I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?
I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin. Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family. This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come. Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other. Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard. I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.
Thank you for clarifying that to forgive is a moral response, but it is not a response of dominating the other. Yet, I have a follow-up question: Might forgiveness actually be morally superior to, say, acrimony or hatred?
Let us make a distinction between the person who forgives and the act of forgiveness itself. Those people who forgive are not acting in a morally superior way, but are lowering themselves in humility, as I explained before. Yet, the act of forgiving is far superior in a moral sense than acrimony, getting back at the other, or hating the other. Why? It is because forgiving builds up and hatred has the potential of tearing down. So, the person is not feeling morally superior; the forgiving act itself is considerably morally superior than the option to hate.
My partner keeps saying that I am “morally superior” because I forgive. He does not mean this in any positive sense. He is using it as an insult. How do you recommend that I respond?
I would say something such as this: “Yes, forgiveness is a moral issue and so, yes, I am showing moral behavior toward you.” Yet, as the philosopher Joanna North has said in a philosophy journal article, when people forgive, they lower themselves in humility so that each person can meet person-to-person. So, yes, forgiving is an admirable moral response, but it does not suggest domination of the other at all.
A key here is to first forgive from your heart so that you can approach the person without a lot of anger inside of you. Then try to have a civil conversation with the person so that there is opportunity for insight and change. A key here is for the other to change. Your forgiveness can play a part in that, but even if it does not, you will be free from the inner resentment that can compromise you if you forgive.
It is not possible to forgive someone who has died unless the forgiver believes in an afterlife, right?
One can forgive the deceased regardless of the belief system of the forgiver. For example, the forgiver can say something nice about the person to others, preserving a good name, not because of what happened, but in spite of this. The forgiver might donate some money to a charity in that person’s name, again as a generous act of forgiving. So, one can forgive someone who has died. Otherwise, the one who was treated unjustly could be trapped with an inner resentment that could last the rest of the person’s life.