Tagged: “Why Forgive?”
In your book, “Forgiveness Is a Choice,” you start with a case study of Mary Ann. Would it have been easier for her just to divorce her husband, given that he was toxic, rather than forgiving and reconciling?
Because forgiveness is a choice, we have to be careful not to judge others for their particular decision. In Mary Ann’s case, there was a genuine reconciliation. Since reconciliation involves mutual trust, we can surmise that he made important changes. Mary Ann is happy now and so her decision to forgive and reconcile was wise.
We have to make a distinction between healthy anger and unhealthy anger. Healthy anger occurs as a short-term reaction to others’ unfairness. The anger emerges because the one being treated unfairly knows that all people are worthy of respect, even oneself. Unhealthy anger occurs when the initial reaction of healthy anger does not end, but intensifies and remains in the person’s heart for months or even many years. At that point, the anger can have quite negative effects on one’s energy, ability to concentrate, and on one’s overall well-being. Healthy anger is normal. Unhealthy anger needs attention and amelioration.
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).
You recently asked me how power can help me overcome the anger within. Well, I will tell you. If I can get back at the one who was ridiculous to me, then I get rid of the anger. You as a psychologist should know this. The name of this cleansing is called catharsis, right?
Catharsis or “letting it all out” will not necessarily cleanse your anger in the long run. Yes, you may feel empowered for a short time, but if the injustice against you is deep, then the internal effects on you can last for many years. For example, we have worked in a hospice situation in which some of the participants in our forgiveness intervention had been carrying anger within them for over 40 years. Nothing they had tried cleansed that anger until, 40 years later, they made the choice to forgive.
A newly-released video interview with forgiveness expert Dr. Robert Enright called “This is what forgiveness is not” is now available to view at no cost on the website Inner Change.
The 3 min. 22 sec. video was recorded by a film production studio based in Switzerland that has cinematic staff in the US and more than a dozen other countries around the world. It is one of 13 short video segments that Inner Change has recorded with Dr. Enright and which it will release over a 2-year period. Thus far, five of the Dr. Enright interviews have been made available:
- This is what forgiveness is not – Dr. Enright outlines four aspects of what forgiveness is not:
- It is not excusing or condoning.
- It is not forgetting but remembering in new ways.
- It does not necessarily mean reconciliation although it could happen if the other becomes trustworthy.
- When you forgive, you do not throw justice away, you bring it alongside.
- The Essence and Definition of Forgiveness (2 min. 15 sec.) – In this interview, Dr. Enright defines forgiveness from an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and interfaith perspective that basically includes what Socrates would call the “essence” or “core” of forgiveness.
- How I Became Involved in Forgiveness Studies (4 min. 16 sec.) – Dr. Enright explains how after years of studying moral development at the behest of his employer, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he asked himself, “What might make a difference in the world in people’s lives?” The answer he came up with in 1985 was “the virtue of forgiveness” which he saw as a way to heal from the injustices we all face.
- The Two Paradoxes of Forgiveness (1 min. 0 sec.) – In this brief segment, Dr. Enright outlines the two paradoxes (apparent contradictions that are not contradictions) of forgiveness: 1) by forgiving, you are giving unexpected goodness to the person who hurt you; and, 2) in the process, you become stronger and emotionally healed.
- Learning to Forgive in the Small Things (3 min. 19 sec.) – By practicing forgiveness with the smaller hurts in your life, what Dr. Enright calls “exercising your forgiveness muscles,” you can become forgivingly fit and more easily handle the larger injustices in life.
The Inner Change website includes interviews with psychologists, spiritual teachers, activists, and neurologists. Those interviews are part of the website’s “Peace Video Library” where visitors can “discover what it means to be fully human, what resources we all share, how we can tap into our full potential as humans.” Other website features include musical meditation segments following each video and a collection of more than 30 music videos all with original songs recorded at Chernobyl (the site of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union) and the nearby ghost town of Prypiat in Northern Ukraine.