How do I know when it is a good time to seek forgiveness from someone? I am afraid of being rejected.
Seeking forgiveness does require courage because the other may not be ready to forgive. This is part of the seeking-forgiveness process (being willing to bear the pain of the other’s rejection of your request for forgiveness). Yet, if you in a humble way seek forgiveness, even if the other is very angry, this might help reduce the person’s anger and thus might help the person to consider forgiving you earlier than might have been the case.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, the man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer,” just returned from a European forgiveness-teaching tour that included sessions in Edinburgh, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Rome, Italy. Here is an update on his activities in the first of those locations:
Edinburgh, Scotland – Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Enright and colleagues began a two-phase forgiveness research project with homeless individuals in Edinburgh. Many of those individuals receive services from the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the poor, that has taken a strong interest in the forgiveness project and that has become a full-partner with the IFI in the Edinburgh research initiative.
The Missionaries of Charity was founded more than 60 years ago by the late Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work with those she characterized as “the poorest of the poor.”
Initially established in Calcutta, the organization quickly expanded into countries outside India and at the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa had created over 750 homes in more than 135 countries, providing food pantries, orphanages, homes for AIDS patients and people with leprosy, as well as shelters for battered women, people addicted to drugs, and the poor.
The religious order has now grown to more than 6,000 Missionaries of Charity Sisters, 400 Missionaries of Charity Brothers, 40 Missionaries of Charity Fathers (priests), and 100,000 Lay (non-religious) Missionaries of Charity volunteers. Their services are provided, without charge, to people regardless of their religion or social status.
As part of the Edinburgh campaign, Dr. Enright and others are collaborating with Missionaries of Charity volunteers who are in the process of conducting interviews and administering a variety of anger, injustice, worth, and dignity scales to men and women who do not have stable home situations in Edinburgh.
“So far, we are seeing two distinct patterns emerge from those interviews and self-assessments,” Dr. Enright says. “One of those behavior patterns is pretty much what we expected but the second one presents a significant challenge related to how we address it through an appropriate forgiveness intervention.”
Most or the homeless interviewed in Edinburgh are deeply hurting because of past injustices/trauma and about one-third of them readily admit to being treated unjustly and they admit their pain, according to Dr. Enright. “These are the ones, we think, who may significantly benefit from having a forgiveness program,” he adds.
The second group, again about one-third of those interviewed, are characterized by Dr. Enright as deeply hurting because of past injustices–a pain that is so traumatic that they are not quite yet ready for forgiveness programs because they are in deep denial about what happened and about their depth of pain.
“I think this denial of the pain, the inability to yet see it and face it, keeps them imprisoned in their homeless pattern,” Dr. Enright observes. “They need much love and encouragement to break through their own barriers so that they can confront the injustice, forgive, heal, and then become resilient.”
Dr. Enright and colleagues are in discussions with the Missionaries of Charity volunteers about the structure and the Edinburgh-specific refinements for the forgiveness intervention that will be deployed in phase two of the project. Those guidelines could establish a precedence for a world-wide set of forgiveness interventions for the poor with direct instruction for both adults and children.
Members of the Missionaries of Charity order designate their affiliation using the initials, “M.C.” A member of the congregation must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” They are identified by wearing the traditional white religious habits with blue trim. In the U.S., a full 20% of American nuns are members of the Missionaries of Charity.
In Scotland, homelessness is called “rough sleeping.” For those rough sleeping, the risk of assault and theft are high. The weather can do real damage to their health and the stress of survival living takes a huge toll on their mental and physical health. The estimated lifeexpectancy of a rough sleeper is 43, pretty much half that of the general population.
The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was set up in 2017 to recommend to Scottish Government Ministers the actions and solutions needed to eradicate rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland. The group’s final report, issued in June 2018, says that “homelessness must be seen as a public health priority” and makes more than 70 recommendations on ending homelessness in Scotland including those on welfare reform, ensuring adequate affordable housing, homeless assessment and intervention (much like the IFI is doing in Edinburgh), tackling child poverty, and others. ◊
- Read the HARSAG Final Report “Ending Homelessness in Scotland.”
- Watch a 4:53 video of Mother Teresa’s Biography and Life Story.
- Learn more about the Missionaries of Charity.
The issue of forgiveness in the context of suicide is a delicate matter. This is the case because some people will say that suicide is not an unjust act and thus there is no need to forgive. On the other hand, others who have lost loved ones will come to the opposite conclusion and say it was unfair. So, we should not give a general statement here and say all should forgive those who have taken their own lives. Yet, when those who have lost loved ones in this way and do want to go forward with forgiveness, then people should be careful not to pass judgement on them and discourage this healing option. With colleagues, I have published journal articles on this issue:
Lee, E., Kim, S., & Enright, R.D. (2015). A case study of a survivor of suicide who lost all family members through parent-child collective suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 36, 71-75. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000286
Lee, E., Enright, R.D., & Kim, J.J. (2015). Forgiveness postvention with a survivor of suicide following a loved one’s suicide: A case study. Social Sciences, 4, 688-699. doi: 10.3390/socsci4030688
You say that we can forgive someone who no longer is living. You also say that when we forgive, we should try to give a gift to the one who offended. How do we go about giving a gift to someone who has died?
You can give such a gift by: a) preserving the person’s good name in the family; b) refraining from using condemning words about that person when with others; c) donate some money to charity in that person’s name; and d) if you are a person of faith, you can pray for the person.
For additional information, see Choose Love, Not Hate.
I think you are asking if there are certain persons who are unforgivable. We do not forgive situations, but instead we forgive people. Some people are so hurt by grave injustices by others that they cannot, at least for now, even consider forgiving the people who acted unjustly. This is not necessarily the offended people’s last word on the matter because, months or years later, some of them might change their minds. In my experience, I have never seen particular situations that are so grave that no one has forgiven. I have seen some people from the Holocaust of World War II forgive the Nazis. I have seen people forgive the murderers of their children. So, it does not seem to be the case that there are incidents so horrible that no one forgives.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?