I read on social media that there are different kinds of forgiveness, like state forgiveness and trait forgiveness. Are there really different kinds of forgiveness?
Some psychologists use exclusive psychological language and concepts to try to understand what forgiveness is. I disagree with this approach because psychology generally does not examine moral virtues to the depth that philosophers do. Thus, I prefer the philosophical approach to first understanding what forgiveness is prior to doing psychological research with forgiveness. From Aristotle’s viewpoint, forgiveness has an objective, absolute, and universal character to it, which means that it is unchanging across time and cultures. This core meaning to forgiveness is what Aristotle calls its Essence. There are large difference in how forgiveness is expressed in different cultures and this is what Aristotle calls the Existence of forgiveness. So, Essence remains constant (across time and cultures) and Existence changes according to traditions, norms, and circumstances without altering its Essence. So, state and trait forgiving for Aristotle are the same, but on a continuum from how you forgive at the moment (state forgiveness) and how you tend to forgive in general (trait). This, then, should not imply that there are different kinds of forgiveness, but instead the same forgiveness at the moment and how we develop to generally offer forgiveness to others.
Is there an exposure therapy for those who are scared to forgive? For example, if someone is afraid of elevators, the key is to spend some time near elevators, then to enter one that is not moving, and then eventually to go up one floor in an elevator. Is there something such as this for fear of forgiving?
We do not start Forgiveness Therapy for those who are apprehensive toward forgiving. Instead, the key here is to spend time discussing as clearly as possible what forgiving is and what it is not. In the vast majority of cases, those who fear forgiveness have an incorrect definition of what it is, for example, presuming that one must put up with abuse (which forgiveness definitely is not).
What do you suggest I do when trying to help a friend start the forgiveness process so that she does not feel personally condemned? In other words, the person might reason this way: Why is she suggesting this to me? Do I appear overly angry or something?
A key is to realize that forgiveness is a choice and so you can start by gently having a conversation about your friend’s inner world relative to the injustice(s) against her. Is she having emotional discomfort? Is she restless because of too much anger? Inner pain can be a great motivator for change. If she tells you that her inner world is not healthy, then your providing a possible solution in forgiving may get her attention. You will be able to ascertain her interest if she wants to discuss a solution to her inner pain. At that point you can suggest forgiveness, but please be sure to discuss what forgiveness both is (a moral virtue of being good to those who are not good to you) and what it is not (it is not excusing, forgetting, necessarily reconciling, or abandoning justice).
Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, as with all moral virtues such as justice and kindness, it is good in and of itself. Therefore, I am confident that to forgive is a moral good. Yet, I do have doubts, but not about forgiveness itself. My doubts instead are with how people imperfectly understand what forgiveness is or have errors in trying to apply it. For example, if a person thinks that to forgive is just to move on and forget the other person, this is not what forgiveness is. The misunderstanding, of course, is not the fault of forgiveness itself. As another example, if a person spends only 2 hours forgiving someone who was brutal to him when he was a child, this is an error of not taking sufficient time to forgive. Again, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. So, in summary, my doubts are in human imperfection not being able to lead to an effective forgiveness response. I have no doubts about the goodness of forgiveness itself.
Lately, I have been having condemning thoughts toward the person who betrayed me. Much to my surprise, I am finding that I am drifting into another pattern, that of even condemning myself. Is this normal and maybe even truthful about who both of us are?
My answer comes from my book, The Forgiving Life (2012), chapter 1:
“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. Over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, ‘I, too, am worthless.’ After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Even later, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worth-less.” In other words, this thought pattern is something to recognize and then to resist by working on the thought that both of you have worth.