Tagged: “Enright Forgiveness Process Model”
Do you have some advice for me about helping a person to consider forgiveness, when this person is adamantly against forgiving?
A key issue is this: Has this person misunderstood what forgiveness is, equating it with: a) weakness, or b) excusing unjust behavior, or c) being open again to abuse, or d) automatically reconciling, or e) abandoning the quest for justice? Any of these misconceptions can make a person hesitant to forgive. Yet, the person is rejecting, not forgiveness itself, but a false form of it. Your pointing out how forgiveness is none of those five issues above may make the person more receptive to the idea of forgiving. It ultimately is that person’s choice to forgive or not once forgiveness is more deeply understood.
Forgiveness is appropriate when you are angry toward persons, but not toward inanimate objects. For example, you do not forgive a tornado because you do not offer goodness toward this weather event. Forgiveness, as a moral virtue, is to offer goodness and we offer goodness toward persons rather than to inanimate objects.
In your book, “The Forgiving Life,” you correlate forgiving with love (agape love). Can a person forgive and feel no love at all toward the one who acted unfairly?
We have to make a distinction between the essence of forgiveness (what it is in truth and on its highest level) and how we actually appropriate forgiveness at any given time. So, even though to forgive on its highest level is to love the one who was not loving toward the forgiver when the injustice occurred, a person can forgive, for example, by committing to do no harm to that other person. While this is not the highest form of forgiveness, it is part of the forgiveness process. So, if today the best a person can do is to commit to do no harm to the one who offended, this is forgiveness (with room to grow in this moral virtue).
When going back to the unjust event, do I have to feel the feelings from that point in time? I might be re-traumatized if I feel those feelings again.
The forgiveness process does not ask you to go back and re-experience your feelings from the past. Instead, the point of thinking back in time is to ask this question: Was I treated unjustly and how unjustly was I treated? We need to ascertain this because forgiveness starts with true injustice. Sometimes, for example, a person might think that Mom was terribly unfair 20 years ago, only to look back and conclude that there was a misunderstanding based on the person’s views as a child. When the person does conclude that, indeed, there was injustice, the process shifts to the effects of that injustice on the person now. How has this injustice affected your current feelings, your level of fatigue, your ability to trust others in general? So, in response to your question, you are not asked to feel the feelings from the past.
To what extent do you think a person should revisit the injustice, feel the emotions from that time, and relive the event in order to gain insight into how to confront all of this now? I am concerned that such revisiting could induce re-traumatization.
The process of forgiveness does not require that the other revisit the event of the injustice. Instead, the big question from that past time is this: Was I truly treated unjustly? If the answer is “yes,” then the goal is to examine, not the actual past event, but instead the current effects of that event on the person now. So, re-traumatization is not likely to occur because the person definitely is not asked to revisit in detail that past event. We have to realize that some degree of trauma exists now, if the injustice is deep. So, it is not that the potential forgiver is revisiting negative feelings. Instead, it is the case that the person is examining current negative feelings that now can be changed to more adaptive emotions and reactions.