I started the process of forgiving my mother. As I went on this journey, I realized that she was treated very badly by my grandmother, who passed away before I was born. Should I also forgive my grandmother, even though I never met her?
Yes, you can forgive your grandmother. This is what the philosopher, Trudy Govier, calls secondary forgiveness. Even though your grandmother was not directly unjust to you, she was indirectly unjust to you because of what she did to your mother.
You might want to read this essay from Psychology Today: Can You Forgive a Person Who Has Died?
I don’t feel anger. So, I don’t need to forgive my father for ignoring me while I was growing up, right?
You do not have to feel anger to forge ahead with forgiving. For example, are you feeling disappointed or sad? Do you think you can have a genuine trusting relationship with your father now? If not, then forgiving would be appropriate. In other words, it is not only feelings of anger that motivate forgiving. If you think you have been treated unfairly and this is getting in the way of your current relationship with your father, then forgiving would be appropriate if you choose to do so.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
A cutting-edge organization in California that sponsors groundbreaking scientific discoveries has launched a new service called Greater Good in Action and added forgiveness to its list of practices that can help you improve your social or emotional well-being or the well-being of others including your children.
The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley, not only studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being but also “teaches skills that foster a happier life and a more compassionate society–the science of a meaningful life.”
The Greater Good in Action initiative adds forgiveness to its list of established practices that include compassion, generosity, gratitude, honesty and others. It is a new addition to a service the organization began in July of 2017, called Raising Caring, Courageous Kids that is designed to help parents raise kids of high character who treat others with compassion and respect.
In its inaugural forgiveness practice called Introducing Kids to Forgiveness, Greater Good in Action cites the pioneering forgiveness work of psychologist Robert Enright, Ph.D., and psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D. (co-authors of Forgiveness Therapy, a manual providing instructions for clinicians who want to incorporate forgiveness interventions into their therapy with clients.
Referencing Dr. Enright’s years of hands-on experience teaching children about forgiveness (he has developed 17 Forgiveness Curriculum Guides for kids in pre-school through 12th grade that are being used in more than 30 countries around the world), Greater Good in Action links readers to a separate dissertation on Dr. Enright’s insights into how to help children and adolescents learn and practice forgiveness.
That work concludes that “a wide range of studies have found that forgiveness programs can help kids of different ages feel better, strengthen their relationships, and improve their academic performance.”
Because conflict is inevitable, teaching children about forgiveness early on
may indeed be a path toward building communities
of people who prize and cultivate peace.
Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D., Parenting Program Director at Greater Good
and a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships.
The practices provided by Greater Good in Action are for anyone who wants to improve his or her social and emotional well-being, or the well-being of others, but doesn’t necessarily have the time or money to invest in a formal program. Through its free online magazine Greater Good, the GGSC provides articles, videos, exercises, quizzes, podcasts, workshops and more for parents and families to help them foster positive attributes like forgiveness in themselves and their children.
How Forgiving Are You?
When someone does you wrong, are you more likely to turn the other cheek or slash their tires? Take the Greater Good Forgiveness Quiz to find out.
Is it ever too late to forgive? My dad has been angry with his own father now for decades. This anger has become part of his identity, part of who he is. I am worried that he never will be able to forgive and find peace.
You make a good point about anger sometimes becoming part of one’s identity. Also, at times people are fearful of confronting their own anger because they fear an inability to be rid of this. Yet, once a person realizes that forgiveness is a kind of safety net for the unhealthy anger, they tend to go ahead with forgiveness because they have more confidence in their ability to eliminate this excessive anger.
Also, with regard to the theme of identity, people can transform their identity, from resentful persons to persons who are caring and who do not let others’ injustices define who they are. If you see receptivity in your father regarding forgiveness, you might want to talk to him about these two themes: a) forgiving is a safety net for his anger and thus that anger will not overwhelm him if he starts to look at his own father’s behavior; and, b) his identity might change in a positive way.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.
I find it harder to forgive someone who hurt my mother than to forgive those who hurt me. Why is that? Also, is it even legitimate for me to consider forgiving someone who has not directly hurt me?
Let us focus on the second question first. According to the philosopher, Trudy Govier, there are distinctions among primary forgiving (in which you were directly hurt by another), secondary forgiving (in which you are resentful because of injustice toward another person about whom you care), and tertiary forgiving (in which you are resentful toward someone who is quite distant from you or a loved one, such as a politician who behaves badly). You are discussing secondary forgiving because you are resentful of another who behaved badly toward your mother. So, yes, you can legitimately work on forgiving this person.
Why is this one so hard? I think it is because your mother likely is going through much pain because of the person’s offense and you are reacting to this deep pain in your mother. Secondary forgiving is not necessarily always more difficult than primary forgiveness. The difficulty depends on the depth of the injustice and the depth of hurt experienced by your loved one and you.
For additional information, see Can You Forgive an Entire Group?