Tagged: “emotional forgiveness”

When I was talking with a friend about forgiveness, this was her response: “I am no push-over.  I fear that if I forgive, then I become that push-over. I have to stand up for what is right. I have to stand up for myself.” I was not sure how to respond to this.  Would you please help me?

Your friend seems to think that if she forgives, then she gives up her right to justice. This is not true.  Forgiveness and justice can exist together. So, she can have the mercy of forgiveness and then ask for fairness from the other person.

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What is your recommendation for my helping a friend consider forgiveness when she is very angry about what happened? I worry that if I use the word “forgiveness” she will quickly dismiss it. 

You could start this way: You could start with yourself and gently describe how you overcame deep anger by forgiving someone who was unfair to you. It is important, in such a conversation, that you keep the focus at first on yourself. It also is important that you describe what forgiveness is, including that it does not excuse unjust behavior. If your friend sees your success in forgiving and understands what forgiveness is and is not, she may eventually be open to the possibility of forgiveness. Please keep in mind that this is her choice, whether to forgive or not.

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I need some help in understanding your views on one aspect of the forgiveness process. You ask the forgiver to look into the offending person’s past to see if he was wounded by others, for example, when he was a child. This sounds like a phony rationalization exercise for just excusing what he did. After all, if I look into his past and see that his father gave him a hard time I might reason this way: “Oh, the poor dear suffered as a child.  I, therefore, can just let it go that he abused me.” Can you help me with this?

There is a large difference between understanding another person’s emotional wounds from other people and excusing the hurtful behavior because of this. The point of this thinking exercise is to better understand the offending person, not to find excuses for his unjust behavior toward you. As you forgive, you need to keep in mind that what he did to you was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong. Yet, part of forgiveness is to at least slowly begin to see that this person is human, with built-in worth, even though he behaved very badly toward you. Without excusing the behavior, we try to separate the person and the actions so that you see a genuine human being rather than defining him exclusively by his unjust behavior.

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It seems impossible for people to forgive exceptionally unjust actions against them. Life-threatening events seem like just too much for anyone to forgive. What is your view of this?

There is a difference between some people not being able to forgive or even refusing to forgive and the impossibility of forgiving. Yes, there are people who–right now–may not be able to forgive others for extreme injustices. This is not necessarily the final word on the matter because a person may decide later that forgiveness is possible. At the same time, we need to realize that no injustice, no matter how severe, is outside the realm of forgiveness for everyone.  Here is one example: Eva Mozes Kor was in the Auschwitz concentration camp and she was able to forgive the Nazis for this atrocity, even though not all would do so. Eva shows us what is possible regarding the heroic moral virtue of forgiveness.

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This actually is not a question, but instead is a statement to encourage your readers and you. I am in my early 20s and have had conflicts with my mother for years.  I started on the forgiveness path and upon going home for summer vacation after my college semester ended, I was able to hug her for the first time in a long time. It felt great and I am now very hopeful for both my relationship with my mother and my ability to forgive those who hurt me in the future.  Thank you.

You are welcome.  We are glad to hear of these positive developments in your life.

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