Tagged: “Enright Forgiveness Process Model”
Forgiveness is being good to those who are not good to you. Mercy is refraining from punishing a person who deserves that punishment because of unjust behavior. Both are moral virtues and so hold that in common. When people forgive, they exercise mercy in that as they forgive they do not give an eye-for-an-eye to the one who hurt you. Instead, the forgiver offers a hand up to the person to come and join you as a person of worth. Mercy as part of forgiveness is a specific expression of mercy in that this mercy is occurring in the context of being treated unjustly by another or others.
There are other examples of mercy that do not include forgiveness. For example, legal pardon is a form of mercy in that a judge may reduce a deserved sentence within a court of law. The judge offering legal pardon never is the one who was treated unjustly by the defendant. Forgiveness, as a personal decision, occurs within the human heart, not in a court of law. Thus, forgiveness includes mercy, but mercy can occur in entirely different contexts than forgiveness. Further, forgiveness does not involve only exercising the moral virtue of mercy. Forgiveness also is an expression of love, particularly agape or the kind of love that is challenging and even costly to the forgiver.
I recently read an article in which the author started the essay by defining forgiving as the release of deep anger.
In fact, there is a consensus building that forgiveness amounts to getting rid of a negative emotion such as anger and resentment. I did a Google search using only the word “forgiveness.” On the first two pages, I found the following definitions of what the authors reported forgiveness to be:
Forgiveness (supposedly) is:
- letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge;
- the release of resentment or anger;
- a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who acted unjustly;
- letting go of anger;
- letting go of negative feelings such as vengefulness.
I think you get the idea. The consensus is that forgiveness focuses on getting rid of persistent and deep anger. Synonyms for this are resentment and vengefulness. Readers not deeply familiar with the philosophy of forgiveness may simply accept this as true. Yet, this attempted and consensual definition cannot possibly be true for the following reasons:
- A person can reduce resentment and still dismiss the other person as not worth one’s time;
- Reducing resentment itself is not a moral virtue. This might happen because the “forgiver” wants to be happy and so there is no goodness toward the other, which is part of the definition of a moral virtue;
- There is no specific difference between forgiveness and tolerance. I can get rid of resentment by trying to tolerate the other. My putting up with the other as a person is not a moral virtue;
- Forgiveness, if we take these definitions seriously, is devoid of love. It is not that one has to resist love. Yet, one can be completely unaware of love as the essence of forgiveness while holding to the consensual definition.
- A central goal of forgiveness is lost. Off the radar by the consensual definition is the motivation to assist the other to grow as a person. After all, why even bother with the other if I can finally rid myself of annoying resentment.
The statement “forgiveness is ridding the self of resentment or vengefulness” is reductionistic and therefore potentially dangerous. It is dangerous in a philosophical and a psychological sense. The philosophical danger is in never going deeply enough to understand the beauty of forgiveness in its essence as a moral virtue of at least trying to offer love to those who did not love you. The psychological danger is that Forgiveness Therapy will be incomplete as the client keeps the focus on the self, trying to rid the self of negatives. Yet, the paradox of Forgiveness Therapy is the stepping outside of the self, to reach out to the other, and in this giving is psychological healing for the client. It is time to challenge the consensus.
In my experience, people tend to start forgiving parents once the children are emerging into adulthood and are beginning to leave home or have left home. Before that, the child is both very dependent on the parents for basic needs and, when young, does not necessarily have the cognitive insight regarding how deeply unjust the parental behavior is. The young adult can be shocked at the depth of anger and at the seriousness of the parental injustice when looking back. Because of this, the struggle to forgive can take time, but definitely is well worth it. The forgiving might lead to a genuine reconciliation with the parent, if the parent also wishes to reconcile, which, in my experience, most parents want.
I am supposing that you have both broken your own standard (needing self-forgiveness) and you have been treated unjustly by others (needing to forgive them). In my experience, it is easier for most people to forgive others because we tend to be harder on ourselves. If this is true in your case, then you might want to start by forgiving others and once this is accomplished, and you know the forgiving path well, you then can apply that learning to forgive yourself.
How do we promote the true meaning of forgiveness, given that there are so many misunderstandings of it?
We have resources to help, such as three self-help books (Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, and 8 Keys to Forgiveness). We also have forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers and parents in our Store. With all of these materials, we have tried to be very accurate regarding what forgiveness is and what it is not.