Tagged: “Barriers to Forgiveness”

Can you give me an example of when forgiving is not a good option?

Yes, and here are two examples.  For example 1, the one who might forgive realizes that there really was no injustice.  There was, instead, a misunderstanding between two people. Under this condition, forgiving is not a good option.  For example 2, the person truly was treated unjustly by another, but this happened very recently.  The one considering forgiving is not ready and needs some time to work through the anger.  In this case, it may be best to wait, process the anger, and then decide if forgiving is the way to go now.  Forgiving is a free will choice and sometimes we need time to process what happened and to examine our inner world before starting to forgive.

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What has been your experience of seeing people forgive because they feel they have to (because of pressure from others or because of religious beliefs) and those who willingly choose to forgive on their own?

The idea of forgiving “because they feel they have to” do this is somewhat complex.  For example, there is nothing wrong with others pointing a person in the direction of forgiveness.  This can be of great help, especially if the person misunderstands what forgiveness is or has hardly tried it before.  On the other hand, hovering over a person and not letting that person see the beauty of forgiving, and choosing it as part of one’s own free will, can be coercion. This is not helpful because the person is not necessarily being drawn to the beauty of forgiveness.  So, if we make the distinction between educating a person and assisting the person to deeply understand forgiveness on the one hand and forcing on the other, we can see that the former is good and the latter is not.  We need a gentle approach when helping others to think about forgiveness.

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Becoming Forgivingly Fit

Because forgiving others is a moral virtue, we cannot reduce the act of forgiveness to a psychological technique.  For example, we cannot engage one time in “the empty chair technique” and have a deeply hurt forgiver sit in the chair of the one who acted unjustly and then gain full insight into that person’s wounds with a resultant overflowing compassion toward that person.  To clarify, there is nothing wrong with this technique, but we cannot think of it as complete.  As an analogy, if you will take out a gym membership to get into physical shape, your goal is not reached as you go on the treadmill one time or do 20 bicep curls only once.  To become physically fit, you need repetition, for a long time. 

It is the same with becoming forgivingly fit.  Your task is not accomplished by engaging in one set of actions, in one psychological technique.  Growing in any of the moral virtues takes time, perseverance, and a strong will to keep at it.  As Aristotle reminds us, we need three things to grow in the moral virtues: practice, practice, practice.

We can even engage in our forgiveness practice when we do not have a particular person in mind to forgive today.  Here is an example: As we forgive, we struggle to see the inherent worth in others.  So, as we interact with people today, even those with whom we are getting along, we can say to ourselves, “This person probably has a history of being wounded in some way by others in the past.  This person has built-in worth that cannot be taken away.”  As you pass by strangers in a store or on the street, you can say the same about them.  The key here is to train one’s mind to see the inherent worth in others so that you can then apply this learning toward those who hurt you, as you decide to forgive.

Here is another idea for growing in forgiveness fitness: Make a list of as many people as you can remember who have hurt you, from your childhood to now.  List who the person is, what occurred that was unjust, and your degree of hurt on a 1-to-10 scale.  Then order all of these people from the least hurtful (but still a challenge for you now) to the most hurtful.  Start with the one person who hurt you the least and go through the forgiveness process with that person.  When you think you have accomplished forgiving this one person, and it might take weeks, then go to the next person on the list.  Continue until you reach the person who wounded you the most.  You then may be ready to forgive this person because you have engaged in practice, practice, practice in forgiving and so your forgiveness fitness likely has increased.

Becoming forgivingly fit takes time, perseverance, and a strong will.  As in becoming physically fit, you will notice a difference inside of you that includes well-being and even a sense of wholeness.  What do you think: shall we hit the forgiveness gym now?

Robert

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I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?

I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin.  Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family.  This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come.  Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other.  Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard.  I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.

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I find it increasingly hard to forgive a person who keeps on being obnoxious. So, what can I do?

A key here is to first forgive from your heart so that you can approach the person without a lot of anger inside of you. Then try to have a civil conversation with the person so that there is opportunity for insight and change. A key here is for the other to change. Your forgiveness can play a part in that, but even if it does not, you will be free from the inner resentment that can compromise you if you forgive.

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