Tagged: “break free from the past”

If I still have anger toward someone who was really bad to me, does this mean I have not forgiven?

If you have reduced your anger as you have forgiven and if you now are in control of your anger (rather than your anger controlling you), then yes, I would say that you have forgiven or at least are well along the pathway of forgiveness.  Sometimes not all anger is eliminated, especially when we are treated very badly by others.  If you feel anger welling up in you again, then please revisit the forgiveness process toward this person.

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What is the difference between forgiving and accepting what happened?

When you forgive, you are engaging in a moral virtue in which you are choosing to be good to those who are not good to you.  When you accept that something bad happened to you, it is possible to do so without even caring about the one who created the difficult situation for you.  Acceptance can focus on adjusting to a situation; forgiveness focuses on goodness toward persons in particular, on those who acted badly toward you.

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You say forgiveness is a paradox in that gift-giving aids the one who gives the gift.  Yet, is there no correction of the other’s misbehavior?

To correct the other’s misbehavior is to engage in the moral virtue of justice.  Forgiveness and justice should exist side-by-side.  If you are being abused by someone, you can forgive if you choose to do so and you can and should seek fairness so that the other stops the unjust behavior.

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It seems to me that this “giving of a gift” to those who hurt me is kind of ridiculous.  They deserve correction, not admiration.  Can you clarify this for me?

As people forgive, they are engaging in a moral virtue.  All moral virtues center on goodness toward others for those other people’s sake.  Part of the moral virtue of forgiveness is this gift-giving to the one who acted badly, as you point out.  This gift-giving, we find in our research is a paradox in that, as forgivers reach out to the offending person, it is the forgivers who are healed.

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What was your biggest surprise when you started to do research on forgiveness therapy?

I would say the biggest surprise was how effective forgiveness therapy is in the context of very deep trauma caused by other people’s unfairness.  Forgiveness therapy seems to be even more effective in reducing clinical levels of anger, anxiety, and depression than other models of psychotherapy that preceded forgiveness therapy within the social sciences.  As just one example, the Freedman and Enright (1996) study showed that incest survivors, upon forgiving, went from clinical levels of depression to non-depressed status and this continued at the one-year follow-up.  The reference to this work is as follows:

Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

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