Tagged: “hurtful event”
I am a survivor of sexual abuse by my father, who is a pedophile. While I have healed fairly well from this (through therapy, medication, etc.), and pray every day to forgive him, I often struggle with feeling guilty over not visiting him at the nursing home where he currently resides. I pray every day for him, and sincerely do not wish harm to him. I fear that if I don’t visit him, I am not fulfilling Christ’s commandment to forgive him. Yet, I fear that visiting him might bring up some painful psychological memories, might put me back into a brief depressive/anxious state, and could lead me to an episode of Atrial Fibriliation (which for me seems to be provoked in times of extreme stress). A sibling of mine has been trying to get me to go visit my dad, and is of the belief that if we don’t visit him (“I was lonely and you visited me”, from Matthew 25), we might go to hell. Any wisdom you can share?
A key issue here is this: You are thinking that to truly forgive your father, then you must visit him in the nursing home. Further, you believe that if you do not visit him, you are disobeying Christ’s commandment to forgive him. Here is my view: To forgive is a process that unfolds over time as we work on that process of forgiveness. You are working on this process of forgiveness by: a) praying every day for the grace to forgive him; b) praying for your father; and c) wishing no harm to him. All of these are part of the forgiveness process in your case as a Christian. You need not reach complete forgiveness right now in that you have to behaviorally reach out to your father with a visit. I say this for this reason: Your **intentions** toward your father are good in that you pray for him and wish no harm to him. Further, your reason for not visiting him is honorable in that you need to protect your cardiac system. In other words, if your intention for not visiting your father in the nursing home is to punish him, then this would indicate that you are not yet forgiving. This is not the case for you. You have a good reason for not visiting right now because you have to protect your health. If, in the future, you think you are open to such a visit and, at the same time, you truly believe that your physical and emotional health are protected as you visit, then you could re-think your current decision. For now, I see no bad intentions at all on your part and so please keep praying for your father and for the grace to forgive and go in peace knowing you are doing the best that you can under the circumstances.
Suppose someone makes a mistake without deliberately trying to be unfair. Can I forgive this person or does there have to be deliberate intention on that person’s part to act with malice?
You can discern an unjust action, according to the Medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, by examining three things: the act itself, the intention, and the circumstance. If a person, for example, disrespects you (the action), decided to disrespect you (the intention), and did so in front of others, which embarrassed you (the circumstance), then it is obvious that this person tried to hurt you and you can forgive this person. Now suppose that someone had no intention of hurting you, such as failing to show up for an important meeting (the action). Suppose further that the circumstance was such that this person became quite ill right before the meeting. Only the action was challenging for you, but the intention was to attend the meeting and the circumstance was sudden illness. This seems to me to be a case of accepting what happened, not a case of forgiveness for most people. Now suppose as another example that a driver was texting on a cell phone (the act), did not at all mean to hit your car (the intention), but indeed did hit your car (the circumstance). Even though there was no intention to harm you, the action itself of inattentive driving can sometimes have a bad outcome, as happened in this case. The action is so serious that even without intent to harm, this is an unjust offense and so your going ahead with forgiving is appropriate. In other words, you can forgive a person who had no intention of harming you.
If we do not forgive situations, such as a tornado that was destructive, how can we aid children in feeling safe after something like this occurs? In other words, how then can we avoid post-traumatic feelings in the child?
You can work on two issues. The first is acceptance of what happened. This can take time, but it may help children learn that this is an imperfect world and so bad things do happen. The second is to work on what I call “the safe feeling,” which is a sense of being protected by parents and other loved ones. Of course, the “safe feeling” should not become an illusion that bad things will not happen. Working simultaneously on acceptance that bad things can happen, and that loved ones are here to assist, may help the child reduce any post-traumatic stress that has emerged.
In the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness. The ideas that forgiving is a gift to those who have hurt you sometimes gets forgiveness into trouble. In other words, people think it is irrational to consider offering a gift to those who are unfair. The typical reasons for this resistance to forgiveness as gift-giving are these:
- It is dangerous to reach out to those who act unfairly because I am open to further abuse.
- My gift-giving might be a signal to the misbehaving others that their actions are acceptable, which they are not.
- Gift-giving to those who acted unfairly seems counter-intuitive to my own healing. I need to move on and not focus on this other person.
The ideas above can be countered this way: With regard to (A), you do not necessarily have to reconcile with an unrepentant person who keeps harming you. You can give your gift from a distance, such as a kind word about the person to others or an email so that you can keep your distance if this is prudent to do so. With regard to (B), you can forgive and ask for justice. Forgiving never means that the other just goes ahead as usual with hurtful behaviors. In other words, if you decide to forgive, you can and should ask for fairness from the other person. With regard to (C), forgiveness will seem counter-intuitive as goodness to those who are not good to you only if your focus is entirely on justice or a fair solution to the problem. If you begin to see that mercy (in the form of forgiving) and justice can and should exist side-by-side, then perhaps this idea of forgiveness as a contradiction or as inappropriate or as somehow odd may lessen in you.
Forgiveness can be a gift in these ways:
- As you forgive, you are giving the other person a second chance at a trustworthy relationship with you. Of course, trust takes time to develop, but forgiveness opens the door, even if a little, to trying the trust-route with the other who behaved unjustly.
- Forgiveness can be a merciful way of showing the other what the injustice actually is (or was), making possible positive change in the other. Those who behave badly and are offered this mercy may begin to see the unfairness more clearly and have the inner conviction that change indeed is necessary.
- Forgiveness can be a gift to yourself as you shed abiding anger that could have been yours for many years. You have a second-chance at stronger mental health.
- As you reduce toxic anger, this actually can be an aid in strengthening your relationships with people who were not the ones who acted badly. After all, when people carry around a lot of anger in their hearts, they can displace that anger onto unsuspecting others. Your forgiving one person, then, can be a gift to others who do not have to endure your displaced anger.
So, then, what do you think? Do you see that in the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness?
If we all use psychological defenses such as denial and repression, how do we ever come to realize who hurt us when that hurt occurred many years ago when we were children?
As people see that they are carrying deep hurt at present, this can be a motivation for examining who did the hurting in their lives. One exercise that I recommend in the book, The Forgiving Life, is what I call the Forgiveness Landscape. In this exercise, people slowly start to make a list of those who have actually hurt them, starting from early childhood and progressing up to the present time. As people do this exercise, they can begin to see areas of hurt that are long forgotten (but still subconsciously can be affecting a person’s well-being at present). For example, as people reflect on their past life, they might recall being bullied at age 11. This then breaks the repression that might have been present with regard to the bullying. This breaking of the psychological defenses can occur particularly when a person knows that forgiveness is an effective response to the past injustices and to the current hurts still present from those past offenses.