Forgiveness in Counseling: Caution, Definition, and Application
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter highlights that forgiveness is a decision that clients should be helped to make and that advocacy has little place in the counseling session. It specifically confirms the value of forgiveness in the counseling setting and offers some guidelines for its effective application. There are at least three approaches to justice, altering in the extent to which they are proactive or reactive, past or future oriented, limited or general: (1) retributive justice, (2) restorative justice, and (3) pervasive justice. The pragmatic model needs an in-depth investigation of alternatives; their practical and moral costs and their benefits. It is concluded that there can be no relief unless the offender confesses and asks forgiveness, and argues that repentance is poor therapy and of questionable morality, because it leaves clients in a state of helpless dependence on the person or persons who offended them in the first place.
The ultimate goal of this chapter is to support the value of forgiveness in the counseling setting and to provide some guidelines for its effective application. But first there are concerns to be met based on the general failure of precision in using the term. Therefore, an analysis of misleading ideas about forgiveness will be undertaken, leading to a clear pragmatic definition which will provide the basis for a new model of forgiveness counseling. Because there is the danger that hasty forgiveness will fail to uphold justice—another term that suffers from loose definition—an analysis of the meanings of justice as they apply to forgiveness counseling will be included. Related to these concerns is the context in which counselors practice, which may well contribute to biased application of forgiveness, for example, by supporting individual comfort to the neglect of community, or simplistically misusing some biblical injunctions.
“Forgiveness in counseling” is, therefore, a title deliberately chosen rather than “counseling forgiveness.” The former appropriately recognizes that clients will bring forgiveness issues with them; the latter proposes forgiveness as policy. While practitioners should be sufficiently aware of forgiveness theory and practice to provide professional help when called upon, to advocate orgiveness without sufficient definition and training may be to practice outside one's level of competence and, therefore, to verge on the unethical.
Unfortunately there is a dearth of training materials available. My own Helping with Forgiveness Decisions (Affinito, 1998) is currently out of print and being rewritten. Enright and Fitzgibbons's Helping Clients Forgive (2000) advocates forgiving and provides examples of its effectiveness, with a minimum of instruction on how to help clients reach the point of electing to forgive. And choosing not to forgive is essentially ignored as an option.
Those who read in depth for the purpose of training themselves will find many positive examples of forgiveness, testimonials to its virtues. Cases (p. 89 ) where forgiving has led to negative consequences, if there are such, are not likely to be published or identified as forgiveness-related and are therefore unavailable for evaluation. This potential bias in available materials can well contribute to premature advocacy of forgiveness.
Recently I was present at a group supervision session where an intern, discussing a marital therapy case, asked, “How can I make them forgive each other?” The supervisor tried to help her do that. Her question and the response demonstrate a three-fold bias: (1) forgiveness is always to be desired, (2) counselors have the power to induce forgiveness, and (3) forgiveness is a technique that can be taught.
None of these are true.
1. Smedes (1984), in presenting the case against forgiveness, concluded that “the question is not whether forgiving is dangerous, but only whether it is a safer bet” (p. 175). The ethical and practical function of the counselor is, I believe, to help clients decide exactly that—what is the “safer bet”—in responding to an injustice. The emphasis is on practical and moral decision making, not advocacy.
2. People cannot be cajoled or induced to forgive. Deciding whether to forgive and putting the decision into action requires intensive emotional and cognitive work. The specific resolution varies based on the social, personality, and moral characteristics of the decision maker and the injustice that raised the issue of forgiveness in the first place. Aside from the dangerous potential for shaming and revictimizing the sufferer or for failing to deal effectively with injustice, cajoling simply does not work.
3. Forgiveness is not a technique, though procedures can be described to lay the groundwork for healthy, moral decision making. This is the essence of counseling, helping clients to arrive at practical and emotionally releasing decisions consistent with their moral base.
Recently, Jaron Lanier (1999) referred to a “recurring phenomenon that began with Freud and Marx.” He said, “Those men were so entranced by the early peek they got at a rational understanding of obscure and forbidding topics that they were overtaken by messianic zeal. They thought they knew more than they did, and decided to move from being observers and theorists of reality to social engineers. Tragedies large and small resulted when those well-meaning men and some of their less well-meaning followers tried to change people to fit premature theories” (p. 43).
Counselors should ponder these dangers in recommending forgiveness. Workers in the field of domestic abuse, for example, are familiar with victims returning to their abusers because they have been advised to “forgive” the perpetrator. Physical and emotional injury, child abuse, and death of both victims and abusers have resulted (e.g., Beattie & Shaughnessy, 2000; Wallace 1999). Some counselors have worked, as I have, with parents and grandparents who “forgave” the behavior of drug-addicted youth, resulting in not only failure to treat the addiction, but, in some cases, the murder of the “forgiver.” (p. 90 ) Applying forgiveness theory prematurely based on positive evidence, without adequate consideration of negative instances, is not a benign error.
Similarly, it behooves philosophers and theologians to recognize their limitations in recommending applications to therapy. In this volume, Jeffrie G. Murphy describes Ralph, a composite case, who responds with guilt and fear when a clergyman insists that he must forgive his unrepentant abusive father (2002, p. 47). The clergyman has revictimized Ralph, who, in presenting the situation to Murphy, reveals his present distress. In assuring Ralph that his resentment is an acceptable response, Murphy has upheld the justice of Ralphs anger. The professional counselor reading this wonders, however, if validating the resentment is the end of the story or whether Ralph is reflecting an energy-consuming tension that might be relieved with further counseling, achieving freedom from the control of his father's offense, and restoration of energy for positive moral living.
The most troubling problem with forgiveness is the lack of definition. In previous paragraphs I have chosen often to place the word “forgive” in quotation marks. This represents the fact that the meaning of the word varies with the person who is using it. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, self-help advisers, and authors of testimonial autobiographies all fail to define their terms with sufficient precision to meet the needs of counselors. Since 1985, I have searched for definitions in the growing body of forgiveness writings. Rarely are they stated in the practical and objective terms required to measure the success of a therapeutic intervention. Most often no definition is given at all. Such is the fate of a word so fully incorporated into the language.
Searching for implied meanings we find, in varying degrees, issues of reconciliation, trust, mutuality, love, relief from anger and resentment, and the forgoing of retributive justice. From these it is possible to summarize some contributing ideas, as follows.
It may be interpersonal or intrapersonal, but forgiveness is never directed toward an object or event, since these cannot be held morally responsible for making offensive choices (Pingleton, 1989). Only Casarjian (1992) deviates from this point, including a chapter called “Forgiving Your Body.”
For the majority of forgiveness writers, forgiving is not defined in such a way as to include freeing the guilty party from blame. One exception is Susan Forward (1989), who has defined forgiveness as having two facets: giving up the need for revenge, and absolving the guilty party of responsibility. Given her definition, she objects to counseling forgiveness, arguing that the injustice needs to be recognized, labeled, and confronted. While her definition is idiosyncratic, her concern does remind us of the hazards of forgiveness interventions that fail to consider the issue of justice. Krog (2000), in struggling with the issues raised by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation (p. 91 ) Commission (see also Tutu, 1991), quotes her husband, “The act of forgiveness forgiveness involves a refusal to blame” (p. 261). For most who write on the topic of forgiveness, this view is erroneous. But it is this very view of forgiveness as release from blame that raises fears that forgiveness is the antithesis of justice.
On the contrary, if we were to recognize that there was no blame in the perceived affront, then there would be no forgiveness issue, but rather a need to explore the personal sensitivity of the offended person. Except for Forward and Krog's husband, common to all the definitions is first a recognition that an injustice has occurred—that the forgiveness process begins with an identifiable personal offense which is not excused or condoned. All recognize that the potential forgiver has a right to anger and resentment.
Most agree that reconciliation is not necessary to the definition. Hargrave's (1994) emphasis on reconciliation is an exception. “Essentially,” he says, “forgiving is relationship reconstruction, giving up one's claim to the injustice and reestablishing the relationship based on love and trust” (p. 79).Working with family situations, his definition is designed to fit his particular client group.
What Forgiveness Is Not
Probably because forgiveness has accumulated centuries of connotative meaning, the initial impulse is to assume that we know the intent of the person speaking the word. But when using the term, especially in writing or other public presentations, we discover that members of the audience have heard something quite different from our intention. Therefore, the definitional effort has been focused on eliminating inappropriate intrusions into the meaning of forgiveness. (See most recently Affinito, 1999; Casarjian, 1992; Enright & the Human Development Study Group, 1991; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Simon & Simon, 1990; Smedes, 1996.)
There is general agreement that forgiveness is not excusing, forgetting, condoning negative and inappropriate behavior, absolution, a form of self-sacrifice, a clear-cut one-time decision, approval of injustice, pretending everything is just fine when you feel it is not, assuming an attitude of superiority or self-righteousness, simply allowing angry feelings to diminish across time, pardon, or justification. It does not preclude taking action to change a situation or protect one's rights, nor does it require verbally communicating directly to the person who has been forgiven.
In addition, Enright and the Human Development Study Group (1991) have distinguished forgiveness from legal mercy and leniency and from mourning. He is particularly concerned with his fear that forgiveness may become confused with self-centering (pp. 129–131).
In their recent book, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) include a chapter in which they counter arguments that forgiveness is a weak and inferior response to injustice, a form of injustice, passive, logically impossible, and that some offenses are unforgivable (pp. 267–276).
(p. 92 ) Constructing a Useful Working Definition for Counselors
A working definition of forgiveness in counseling must satisfy the practical requirements necessary in any counseling. The goals of the client should be met, usually with a reduction in anxiety and other emotions that interfere with the ability to live life productively, joyfully, and with good mental health as that may be defined. Forgiveness issues are by definition interpersonal, so practical and moral decisions have to be made concerning reactions to the person(s) involved in the offense and others affected by it.
Specifically, forgiveness counseling must recognize the fact that the victim of injustice will normally experience anger, resentment, and hurt, and often shame and guilt, even when someone else was clearly the offender. This implies a recognition of the “right” to these reactions, as well as validation of the emotional and cognitive consequences of the offense; acceptance of the desire to punish the offender as a morally viable option; the desirability of reducing obsessive preoccupation with the offense and its results, freeing the victim from the energy-consuming consequences of the injury; careful evaluation of possible responses to the injury, their feasibility, and their potential benefits and costs to individual peace or justice; acceptance that cognitive work, except in rare cases, will precede emotional results; awareness of the client's limited power and authority to punish injustice; and awareness of the counselor's limited power and authority to advocate reactions to injustice.
Some of these requirements are met in the definitions provided by Enright: “Forgiveness is a forswearing of negative affect and judgment, by viewing the wrongdoer with compassion and love [italics added] in the face of a wrongdoer's considerable injustice” (Enright & the Human Development Study Group, 1991, p. 123), and “Forgiving is a willingness to abandon one's right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injures us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love [italics added] toward him or her” (Enright, 1995, p. 2). He is clear that forgiveness is a reaction to injustice, entitling the victim to resentment and negative judgment. The suggestion, however, that the right to judgment will be abandoned has the potential for creating exactly the immoral situation that many fear will result from advocating forgiveness, that injustice will be condoned whether implicitly or by refusing to deal with the issue.
Based on my personal experience as a practicing psychologist, Enright's requirement that forgiveness demands “viewing the wrongdoer with compassion and love,” and “fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love” is too restrictive, and even hard to evaluate as an outcome. My client Gloria, for example, the victim of childhood sexual abuse, realized, after a long therapeutic process of dealing with the injustice and fruitlessly seeking confession and reconciliation, that she could not spend time with her family of origin. She literally got sick to her stomach when she was with them. Still, she wanted to maintain a family connection, so she resolved to send them holiday and birthday cards and to visit them on special occasions. On these visits she would be accompanied by her husband (p. 93 ) and would stay for a very short time. Working out a comfortable and distant relationship with her family did a great deal to solidify her marriage, which had been getting shaky under the influence of her agitation. By applying these principles, she was able to shape a solution that was right for her (Affinito, 1999, p. 184). Gloria ceased to be obsessed with the effects of the abuse and was able to move on with her life and improve her relationships with others, but it would be a stretch to say she felt compassion and love for her abusive parents. By my definition of forgiveness, Gloria's solution qualifies.
After many revisions, and anticipating future refinements, this is the definition that currently works best for me. Forgiveness is the decision to forgo the personal pursuit of punishment for the perpetrator(s) of a perceived injustice, taking action on that decision, and experiencing the emotional relief that follows.
My definition differs from Enright's in seeing the emotional relief as a secondary gain of the process of arriving at a forgiveness decision, not as the essential first case. Nor does my definition necessarily require compassion and love for the offender, though that may occur. I see the issue of just reaction to an offense as central to the definition, recognizing that the most common, if not universal, first reaction to injustice is anger and the desire to punish.
Pursuing the Theme of Justice
As I define it, forgiveness is a process of reacting to injustice. If counselors are to help with the making of forgiveness decisions, then a working understanding of injustice and just reactions to it is required.
Forgiveness can be seen as a practical balance between justice and mercy—one that leads to nondestructive reactions to injustice as reflected in the works of Bishop Tutu (1991) and Donald Shriver (1995). Both men propose forgiveness as a pragmatic means of recognizing the extreme injustices of past ethnic conflicts while working toward positive solutions and a reduction in self-perpetuating vengeance.
Our job is made difficult by the fact that justice is not easily defined. Wolgast (1987), for example, says, “Justice is not an original notion from which injustice is derived but vice versa, and this fact is what makes it so difficult to say what justice is” (p. 132). As a consequence, it is easier to identify and react to injustice than it is to work proactively for justice.
There are at least three approaches to justice, varying in the extent to which they are proactive or reactive, past or future oriented, limited or general: (1) retributive justice, (2) restorative justice, and (3) pervasive justice.
Masterson (1981) refers to the talionic impulse, “that deepest and most ancient of human impulses to exact revenge by taking pleasure in inflicting on (p. 94 ) others the hurt one has experienced” (p. 182). I have sat with clients who created the most horrendously delicious visions of tortures they would like to inflict on wrongdoers knowing they had no intention, or even ability, to carry them out. There are clients who have proposed realistic means of vengeance, seriously considering putting them into action. The underlying belief is that one can “get even,” that retribution will restore a sense of balance and fairness. The fact is that the injustice has forever changed the situation. If it is the hope that one can return to a pretrauma state of balance, then the prognosis is very poor.
If, however, the goal is to create a new state of balance, then retribution may be effective. My client, Joyce, chose to cut her offending son out of her will (Affinito, 1999, p. 117 ff). It was a vengeful decision that reduced her own tension and might have resulted in permanent estrangement. Perhaps because of their initial closeness, there was a reconciliation after a period measured in years, but it was not a restoration to pre-injustice status. “Something has died,” she reported (p. 118).
Vengeance is primarily an emotional impulse, motivated by events in the past. Punishment, on the other hand, is a goal-seeking behavior that defines the anticipated end result and the conditions required to meet it. Encouraging clients to consider very practical matters transforms the issue into one of considering punishment as a problem-solving mechanism with an eye on the future. Do they have the power and authority to carry out the punishment, as well as the means for doing so? What might be the ultimate effect on their own lives, the people they care about, and justice in general? The issue for our clients, then, is to arrive at practical and moral decisions about punishment that will free them from the control of the offender and the offense and allow them to restructure their lives, restoring or recreating the sense of predictability and justice. To do that requires careful analysis of possible reactions.
When one does have the personal power and authority to accomplish it, punishment may be appropriate. A woman in one of my workshops expressed a sense of guilt for having punished her teenage son. He had borrowed her car, agreeing to return it with a full tank of gas. When he brought it back empty, she grounded him for two weeks, after which he could borrow the car again but would not be allowed to have it in the future if he failed to live up to his end of the bargain. Having been taught that forgiveness is always the correct route, she wondered whether she had committed a wrong in punishing him. My view is that the punishment was appropriate. The general expectation was that more responsible behavior would result.
And her actions met what are, in my opinion, the three major criteria for effective punishment: (1) the reason for the punishment is made explicit; (2) there is a clear definition of the end of the penalty; and (3) the requirement for avoiding future punishment is defined.
If punishment is the chosen option, then my forgiveness definition is met by ceasing to punish after the three conditions described above have been met. Forgiveness does not require that there be no penalty for wrongdoing.
(p. 95 ) If punishment, or even vengeance, is to meet counseling requirements, it must be in keeping with the moral standards of clients and their community—which are not necessarily the same as the therapist's. My client Joyce, for example, wrote a poem about the pleasures of vengeance and decided to act on her talionic impulse by removing her son from her will. This flew in the face of my own impulse toward forgiveness, but my equally strong respect for the integrity of the client prevailed. I led her through a process of carefully evaluating the possible results of her actions, which culminated in her following through on her plan. As mentioned earlier, her actions bore practical and morally acceptable fruit. Her choice of vengeance differed from the punishment option I might have preferred in that she had no plan for terminating the punishment and no expectation that her son's behavior would change as a result of it. She simply enjoyed the pleasure of disinheriting him and the consequent emotional release.
If the punishment issue is not resolved, the effect may be perpetual self-punishment on the part of the client, expressed perhaps in guilt or shame or in obsessive experiencing of anger and resentment. To leave the talionic impulse unconsidered is to fail the client. Accepting the reality and even appropriateness of the talionic impulse allows for its evaluation in terms of the power, authority, moral appropriateness, and practicality of applying punishment.
The decision to punish does not mean that punishment should be perpetual. In fact, as long as clients are punishing, their own lives are controlled by the need to stand guard over the process. In some situations, it may simply be impossible for the offended to address and punish the transgressor, who may, for example, be dead or geographically unavailable. The murderer of Wilma Derksen's daughter, for example, was never found, leaving no option for punishment either under the judicial system, or personally. In such cases, the impulse to punish the offender can only reverberate and imprison the victim in helplessness, effectively resulting in revictimization. Some other method has to be found to satisfy the need to take action. Wilma Derksen told her story in her book, Have You Seen Candace?(1991); she became an activist for helping families and others affected by the murder of loved ones, founding Pathways, a publication that offers a forum for family members of murder victims.1 Others may choose to lobby for punishment for those who commit offenses similar to the ones they themselves suffered.
Some have found personal satisfaction in working to influence the broader system. MADD (Mothers against Drunk Drivers), provides one example, as does VOMA (Victim Offenders Mediation Association), many of whose members, victims themselves, work to encourage restorative justice through mediation.2 The need to regain control and balance lies at the root of this work.
For many victims there is no avenue for avenging the injustice or otherwise punishing the offender(s) in any effective way. The restorative justice (p. 96 ) movement (Umbreit, 1994, 1995; Zehr, 1995) attempts to address this for those who have suffered from crimes against the state, with increasing success in gaining recognition of the rights of people who are victims of those offenses, but the personal power to punish is minimal and indirect. So too is the power to reduce punishment minimal. Members of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation report widespread bias within the criminal justice system against hearing opposition to the death penalty (Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, 2000, p. 1).
In our American culture, victims of crime have traditionally been left out of the judicial process; the focus is on the accused offender. The restorative justice movement (Umbreit, 1994, 1995; Zehr, 1995) began with lobbying for more attention to and effective integration of victim views into the system. The opportunity for victims to testify at presentencing hearings has been one result of this movement. The personal goal is restoration of a sense of control and fairness. The movement has broadened not as an effort to abolish punishment, but to do restorative work within its context. Zehr's “Restorative Justice Yardstick” helps to summarize the goals of restorative justice: “1. Do victims experience justice? 2. Do offenders experience justice? (e.g. Are they encouraged to understand and take responsibility for what they have done?) 3. Is the victim-offender relationship addressed? 4. Are community concerns being taken into account? 5. Is the future being addressed?” (1995, pp. 230–231). Because the mediation process applied in restorative justice work requires the consent of both the victim and the offender, it is expected that there will be changes for both parties.
Restorative justice, a relatively new movement in the western world, has deep historical roots. Until the emergence of strong, centralized states during the past millennium, with the related redefinition of crime as offenses against the king/state, community leaders intervened not with an eye to retribution, but with an understanding that retaliation could result in a cycle of vengeance that would threaten public safety. Restorative justice prevails currently, for example, in contemporary Japanese culture and among indigenous populations in North America and New Zealand, where the emphasis is on community survival and peace (Van Ness & Strong, 2001).
Restorative justice is initiated by past offenses, but the focus is on practical achievement of future justice. Both victims and offenders will, to the extent the process works, be restored to health within a moral context.
Zehr juxtaposes what he calls biblical and modern justice (1995, pp. 151–152). For example: “(1) Justice divided into areas, each with different rules” (contemporary) vs. “Justice seen as integrated whole” (biblical); or (9) “Justice as maintenance of the status quo (contemporary) vs. “Justice as active, progressive, seeking to transform status quo” (biblical). His comparison of biblical and modern justice is fruitful, but I prefer the more secular term “pervasive” to refer, as Susan Engh suggests, to a systemic concern for (p. 97 ) culturewide justice, as defined by fairness and equality, a concern for the human rights of all people (S. Engh, personal communication, March 2001).
In researching my 1999 book, I collected many stories of victims of crime who chose—often after a long period of painful processing—to respond with working toward pervasive justice. Paul Stevens, for example (Affinito, 1999), after years of anger and hate following the murder of his daughter, found peace in becoming a prison chaplain and advocating against the death penalty (pp. 145–146). My own clients have not generally suffered criminal injustice, but some have elected to focus on pervasive justice as a resolution to their personal pain, choosing to support groups that lobby for laws against domestic abuse, for example, or working for affordable housing in their communities.
Judgment and Guilt
Judgment is an integral part of justice. To confront offenses either against or by our clients, we need to be prepared to encounter judgment and consequent guilt. In 1961, O. H. Mowrer warned against psychology's tendency toward facile absolution of guilt while ignoring its moral value. But while early forgiveness theorists did not espouse being nonjudgmental, some of what they said encouraged that view, thus easing the way into a late twentieth-century view of relativism and humanism and the importance of being nonjudgmental. Smedes (1984), for example, suggested that people behaved unfairly “despite their best intentions” (p. 12) and “even if their intentions were pure” (p. 30). Jampolsky (1985) spoke of cleansing our mind “of its negative thoughts of fear and guilt—all those condemning judgments that make us feel vulnerable, separate, and fragmented” (p. 82). Oversimplifying the Christian culture's “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matt. 7:1, New Revised Standard Version), led to the easy conclusion that forgiving meant dropping all blame.
The view that forgiveness abolishes judgment persists despite efforts of forgiveness writers to make clear that to forgive does not mean to absolve. Smedes clearly stated, “You do not excuse people by forgiving them; you forgive them at all only because you hold them to account and refuse to excuse them” (1984, p. 72). In a later book, he responded to what he called the “‘Who am I to judge?’ fallacy” saying, “The moment we say, ‘Who am I to judge?’ we resign our membership in the family of rational human beings. And we are reneging on one of the most important tasks assigned to rational human beings: to size up people's actions the best we can and to assign responsibility for them. Which is to say that imperfect people have not only the right but an obligation to blame people” (1996, p. 78–79).
We cannot wrestle effectively with the justice issue in our personal counseling if we cannot first identify blame and declare it unacceptable. Working in supervisory settings, I have witnessed the tendency of some therapists, (p. 98 ) especially as they begin their careers, to enter into a “taking sides” alliance, too quick to blame the “other” and at the same time to absolve their own client of guilt. I have also seen clients, often steeped in Christian heritage, who suffer guilt at the very idea of blaming someone else. Guilt assessment deserves a studied place early in the forgiveness process, especially when the issue is self-forgiveness.
The Religious Influence
Our attitudes of judgment and guilt are influenced by religious positions, even if we ourselves are not religious. Understanding the complexity of religious positions is, therefore, crucial to grasping the implications of forgiveness counseling. At its best, religion contributes to an avoidance of vengeful escalation of violence and the promotion of physical or psychological strength of conscience, with courage to identify injustice when it occurs and to consider appropriate modes of its prevention and correction, a firm spiritual base, and caring—sometimes self-sacrificing—devotion to pervasive justice. At its worst, it encourages self-righteous vengeance on those who disagree, an easy conscience that puts personal comfort above difficult moral decisions, an unthinking adherence to beliefs imposed by others, vigilant attention to the appropriateness of others' behavior, and, consequently, rigid self-righteous judgment of those who don't behave “rightly.”
Dennis Prager, an outspoken critic of easy forgiveness, cites the recent tendency for Christian groups to rush to forgive the perpetrators of such horrendous crimes as the murders of high school students in West Paducah, Kentucky, or Timothy McVeigh's terrorist bombing. He criticizes the argument, given by some, that “victims should be encouraged to forgive all evil done to them because doing so is psychologically healthy” as “selfishness masquerading as idealism” … “the argument being, ‘though you do not deserve to be forgiven, and though you may not even be sorry, I forgive you because I want to feel better.’” The easy forgiveness doctrine, he says, “undermines the moral foundations of American civilization, because it advances the amoral notion that no matter how much you hurt other people, millions of your fellow citizens will immediately forgive” (1997, A22). He has placed the hazard of forgiveness without justice clearly in the context of communal danger exacerbated by religious belief.
His critique seems to imply that there is a single Christian position supporting nonjudgmental forgiveness. But he goes on to present a contrary assumption as if it were universal Christian doctrine: It is Christianity's central moral tenet that “forgiveness, even by God, is contingent on the sinner repenting, and that it can only be given to the sinner by the one against whom he sinned” (Prager, 1997, A22). If Prager is right, then the victim of evil is condemned to perpetual bondage to the evildoer who refuses to repent, or perhaps, being dead, cannot repent. But it is not a universal Christian belief that forgiveness by humans, or even by God, is contingent upon repentance. (p. 99 ) In fact, referring to the New Testament story of the Pharisee and the whore (Luke 7:36–47), Paul Tillich argues that it is not repentance that creates forgiveness, but forgiveness that creates repentance. Forgiveness, he says, has the character of in spite of (Tillich, 1940, p. 8). Tillich's position recognizes that we are all fallible and that those who have wrestled with their own imperfections will be able to reach just forgiveness resolutions more easily than the righteous who cannot see their own faults. The practical fact is that requiring victims to hold on to their anger unless the offender asks forgiveness holds them in thrall to the offender and condemns them to perpetual pain.
Prager's critique reflects a couple of popularly oversimplified biblical injunctions. One is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and the other is “turn the other cheek.” Perhaps because they are so quotable they become aphorisms for action, both within and outside of religious traditions. In the Hebrew Testament one finds, “Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered” (Lev. 24:20) and “Show no pity. Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deut. 19:21).
The Christian Bible adds a “but”: “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil-doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matt. 5:38).
Without appropriate context, these injunctions seem starkly simple, but they are not. Obviously current western law and practice do not allow for the cutting off of hands and feet, or the putting out of eyes, as punishment for wrongdoing. Its application must, therefore, be metaphorical. The oversimplified interpretation is that the punishment must be at least as bad as the crime, but Robert Solomon, for example, refers to “the Old Testament instruction that revenge should be limited (italics his) to ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe’” (1990, p. 293). The talionic law may best be interpreted as a limit on punishment rather than a demand for it. Given that none of us is morally perfect, the danger to the community is that we would all end up with missing parts. Demanding an eye for an eye, it has been said, would leave the whole world blind.
“Turn the other cheek” probably lies at the base of the easy and hasty forgiveness that Smedes warned about or that Prager responded to with dismay. In the extreme, it seems to decree that we should not fight injustice, but accept patiently anything that others may dish out, not only to ourselves, but even to others. But it fails to take context into account.
Based on understanding the sociology of Jesus' time, Wink (1992) has suggested that the maintenance of dignity in the face of adversity is the lesson being taught. He quotes from Matt. 5:38–42, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” In that society, to use the left hand was forbidden, so to hit the right cheek would require a backhand with the right hand, a traditional way of admonishing inferiors. But a strike on the left cheek could be done only with a direct blow or a fist, methods reserved for (p. 100 ) responding to equals. Turning the left cheek forces the striker, then, to treat one as an equal. Wink's may not be the universal interpretation of the “turn the other cheek” injunction, but it does point out that simple aphorisms are questionable guides for life inside or outside the counselor's office.
To be effective in forgiveness counseling, the therapist must be ready to work with the context of the client's religious, cultural, and moral positions. While Hyde (1984) claims that for most of Hebrew scriptures there is in this life no hope of forgiveness—that it could be anticipated only with the future coming of the messianic age—Droll (1984, p. 9) cited Jewish sacred books among those which laud forgiveness, and Donnelly (1993) quotes the Talmud, “If a (person) has received an injury, then even if the wrongdoer has not asked forgiveness, the receiver of the injury must nevertheless ask God to show the wrongdoer compassion” (p. 8). Another author (Bangley, 1986) was vehement: “Sometimes I hear it said that the God of the Old Testament is a God of anger and wrath, and that it took Jesus and the New Testament to introduce a warmer and more forgiving side to God's nature. Nonsense! Nothing could be more incorrect. The God who is busy in the pages of the New Testament is the same God who is at work in the Old Testament…. Yes, there are moments in the Old Testament when God is reported to be exasperated by human behavior. Who could blame him? But behind that divine displeasure is a constant, caring, loving, and forgiving nature” (p. 42).
About forgiveness and vengeance, a Moslem friend added, “The Koran tries to find a mid-point between the vengeance of the Hebrew tradition and the forgiveness preached by Jesus. We are taught that punishment is OK, but forgiveness is better.” “All our prayers begin with a plea for forgiveness,” her friend added (personal communication). McDonald (1984), however, believes that “the harsh justice of the Islamic Allah has no significant place for real forgiveness” (pp. 32–33). There are wide differences in Islamic practices, just as there are in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
It would be comforting to believe that we can make objective statements about religious views, but clearly these are areas where complexity reigns. It seems prudent to recognize that religious differences obviate applying any hasty assumptions about their influence on clients.
If, as I believe, forgiveness is a balance between justice and mercy, then mercy needs to be considered in the context of justice. Hasty “mercy” may reflect unthinking avoidance of the issues raised by injustice. It may actually be unmerciful by failing to bring the forgiven to task in a way that encourages growth, a goal of most therapy. Eugene Fisher (1986), for example, a Christian writer who joined the debate about President Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery where Nazis were honorably buried, argued, “Christian teaching and Christian theological categories were themselves part of the problem” of anti-Semitism (p. 57). “Jews, then,” he says, “best show their love and (p. 101 ) compassion for Christians in not ‘letting us off the hook,’ in reminding us, by the testimony of their very existence, of Christianity's need for repentance” (p. 59). Whether in a therapeutic setting or in the broader social context, ignoring inappropriate or immoral behavior on the part of another is basically to discount that person as an ethical human being.
Similarly, to ignore our own need for self-examination is to perpetuate moral weakness. Early in my exploration of forgiveness, I was introduced to a highly respected motivational speaker on the subject of forgiveness. I was shocked as he beatifically told me that he tells Jews they should stop fighting the Holocaust, forgive the perpetrators, and get on with their lives. His position not only revictimized Jews by failing to respect their right to seek justice, but it failed as well to respect the potential for non-Jews to grapple with their own ethical obligations.
Self Versus Community
The effort to be nonjudgmental contributed to another phenomenon in the forgiveness movement, namely the focus on the welfare and comfort of the forgiver to the neglect of justice for the community, which dovetails nicely with the contemporary therapeutic emphasis on personal peace and health. Smedes (1984), writing from a Christian base, supported “our need to forgive for our own sakes” (italics his: p. 30). Although he clearly warned against “the muddle-headed softness of the easy forgiver” (p. 172), the forgiveness culture of the time was better prepared to respond to forgiving for our own sake.
In 1979, Gerald Jampolsky produced a packet of cards, called To Give Is to Receive: “Mini Course for Healing Relationships and Bringing about Peace of Mind,” each of which he attributed as a quote from a Course in Miracles.3 Specific content from a few of the cards gives a sample of the message: card #10, “Forgiveness Is the Key to Happiness;” card #11, “All That I Give Is Given to Myself;” card #13, “Today I Will Judge Nothing That Occurs.” Inspiring and focusing on love, the message was positive and easily interpreted as emphasizing the comfort of the individual reader.
In 1983, Jampolsky pursued the same theme, describing forgiveness as “an inner correction that lightens the heart. It is for our peace of mind first. Being at peace, we will now have peace to give to others, and this is the most permanent and valuable gift we can possibly give” (p. 110). Again, the primary emphasis rested on the message, “peace of mind first”; a series of popular publications in the Course in Miracles tradition supported the value of forgiveness in producing healthy results for forgivers.
Bernie Siegel, in his influential book, Love, Medicine, and Miracles (1986), reported the story of the amazing good health of “Wild Bill,” a long-term concentration camp inmate who showed little of the deterioration seen in his fellow prisoners (pp. 194–195). Wild Bill's report of immediately forgiving those who gunned down his entire family was seen as the miraculous cause of his good physical and mental health.
(p. 102 ) In 1992, Casarjian wrote, “Regardless of our unique story, forgiveness holds the promise that we will find the peace that we all really want” (p. 10). And, in 1995, Borysenko declared on tape, “Peace of mind is our only goal, forgiveness our only function,” and asked, “What good does that grudge do for you?” The professional culture of the time contributed to our hearing the emphasis on personal peace and happiness. Intended or not, the message received from these writers was that to forgive is always the appropriate and moral choice because of the wonderful benefits provided the forgiver.
It is not my intention here to contradict the value of forgiving for the forgiver. In fact, I am convinced that the one person who is sure to gain from forgiving is the forgiver. The issue is whether the needs of the community are being met as well.
While emphasis on individual welfare was foremost in forgiveness literature, another movement was growing, drawing psychologists to consideration of community. When Shweder, Mahapatra, and Miller (1987) contrasted the rights-based, individualistic culture on which our theories are based with duty-based, communal cultures in which the group is central, the very concept of identity was challenged. The former approach tends to treat the individual as the unit of identity, while the latter views the community as the unit. In 1988, Sampson disputed the assumption that individuals should be the focus of theory and practice and urged consideration of community, and Seligman (Bule, 1988) attributed a source of depression to the isolating individualism of the “me” generation. Even the “self-esteem” movement has been charged with reducing individuals' communal responsibility (Damon, 1995).
At the same time, religious positions on forgiveness were presenting contrasts between communal and individual purposes. Murder is unforgivable in Judaism, Prager reports (1997, p. 217), because it goes to the heart of God's relationship with humans. In the Hebrew Testament, God relates to the entire community, and anything that disrupts that unit is evil, murder most disruptive of all. It is the Christian Bible that emphasizes the hairs on individual heads (Luke 12:7).
For much of early Protestantism, and in many traditions today, preservation of community is the purpose of forgiveness. The penitent confesses publicly to the whole congregation which, either in general meeting or through delegated committees, decides what penance or guidance is needed to reinstate the sinner to full membership. But Christian practice varies widely. In the 1970s, for example, the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions moved from a tradition of penance and absolution by the priest, God's agent, with the effect of maintaining the sinner's membership in the community to confession as counseling in search of a clear conscience for the individual (Hyde, 1984). Each person is now expected to take responsibility for the morality of his or her own life. For these traditions, forgiveness changed from a community function to an individual one.
The counselor or client who searches for easy answers in religion will find them only by being blind to alternatives. The following pragmatic model requires (p. 103 ) a thorough examination of alternatives, their practical and moral costs and benefits.
From Definition to Practice: A Pragmatic Model
Enright and Fitzgibbons fret about the dangers of pragmatism, that forgiveness may become identified “only with its usefulness in therapy,” and urge a differentiation between “what forgiveness is from what happens once a person does forgive” (2000, p. 324). I find it difficult to divorce the counseling process and outcome from the practical and moral impact on the broader society. Doris Donnelly writes, “Forgiveness frees not only the one who forgives but also the network of persons from their supportive roles in the strenuous and dehumanizing effort of taking sides—and forgiveness frees the victims as well!” (1993, p. 41). In my experience, this freedom expands exponentially as each of these persons influences others, not necessarily through conscious intention, to greater integrity and consequent wider and, indeed, pragmatic morality. Only if the end of a therapeutic process is selfish focus on the immediate pleasure of the client can I conceive that forgiveness would be identified “only” with its usefulness in therapy.
My definition of forgiveness as “the decision to forego the personal pursuit of punishment for the perpetrator(s) of a perceived injustice, taking action on that decision, and experiencing the emotional relief that follows” can be translated into a model for forgiveness counseling.
Giving Voice: Perceiving Injustice
Giving voice to the hurt and anger is an essential first step that encourages and allows the probing of the perception of injustice, with all its related emotions, validating the right of the clients to their experiences. Wilma Derksen (1998), whose 13-year-old daughter Candace disappeared and was later found murdered, says that “surviving victims can not rest or be comforted until we find a way to tell our stories.” Antjie Krog, a reporter covering the trials of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2000), found the following thought clarifying as she listened to the testimony of terrible experiences: “But more practically, this particular memory at last captured in words can no longer haunt you, push you around, bewilder you, because you have taken control of it—you can move it wherever you want to. So maybe this is what the commission is all about—finding words for that cry of [the sufferer]” (p. 57).
Those who testified at the hearings were for the most part unable, from any practical point of view, to exact punishment, and the commission in general may have failed (Krog, 2000, p. 385) to repair and heal the trauma of the victims. But the victims were heard. Ralph, as described by Jeffrie Murphy earlier, was denied that right by the clergyman who counseled him to forgive; (p. 104 ) he was deprived of the validation he deserved and hampered in his further progress toward considering the practicality and implications of the punishment option for his recovery. Among other errors, the clergyman committed the wrong of treating forgiveness as if it were an end in itself, rather than a process for bringing about just resolution and healing. In this voicing phase, to recommend forgiving to a sufferer who is not ready to consider it implies some inadequacy on his or her part and is, therefore, shaming, especially in the religious context where there is a long history of recommending forgiveness as the “right” response. As in Ralph's case, shaming is very likely to exacerbate the pain, anger, and sense of betrayal.
A recent phone call from a reader of my book (Affmito, 1999) revealed another kind of failure to validate. According to the caller, she had told a therapist of her anguish over the fact that her father had all her life “jokingly” insulted her. As she heard the therapist's response, it was that she had nothing to be so concerned about, compared to the painful situations so many other people suffer. I do not know, of course, whether the callers report of the therapist's words was accurate, but she had come away from the encounter feeling that her own emotions were invalid.
During the early voicing of the pain and anger, it may become apparent to the counselor that there has been no real injustice committed against the client, but rather there is a sensitivity arising from the client's own personality. One of my clients, for example, was enraged and hurt that her son's former girlfriend had married another man long after the girlfriend and the son had broken off their relationship. My client deserves the same hearing and respect for her pain, but this is not—on the surface, at least—a forgiveness issue, though there will still probably be the same need to address the impulse to exact vengeance. In this kind of situation the counselor may be tempted to recommend forgiveness, which would be just as shaming and premature as if there had been a serious offense. It may also be that underlying the voiced complaint is a real offense of some kind; all the counselor's skills should be applied to get to the bottom of the issue for the purpose of gaining relief for the client.
That the first task for the therapist is to validate the right to the rage and hurt Doesn't mean to “side” with the client against someone else or to encourage immediate action. Room should be made for the client to spend the rage in talk and fantasy for the time being—to postpone action until there has been an opportunity to explore all options. The goal is to reduce the obsessive rage or resentment sufficiently so that the client can move on to a more cognitive, decision making perspective.
Although this may sound like a coldly objective way to state it, the fact is that decision making requires fact gathering. When emotion has cooled down sufficiently, examination of the offense can begin. This includes an analysis of (p. 105 ) the offense itself, the moral code that was broken, and the impact it had not only on the client, but also on the larger community.
The client's part in the hurtful event calls for examination as well. This may range from accepting responsibility for one's part in an interpersonal relationship—even, perhaps, for having allowed oneself to be victimized—to exploring ways that one might have avoided the offense. The purpose is not to blame the client (unless it is appropriate) but to help him or her to regain power. If guilt is a major component, it needs to be evaluated for its appropriateness. Sometimes the client really has sinned, a fact which therapists have often chosen to overlook, in spite of some early efforts to make the point (e.g., Mowrer, 1961). Sometimes the guilt is inappropriate, in which case the examination of the event with its moral ramifications is an aid to appropriate assessment of responsibility.
What the data will be depends on the specific situations brought by clients. If the examination is to be complete enough to lead to good decision making, it should incorporate all aspects: moral, individual, and community. It should include an analysis of the offender's possible motives, not with the purpose of excusing the offense, but to bring the offender down to controllable size. Attribution theory tells us that people are more likely to attribute unmitigated power to someone about whom they know little, while understanding the perpetrator's fallibility frees the victim from the perception of an all-powerful evil person. Unless an offender is understood as a fallible human being, he or she looms unrealistically large and evil in the eyes of the victim. Regaining control requires rehumanizing the offender. It may also happen that humanizing offenders facilitates the experience of empathy for them.
Seeking complete analysis is not a romantic ideal. Pieces that are left unattended will reappear later to activate uncontrolled emotion and interfere with decisions and their consequent activation. As in any other situations, the best decisions are based on full assessment of the relevant data. Validating expressed emotions, clarifying the facts and the morality of the offense, understanding the offender as completely as possible, and assessing the client's own cognitive, behavioral, and moral reactions provide the material for deciding whether and/or how to punish.
Making Action Decisions
In the context of the definition I have presented, deciding what to do about punishing is an ultimate goal of forgiveness counseling, exceeded only by the behavioral application of choices made. In this phase it is especially important to avoid following recipes prescribed by self-help books or other well-meaning advisers. Several years ago I was a participant on a call-in show on forgiveness on a public radio station. One woman left her car to go to a pay phone to call in her criticism of forgiveness. She had, she said, worked with a therapist on the issue of her childhood sexual abuse by her father. On the advice of her therapist, she reported, she had written a letter to her father (p. 106 ) forgiving him for what he had done. The response was angry letters not only from her father, but also from her mother and sisters, who essentially cut her out of the family. The response is not surprising. To forgive is to accuse, and in writing her “forgiveness” letter, she had charged a family that was unprepared to deal with the indictment.
Before taking action, it is important to measure the benefit against the cost. Clearly the caller had not done that. What the specifics of any case may be can be spelled out only individual by individual. Some general rules may apply. As in the caller's case, it is wise to be prepared for a negative response from the “forgiven” who is, in the process, being accused. Or, like Gloria who felt nauseated in the presence of her family, facing the offender may create emotional, even physical negative reactions that the client is not ready to face. In other circumstances, though deciding not to punish might provide relief for the victim, it might fly in the face of his or her moral judgment, as for Wiesenthal (1997), who chose to devote his life to seeking punishment for the Nazi offenders even as he sought understanding of the whole concept of forgiveness.
In contemplating punishment, clients must consider whether they have the power or authority to carry it out. This may seem obvious, but witnessing the pain of those who consistently demand punishment (often vengeance) with no control over its possible enactment, illuminates the vanity of impractical punishment decisions. This is especially true when the offender is in the hands of the legal system. It is in this context that the mediation activities of VOMA (cited earlier) are helpful.
Generally, the purpose of punishment is to prevent undesirable behavior, with emphasis on two words: “undesirable” and “behavior.” It is important for clients to decide whether behavioral regulation is their major goal, as compared, perhaps, to a change in emotional relationship with the offender. Of further importance is considering whether the focus is best placed on reacting to events in the past, or encouraging positive healthy development in the future.
While each case is different, there are some guidelines that can be applied in considering the punishment option. (1) It should be possible to specify the expected end result of the punishment. That is, be clear about the effect one expects as a result of the punishment. (2) It should be within the control of the potential punisher to carry it out. (3) The criterion for termination of the punishment should be defined. (4) The punisher must be prepared to pay the price of the punishment. (5) Careful consideration should indicate that this is the best possible option for gaining the desired result.
Joyce, for example, some time after cutting her son out of her will, did enjoy a reconciliation. The woman who deprived her son of the use of her car for two weeks had to put up with his angry sulking. Presumably, however, the (p. 107 ) gas-buying behavior improved in the future. In either of these situations, there is no way of knowing whether a less punitive approach might have been less stressful yet still effective. Noting that these are both family situations, a long history of relationship may have contributed to a successful end result. It is wise to avoid attributing the successful outcome simply to the punishment.
The same guidelines apply when clients seek self-forgiveness where appropriate guilt is identified. Self-forgiveness may differ from other-forgiveness in that the individual can demand of him- or herself full confession, apology, and restitution. Atonement may be sufficient within the client's moral base, perhaps requiring a working through with a member of the clergy or other appropriate representative of the clients faith community.
These criteria are intended clearly to discriminate punishment from vengeance, an emotional reaction that, centering on the past, seeks only pleasure in witnessing the offender's pain.
Choosing Not to Punish: The Mercy Option
The decision not to punish may follow punishment whose goals have been met. This option may also apply without any prior punishment. The nonpunishment option may be chosen by men like Bishop Tutu (1991) or Donald Shriver (1995) in the tradition of those who recognize the danger to community of self-perpetuating vengeance (e.g., Van Ness & Strong, 2001). Individuals, especially those working on situations with family or friends, may similarly recognize that punishment will create unacceptable damage to their community.
Nonpunishment generally does not mean nonaction. Positive action may range from a healing conversation with an offending friend to a mediated visit with an imprisoned murderer. As in the choice of punishment, there are some guidelines that can be applied in considering the nonpunishment option. (1) It should be possible to specify the expected end result of the action taken. That is, be clear about the effect expected as a result of the chosen action. (2) It should be within the control of the potential forgiver to carry out the plan. (3) The criterion for determining the effectiveness of the action should be defined. (4) The forgiver must be prepared to pay the price of the action taken. (5) Careful consideration should indicate that this is the best possible option for gaining the desired result.
As in the case of punishment, it is wise to avoid attributing results to a simple choice of the nonpunishment option. Just as the examples of Joyce and of the car-lending mother do not prove the greater effectiveness of punishment, so too to attribute “Wild Bill's” health to his quick forgiveness of the Nazi murderers fails to consider the myriad of factors involved in his situation. He may, for example, have learned the futility of remaining stressed about something which could not be undone, and chosen to focus on what he could control. Perhaps he was better able than some to divorce grief from anger.
(p. 108 ) The choice is individual. As in all therapy, we cannot know what the result would have been if different options had been chosen. All we can do is provide the best counseling possible geared to an effective resolution for the client.
Emotional Relief Cannot Be Timed
There is no fixed elapsed time between decision/action and emotional relief, but there are possible measures one might take to help in the process. Support groups or supportive friends may, for example, ease the stress of waiting. “Practicing” forgiveness on a daily basis in controlling road rage or waiting in grocery lines may increase the sense of control over life. For some, prayer or meditation are useful, or practicing the productive use of anger. (See Affinito, 1999, pp. 183–197.)
The point is, there is no recipe for forgiveness counseling. It is a long, hard process of decision making. As Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) maintain, forgiveness is more than just an act, without emotional and moral depth. “The act of forgiving eventually may form a part of the person's identity as he or she practices forgiveness, knows it is good, and realizes that forgiveness is not some quality that exists independently of the self or event outside the self but is part of who one is. At this point, forgiveness ceases to be only an act that one performs and becomes part of the moral self” (p. 256). It is my position that the process of arriving at a forgiveness decision as outlined in my definition accomplishes exactly this.
Within the context of my definition, I confess to being an advocate of forgiveness, it requires a careful consideration of the issue of justice within the context of the client's well-being in relation to his or her morality and larger community. The person who gains most from forgiving is the forgiver, with energy released to build a healthier, more loving, life. Probably the only reason to reject forgiveness is in order to serve justice by choosing to punish wrongdoers.
Murphy (2002) questions whether someone with a strong commitment to retributive justice should be doing forgiveness counseling. I would argue that retributive justice is destructive when it contributes to self-perpetuating vengeance. On the other hand, there is a case against forgiveness, as in the work of those who serve justice by pursuing punishment for offenders who threaten the social good.
Two questions are appropriate here: What is gained by resentment without action? What is gained by wishing perpetual misery on repentant sinners? I suspect that someone who harbors a sense of satisfaction in someone else's misery, for whatever reason, may not be the best qualified to counsel those with forgiveness issues. At the same time, those who cannot tolerate punishment as an option are equally disqualified.
(p. 109 ) Cautions
To conclude that there can be no relief unless the offender confesses, asks forgiveness, and atones is poor therapy and of questionable morality, because it leaves clients in a state of helpless dependence on the person or persons who offended them in the first place. In effect it becomes a secondary offense. One of the costs of the offense has been loss of control for the victim, a control which cannot be regained if the sufferer depends for resolution on the behavior of a nonrespondent or perhaps even dead, gone, or unknown offender.
If a goal of counseling is to increase mental health, facilitate the ability to deal realistically and comfortably with the problems of ourselves and our life situations, and live more adequately and productively as responsible members of the community, then forgiving is worthy of consideration as an option. It requires the ability to place blame squarely and accurately where it belongs, accept responsibility for our own behavior and moral position, and assess carefully the impact of our forgiveness decision not only on our own peace of mind but also on justice.
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(1.) Pathways, edited by Wilma Derksen, is available from 134 Plaza Drive, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T SK9, Canada.
(2.) Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), P.O. Box 541688, Irving, Texas 75354–1688 (tel. 214–744–6233); Victim Offenders Mediation Association (VOMA), 143 Canal Street, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168.
(3.) A Course in Miracles is a motivational course developed by the staff of the Foundation for Inner Peace (New York: Viking Penguin). It is described as follows by Jampolsky (1979): “A Course in Miracles consists of a 622 page text, a 478 page Workbook for Students with 365 lessons and an 88 page Manual for Teachers. The Course extensively develops the material presented here, plus additional related concepts, all in a spiritual context.” The Foundation for Inner Peace address is P.O. Box 598, Mill Valley, CA 94942–0598.