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.
New Desmond Tutu film – “The Forgiven” – Addresses Segregation, Apartheid, Forgiveness
Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”
While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.
Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the Antichrist, The Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.
Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”
The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.
“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa. This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.” ♥
- Read the full story at ScreenAfrica.com.
- Watch the Official Trailer (2 min., 17 sec.).
- Watch the full movie on Prime Video (1-hr., 55 min.) or YouTube Movies.
- See the movie’s Photo Gallery (29 pictures).
I asked you a previous question regarding a friendship that went bad. If a person is toxic to you, how does a person handle that? Is reconcilition even part of the picture. How or why should a person want to be reconciled to a person who has raged at you 4 times, stonewalled 1x, for a year make diminishing remarks in social situations, and spit on my 2 x. Why would anyone want to be reconciled to this kind of person?
You ask why a person might want to reconcile with someone who has been abusive. The short answer is that the other might change. Forgiveness gives the other that second chance to actually alter a harmful pattern.
For those who want to examine the possibility of reconciliation, I recommend first asking yourself these three questions: 1) Does the one who hurt you show remorse, or an inner sorrow regarding what that person did to you? 2) Does the one who hurt your show repentance, or verbally apologizing to you? 3) Does the one who hurt you show any recompense or giving back to you in some way given that you are hurt?
These three (remorse, repentance, and recompense) are important for you to examine as you consider reconciling with the person. These three, if they are in place, will show you that the person has changed and so it may be safe to try reconciliation, at least in small steps, a little at a time until you are sure the other is trustworthy and will not abuse you.
For additional information, see Questions about Reconciliation.