Happiness in this World

Reflections of a Buddhist physician

How To Forgive Others

The other day I found myself thinking about what would happen if as an adult I encountered some of the children who terrorized me when I was in 7th grade (an experience I wrote about in an earlier post, Breaking Free Of The Past), wondering if I'd be able to forgive them for what they did to me. I'd like to think I would, but the truth is I'm not sure. Read More


Dr. Lickerman,

Interesting article. The level of forgiveness you write about is not just a Buddhist concept. In contextual therapy, forgiving your abuser is considered to be an important piece of the healing process. I find this part to be the toughest hurdle for the traumatized and abused. I see how holding onto the rage only keeps you closer to your abuser. At the same time, I think it can be tricky to ask someone whom has been deeply violated to open their hearts to their abuser. I understand that in Buddhism there is a move toward oneness, and I think this concept is beautiful. I wonder, however, if anger doesn't initially serve an important role in helping the abused to separate and create appropriate and healthy boundaries. What do you think?

Again, thank you for your thoughtful writing.

I very much agree anger as an

I very much agree anger as an initial response can be healthy and appropriate, anger at the injustice of a violation. But as you point out, clinging to that anger too long can become a link that holds victims to abusers and poisons the victim's life. It seems to me the goal is for the victim to become so healed he or she can forgive, that forgiveness may be a marker of healing rather than a path to it.

Buddhist teaching

That reminds me of the buddhist teaching:

"Two Buddhist Monks were on a journey, one was a senior monk, the other a junior monk. During their journey they approached a raging river and on the river bank stood a young lady. She was clearly concerned about how she would get to the other side of the river without drowning.

The junior monk walked straight past her without giving it a thought and he crossed the river. The senior monk picked up the woman and carried her across the river. He placed her down, they parted ways with woman and on they went with the journey.

As the journey went on, the senior monk could see some concern on the junior monk's mind, he asked what was wrong. The junior monk replied, “how could you carry her like that? You know we can't touch women, it's against our way of life”. The senior monk answered, “I left the woman at the rivers edge a long way back, why are you still carrying her?”
thanks ;),

As an adult,I found this

As an adult,I found this article very enlightening. The problem is that my daughter who is 13 and just completing 7th grade cannot even begin to fathom the idea of forgiving the students that have been harassing her for the last 4 years. This year has been the worst. How can I get her to even try forgiveness?? She has lost all self-esteem, is always angry, and truely has no friends left at all. She used to be very outgoing and friendly. How can I help her to let go of the anger? I plan on putting our house on the market and moving, because I believe she needs a new beginning - but I am worried that the anger and low self-esteem will affect future friendships.

Such a difficult situation.

Such a difficult situation. You have my great sympathy, having gone through the exact same situation. The forgiveness I wrote about indeed came to me only years later after I matured and developed a sense of personal empowerment that enabled me to forgive my tormentors.

I think the answer lies in finding a way to make your daughter feel empowered. No easy task. Moving might indeed help, but as you rightly point out, damage has been done, and if she takes her current anger and low self-esteem into a new environment, she may be more likely to recreate the same scenario, just with different people.

I would suggest therapy, frankly, aimed at developing her internal sense of strength. Letting go of her anger at this point in her life is likely premature and even encouraging her to do so may be counterproductive. She needs to feel a sense of self-efficacy and power over her life, which undoubtedly she currently feels little.

Best of luck. A truly challenging situation.

I would like to update you on

I would like to update you on my daughter’s situation. She is now 15 years old and a freshman in high school. We never did move and so she is still in school with all of her tormentors. But she has survived. No, she has overcome. Your advice of getting her a sense of empowerment was right on. It was actually something that I had already been working on. I was not working and I was able to do things for her that would have been difficult otherwise, as it was something that really took some dedication and time. I had her involved in extra-curricular activities outside of her own school. I believe that the best thing I did was to enroll her into a community theatre group during her summers. She needed to be involved with other kids who were not aware of her ‘real life’. She has made some enduring friendships there which have empowered and bolstered her self-esteem and confidence. You also mentioned therapy, which she had been in since she was 10. I have to say that the therapy did not help as much as her involvement with other kids. Today, my girl is happy and has many of her old friends back and many new ones. Several kids have apologized to her over the last year and a half. And she says - “I have forgiven most of them”. I cannot tell you how proud of her I am. I thought that I had lost that smiling, happy little girl forever, and I was afraid that she would be forever scarred. She says what she has been through has made her stronger. I must say that it was not an easy process and it was a very long 5 years, but my hope is that her story can help others in this type of situation.

That is just awesome! Thank

That is just awesome! Thank you so much for sharing your story!

I find that the anger seems

I find that the anger seems to seep away easily once I'm far enough from the experience but the pain and hurt linger THOSE are the things that keep me thinking about the situation(s).

Spirit of Peace

I was asked by my Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ through Prophets to seek forgiveness for what numerous people have done to me. He wants me to heal. How do I do that when I feel my own country betrayed me? Terrorized, harassed, violated me and allowed criminals to perform a war crime Against the International Geneva Convention. How do I do that? I'm trying because I know I want to please my loving God. But its a daily struggle.

I believe the power of

I believe the power of forgiveness is very big and I trust you've already forgave your colleagues for hurting you. You are a Buddhist and Buddha Maitreya is all about forgiveness, wisdom and tolerance.

How do I know I have really forgiven?

I have a situation with my daughter that over the years has become a nightmare and several instances have arisen where she has caused me and my family great pain. I am trying desperately to forgive, but I do not ever want her back in my life. How do I know for certain that I have forgiven her? Is it possible to forgive without allowing her to hurt me and my family again?

So sorry to hear about your

So sorry to hear about your situation with your daughter. Forgiveness doesn't imply one must collapse one's boundaries. Forgiveness occurs in one's own heart. Communicating it to the person one forgives may sometimes be incidental or unnecessary or even unwise. Just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you're required to allow them back into your life in the same way they were present in it when they harmed you. You can forgive her by manifesting a life-condition yourself in which you feel so strong that you're able to grasp the perspective that even those who hurt you are worthy of compassion and love. That anyone who intentionally hurts another is herself more confused than malevolent—admittedly not an easy perspective to grasp, but one a Buddha lives.

Thank you for replying

Dr. Lickerman,
Thank you so much for your reply. It is exactly what I needed. I think I just needed someone to verify for me that forgiveness doesn't mean inviting more pain. Your answer gave me great peace. Thanks again for taking the time to care.

You're so very welcome.

You're so very welcome.

Unable to forgive though I know I could one day...

How do you know they are not truly malevolent in nature despite their promisies to not do the same thing again and again? And if they are why should i forgive? I guess to me forgiving in my situation would be giving in again to him and I just will not do it. Not now anyway.

My story...my husband hurt our child with intention and resentment to do harm. At the time he never even thought of the consequences of his act and that he hurt me and the family too by doing this to our child.I saw no remorse from him regarding this until I asked him about filing a police report.It just seems that now he is immensely remorseful all of a sudden and has seen the problems and pain he has been causing.

I elected to let him stay in our/my life but now I am regretting this more than if I had just told him to leave and started filing for a divorce. I've been with this man for 20 + years and I am trying to save this marriage but I do not want to fail my family again by letting him to continue to cause harm and would rather have nothing and no one than be constantly wondering if this will happen again.

I have not forgiven him but I harbor no anger or hate towards him. It's like Im more at the sad/deeply disappointed/not willing to trust him ever again stage. Right now he is sleeping in my daughters bed and she is sleeping with me in what was our bed. I have no desire to trust him again nor be intimate again. It just seems like I'm going through the motions but he has seen the light has apologized profusely and wants to be with us still.

I guess once bitten twice shy as my previous relationship had spousal abuse in it as well.It just seems so strange to hear the man who vehemently swore that he would never forgive me if I broke his trust, begging me to forgive him for his harmful intentions. I just will not do it.

Yes unfortnately for us both I do love him and he does love me. I already told him that if we can't work this out then were threw. He's willing of course to do anything. I'm just not sure if I even want to try. Suggestions?

I don't feel comfortable

I don't feel comfortable giving you any advice more specific than seek marriage counseling. If your husband harmed your child in a way that might require a police report, I would suggest your first duty is to do everything possible to keep your child safe.

"My story...my husband hurt

"My story...my husband hurt our child with intention and resentment to do harm."
The doctor is most certainly on firm ground about your first duty being to your child; in fact I'm quite surprised he is 'suggesting' it rather than stating it unequivocally.
do not let any man stay in your life who has intentionally harmed your child, even if he's the child's father.
If you do,
your child will live the rest of their life knowing their safety was not of primary importance in your decisions.
It will affect not only the child but also your grandchildren.
There are plenty of wonderful men in the world, but these are the only children we have.

Forgiveness for the present and the past

I'm in the midst of a divorce. I get along with my soon to be ex most of the time. Still, there are times, usually when I'm alone at home, when I start replaying all the slights from our marriage. It is during these times that I become angry and do not want to forgive him. I must admit that I do blame him for the demise of our marriage because he never wanted to go to marriage counseling. I just felt like he really did nothing to try and make our marriage work. This still angers me despite the fact that I now know that we couldn't work well as a couple. Also, I feel like I sacrificed so much, like leaving my family and friends. I feel like it was all for naught. Most days, I am fine with my divorce and I even like hanging around my husband. However, there is still sadness and anger that I had to go through this experience at all. In my head, I know I am not completely blameless for the demise of my marriage but I feel like I did so much to try to make things better and he never tried. How do I let this go and completely forgive him?


Ok, This is something that I am not good at. And its forgiving. I can say I am fine and let it go, but when I get angry I bring up the hurt he has put on me. For example my boyfriend has an ex, I can not say that I dont like her, for the only thing she has done wrong to me is try to ruin our relationship. It almost happened. Its like he is afraid to let go of her, therefore he can not stop talking to her. But as always there is a back story, I understand his point of view, and really that is all that matters. Either way the thing is I know that when I get angry because it feels like he wont stop talking to her, although I told him that it hurts me, and that I feel that you should only love one person in the relationship, and I have asked him to stop conversations. He says that he has, I feel like I can not believe him. Therefore when I think something is wrong I bring up that he may be talking to her. I want to forgive the lies, i want to forgive that he hurt me. I try to believe that he isnt speaking to her, but in a few months after she keeps emailing to call him, hes going to give right back in, and Icant do any thing.I guess its more than forgiving that I have to do. I just dont know what to do, I love him.

Sincerly confused.

You absolutely ARE excusing

You absolutely ARE excusing people for their actions if you forgive them, I don't understand why so many people think like this, so much so that I'm seen as the bad guy for wanting revenge against my former tormentors.

It sickens me to know that they're leading a normal life, all hunky f***ing dory, whilst leaving me a depressed, and angry wreck. It sickens me to see that they have girlfriends whilst I was robbed of any confidence to get one myself.

They DON'T deserve forgiveness, you are literally saying to them "it's ok what you did, carry on". One day I will find them and hurt them as bad as they did me, and I don't care what people think about that any more. Forgiveness is a pitiable weakness that actually perpetuates bullying, think about it, if there are no consequences for your vile actions then they will think it's ok to do it!


Lasse, you are misunderstanding what forgiveness is for. It is not for the person who hurt you. It is for you. Forgiveness allows me to move on. It takes away the hurt. It takes the responsibility off of me and puts it on them. The Bible says that when you pray for sinners, you are putting heaping coals on their head.

My desire to forgive is a desire to give myself peace. And I am happy to say that I have finally reached that stage. I am happy. I don't know whether people who have hurt me are happy, but that's not my problem and was never my goal. My goal was to (selfishly, maybe) make myself happy.

You should try to forgive and see how it makes you feel. Don't worry about those people. If you don't forgive, your bitterness will cause you all kinds of problems. For instance, did you know that many illnesses are caused by unforgiveness? It's true. You will be happier and healthier if you forgive those who hurt you.

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Alex Lickerman, M.D., is a general internist and former Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago and has been a practicing Buddhist since 1989.


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