Tagged: “Consequences of Forgiving”

Is there a difference between forgiving and wishing someone well? I wish my ex-husband well, but I am still very angry with him because he broke the marriage covenant.

The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, made the point that people are starting to forgive when they wish the other person well. Thus, you likely are at the beginning of forgiveness and this is a positive step. Now you need to press onward toward deeper forgiveness. Try to see your ex-husband’s worth; try to see his emotional wounds which might have contributed to the break-up; try to be aware of any compassion that may be growing in you as you do this work. The result, based on our research, likely will be reduced anger.

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Recently, one of my high school students approached me and said this, “I am kind of ambivalent about forgiveness.  If I forgive, some of the other students seem to think that I am a weakling.” I was not sure how to answer this. Do you have some insights for me?

The student is confusing forgiveness with giving in to others’ demands. This is not forgiveness. To forgive is to know that what the other person did is wrong and yet mercy is offered nonetheless. When one forgives, one also asks for justice and so this idea of weakness or giving in is not correct. There are two basic ways of distorting forgiveness: to let the other have power over you or to seek power over the other because of that person’s transgressions. True forgiveness avoids these extremes.

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I have a 17-year-old son who is challenging me a lot.  I forgive.  He talks back.  I forgive again.  He is disrespectful again. I forgive again and again.  It is hard.  Help!

I say this to those who are in relationships in which one needs to maintain the relationship: Forgiveness under this circumstance becomes more difficult, but all the more necessary.  As you forgive, and your anger lessens, at that point try approaching your son and talk gently (as well as firmly) about his disrespectful behavior to you.  Also, and this is very important, try to uncover any anger your child may be carrying inside his heart that he needs to examine.  He may need to forgive people who have hurt him.  He may be displacing that anger onto you.  If you focus only on changing his behavior from disrespectful to respectful, you might miss his damaged heart in need of forgiving those who broke his heart.

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I wanted to share an experience with you and get your insights.  I have been practicing forgiveness lately, particularly toward one of my parents when I was a child. This past weekend, I was at a family function and a cousin said that I did not belong there.  Usually, this would make me enraged, but this time, it did not deeply affect me.  Yes, I was angry, but I was able to stay.  Why do you think this unusual behavior by me occurred this weekend?

I think you are learning to forgive in a more generalized way than only applying forgiveness toward one of your parents for what happened when you were a child.  In other words, your practice of forgiving is generalizing to others, and this is a sign of maturing in the practice of forgiving.  Aristotle said that a mark of maturing in the moral virtues is to develop a love of those virtues.  Do you think this is happening to you, in that you are developing a love of forgiveness?  If so, then it is understandable that you may have been applying the moral virtue of forgiving toward your cousin who insulted you.  If that is the case, then you likely, in the future, will begin to forgive more and more people when they are unjust to you.

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If a person denies the injustice that happened to him, is it possible for the trauma to continue to exist in his subconscious?  Could this be what is the root of some people’s depression?

When a person is in denial from a serious injustice, then the effects of that injustice can still very much live within the person.  As you say, there may be a subconscious acknowledgement of the trauma which can increase anger.  The effects of the trauma also can include fatigue, feeling unsafe, and displacing anger onto other people.  These effects of the trauma can work in the person’s favor in this way: The person likely will be able to see and acknowledge at least some of these effects such as fatigue and anxiety.  These discomforts can open up discussion about the causes of them, which eventually can lead back to a conscious (rather than a subconscious) acknowledgement of the trauma.  Once the person acknowledges the trauma, then a discussion of forgiving the other person for that trauma might commence.

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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle