try to see exactly what happened in the original offense. If anything, true forgiving would seem to correct hypersensitivity as the forgiver strives for an accurate understanding of offender and offense.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5107-5110). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.
We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.
We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
…….and then on it goes….in the person’s own life….and then passed to the children…..who pass this to their children…….
I have been thinking lately about the destructive consequences of intense, abiding anger. Here is a new thought for me: When people are very angry, that anger becomes a barrier to even considering forgiving…..even to a little degree. In other words, upon hearing the word “forgiveness,” the person’s anger kicks in so that any exploration of what forgiveness is or whether it is worth a try is shut down.
The anger, in other words, acts as a barrier to healing the anger itself. As an analogy, it is as if a person has a bacterial infection and every time the person holds an antibiotic in his or her hand, the bacteria themselves reach up and snatch the medicine out of the hand, preventing healing.
I think there are many barriers that anger presents. First, as mentioned above, it prevents thinking about forgiving. Then I think the
anger leads to anger against the messenger, the one who brought up forgiveness in the first place.
Finally, I think the anger stimulates thinking such as this: There…I showed that person! He cannot get away with
discussing forgiveness in my presence!
The anger justifies keeping forgiveness away and the messenger away.
Perhaps a way out of this is calm reflection on this question: Am I now so angry that the anger is working against my own healing and against my interactions with those who can aid that healing?
A recent article (which will go unnamed here) stated that our Process Model of how people forgive begins with the forgiver seeking “revenge.” This is not correct. In our model, we think it is important that the forgiver have a period of anger, mourning, even some confusion of feelings for a while. Why? Becoming angry or exasperated by others’ injustices seems to be part of the human condition. People do get angry when mistreated. This is not a bad thing nor should it be discouraged, presuming, of course, that the anger is expressed in a temperate way, without vitriol or violence.
Revenge, on the other hand, is the intemperate action of wanting to get back at another, perhaps even to hurt the other, if the revenge-seeker was hurt. Revenge is a path to destruction, of the self and of relationships. We do not advocate the extremism of revenge.
The second misconception of our thinking is that the authors of the (unnamed) article stated that ours is a Cognitive-Behavioral model. It is not. The Cognitive-Behavioral model is based on the assumption that our thoughts are central and can change one’s entire psychology of thinking, feeling, and behavior. We do see that thoughts about an unjust other person are important. For example, seeing the inherent worth of all, including the one who acted unfairly, is part of the forgiveness process. Yet, it is just that—a part of the process. Other parts of the process include the fostering, slowly over time, of compassion toward the one who offended, not because of what happened, but in spite of that. Further, the forgiver bears the pain of what happened, which is not a thought as much as it is a decision to do no harm to the one who may have done harm. Love is the core of forgiveness and love is not strictly a cognitive phenomenon.
So, be careful in what you read when Person A is talking about Person B’s work. It may not represent Person B’s views.
In late August, my colleague, Gayle Reed, and I visited a maximun security prison to discuss forgiveness. The point was not to focus on those in prison seeking forgiveness for their crimes, but instead to help each of them to begin forgiving those who have abused them prior to their serious crimes. Many of these men have been deeply abused by others, but this becomes invisible as the focus is on their crimes and rehabilitating them for those actions.
Yet, this next point seems so little understood: Those who perpetrate crime so often have an anger, a hatred, a fury within because of the injustices they have suffered, often long before they lash out at others. If it will diminish, this kind of fury within needs major surgery of the heart. All the rehabilitation in the world, if it only focuses on their bad behavior, will do nothing to cleanse the heart of fury. Only forgiveness therapy will do that—and this idea of “only forgiveness therapy” came from one of the counselors at the prison, who supervised a forgiveness group for 6 months.
The day at the institution was special for us as we saw the men’s hearts melt at the realization (over 6 months of forgiveness therapy) that they have been deeply hurt by others, not only perpetrators of hurt onto others. They gained the insight that their own anger, rage, and fury built up to such an extent that it came roaring out onto others. As one man said, “Forgiveness is the enemy of hatred.”
Another man had this remarkable insight that anger, which is displaced onto unsuspecting other people, leads to the victim possibly passing that anger to another person, who may pass it on yet again. At some point, he reasoned, someone has to stop the passing on of anger and forgiving can do that job. He said this: “When another is in pain, they are on the hook. Then they put you on the hook. hen you put others on the hook.” He was clearly seeing that his anger was passed to his victim(s).
After our meeting with the men who took part in the 6-month forgiveness group, several of the men came up privately to me. Each one had tears in his eyes and whispered that he needs to forgive himself now. They are having a hard time living with themselves. The remorse was genuine and the pain real.
After 30 years of studying forgiveness and seeing the scientific results of a significant reduction in anger by those who forgive, I am confident that as the people in prison (both men and women) learn to forgive, their anger within the institution may diminish, making their prison home safer for everyone, including the officers and all who attend to them.
This is a new idea for corrections. May it be a standard idea within a decade.