I forgave someone a year ago, but I still have these random moments in which I feel some anger. What is my next step here?
When we forgive, the anger does not necessarily go away completely. This does not necessarily imply that you have not forgiven. Are you in control of that anger or is the anger controlling you? You say the anger comes “randomly.” How often does this happen? If it occurs infrequently, say once a month, then I think you have forgiven and are experiencing the natural and imperfect parts of being hurt and forgiving. If the anger is more intense and comes more frequently, say once a week, then I recommend going back through the forgiveness process with this person.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
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.
Forgiveness can be misunderstood and dismissed for the wrong reasons.
A colleague, Megan Feldman Bettencourt, has written an important article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “How Forgiveness Has Been Weaponized Against Women.” The gist of the article is that as people misunderstand the actual meaning of forgiveness, they can so discourage people from forgiving that emotional healing is blocked. In the case of sexual abuse of women, as Ms. Feldman Bettencourt points out, the “forgiver” is supposed to refrain from reporting the abuse and is expected to go back into the unwanted relationship.
In her article, Ms. Feldman Bettencourt gives stark examples of women who, in the name of forgiveness, think that they must keep the abuse against them secret, thus personally pardoning the offender. One woman who did stand up for justice (not condoning or pardoning) was shunned by her support group because that group misunderstood what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not abandon the quest for justice. The author’s call is for a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness so that it can exist side-by-side with justice-seeking and not block emotional healing. True forgiveness can enhance the forgiver’s well-being.
Another Example of Weaponizing Forgiveness:
I once was asked to help an organization set up small groups focused on forgiveness in the workplace because there was high tension among the workers. A Human Relations specialist in the company was convinced that adding a level of forgiveness into the workplace would be one strong way of diminishing the conflict and increasing productivity. When we met with the owner of that company, it took him less than five minutes to dismiss the specialist’s idea. “No. Forgiveness is inappropriate here,” he said with cold confidence. “Forgiveness asks too much of my workers,” was his reply.
When we asked him how this is so, he quickly responded, “Look, when there is conflict in our workplace, this is an emotional pain. Forgiveness adds another layer of pain to my workers and so why would I impose this second pain on them? Forgiveness is quite a struggle and we don’t need that at this time.” And that was the end of the specialist’s idea, which as of this writing has not been implemented… and the conflicts at that company continue with no end in sight. What the owner did not understand is this: When there is physical injury, sometimes surgery is needed. Yes, the surgery is an added burden, but it is temporary and restores what is broken. It is the same with forgiveness: When the heart is broken, we sometimes need surgery of the heart to restore emotional health.
Ms. Feldman Bettencourt sees how the weaponizing of forgiveness can actually hurt women who are trying to heal from sexual abuse. I have seen firsthand how the weaponizing of forgiveness can keep workers from reducing acrimony and striving toward greater cooperation.
The moral of this essay is that to misunderstand forgiveness is to keep people from a scientifically-supported way of reducing resentment and getting on with life in a healthier way. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at our own peril. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at the expense of others. It is time simply to define our terms — in this case forgiveness — and lay down the weaponizing against it.
This blog originally appeared in Psychology Today on October 08, 2018.
I want to reach out to a former good friend. We have not talked in about a year. I fear being humiliated. What can I do to overcome this fear of humiliation?
You are showing courage to consider approaching the former good friend. I would suggest two things. First, try to cultivate a sense of humility which may counter any harmful humiliation if the person rejects your overture of a renewed friendship. In other words, cultivating humility gets you ready for a rejection. Second, realize that the other person may not be as ready for a conversation as you are. Even if you make the approach, please realize that the other may need time to adjust to this new overture. A hesitancy on the other’s part today does not mean that this will continue indefinitely. Humility and patience may help you in this case.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.
I know you make a distinction between forgiving and reconciling, but I still am afraid to forgive just in case by doing so I might accidentally let back my ex-husband into my heart. Do you have any suggestions on this for me?
A key, I think, is this: Be aware of the behaviors he exhibits that played a part in your breakup. Is he still showing such behaviors? If so, and if he remains unrepentant, then you need to remember those behaviors and realize that a renewed relationship is not possible without his sustained change. Even if your heart softens, keep a strong mind regarding what he will and will not accomplish with you. So, I think you can forgive and be rid of any deep resentment you may have and then be wise with regard to his behaviors.
For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.