My mother refuses to accept my forgiveness. I am an adult who lives away from home now. She denies any neglect even though both my brother and I carry scars from her inattention when we were growing up. My brother and I carefully have examined this issue and we are in agreement about the unfairness. How do we get my mother to see this?
It seems that your mother is in denial about what happened. Such a psychological defense mechanism can be hard to change. Your mother may need time on this. If she sees your support and unconditional love, then this may help reduce the denial. When she sees and experiences your unconditional love try—gently—bringing up one concrete instance of neglect in the spirit of forgiving. The concrete referent and the unconditional love in combination may aid your mother in breaking the denial and being open to your forgiveness of her.
For additional information, see My Mother Robbed Me of Trust.
I have positive feelings toward my sister who was mean to me. Does this wrap up forgiveness for me then? In other words, are positive feelings the gist of forgiving or is there more to it?
Positive feelings by themselves are not the end of the forgiveness process. If you think about it, positive feelings by themselves can be passive. For example, you feel positively toward your sister as you sit on the couch and never make a positive move toward your sister. As a moral virtue, forgiveness includes thinking, feeling, and behaving (within reason) toward the one who hurt you. When you forgive, you are open to the possibility of reconciliation with the other. This openness toward reconciliation is not an automatic coming together again. The other has to be trustworthy for the reconciliation actually to occur.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
Good Housekeeping (UK); London, England, UK – Figen Murray’s emotions were suspended in limbo for more than 24-hours after the Manchester Arena bombing before she was officially notified that her 29-year-old son Martyn Hett had been killed in the May 22, 2017, suicide bombing attack. Here is how she responded to his death, as reported in Good Housekeeping (UK), part of the Hearst UK Fashion & Beauty Network:
My son Martyn touched a lot of hearts. He was fun, kindhearted, and he always stood up for the underdog. As a child, he was a little imp, with boundless energy. He had a really quirky side, and loved practical jokes, social media and Coronation Street. . . .
Grief manifests itself in many different ways. I didn’t cry – I couldn’t. I’m a counsellor and psychotherapist, and for over 20 years I’ve spent my working life helping people through mental-health issues and psychological obstacles. In my professional career I developed resilience in order not to dissolve into tears in front of clients.
Now, I realise that this ingrained resilience is how I go on. I’m not being deliberately strong, and I’m not in denial. I’m undone inside, permanently damaged from what’s happened. The only way I can describe it is I feel like a piece of paper that someone has shredded, only to realise they’ve done so by accident. They try to tape it back together, but it’s too late. It can never be whole again.
When I saw the bomber’s face on television, the first thing I thought was, ‘You foolish boy’. That’s all he was – not a man, but a boy who had been brainwashed so much that he was able to walk into a crowded concert and detonate a bomb.
I could choose to be angry, to harbour resentment and blame. But I can honestly say that I feel no rage towards Salman Abedi. In that moment, he believed that he was doing the right thing. That’s why I’ve made a conscious choice to forgive him – hate only breeds hate. Now more than ever, this world needs humanity and kindness.
Out of bad, good has to happen. When that boy detonated the bomb, he achieved the opposite of what he wanted – he caused an explosion of love. Family, friends and strangers have come together in solidarity and courage.
Martyn’s death has changed my family for ever, but I will not allow it to destroy us. When the most awful, unthinkable things happen, we all have the power to overcome.
Editor’s Note: In addition to Martyn Hett and the 21 others killed in the Ariana Grande concert bombing in Manchester, we now know that more than 800 people suffered physical and/or deep psychological injuries from the attack. Undoubtedly, their lives have been altered forever.
Read the full story in Good Housekeeping (UK)
I know you talk about secondary forgiveness, or forgiving someone who hurt a person you love. My question is this: Do you think it is legitimate to forgive the family member who is being hurt, who just lingers in the relationship without standing up for his own rights? This is making me very angry.
Yes, if you are angry with your family member for not seeking justice, then it is your choice whether or not to forgive that person. I realize that the one you are forgiving is not the victim in this scenario, but the person, in failing to exercise justice, is frustrating you and making you angry. This is sufficient to begin the forgiveness process if you are ready.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”
J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice: Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.
If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.
In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”
The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.
In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.