“Forgiveness is not the Same as Trust,” Says Dr. Frank Fincham

This post is fourth in a series of videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains tidbits of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advice on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and  your family live better lives.

If you’ve ever been the victim in a hurtful incident or relationship, you’re probably familiar with the miasma of emotions they can kindle. How to handle them often seems unclear. Dr. Frank Fincham, in a 2013 BYU lecture, provided some powerful, research-backed words of advice and direction: “You the victim have a right to feel resentful,” he said, “but forgiveness involves working through, not avoiding that emotional pain. Hence, the Mahatmas [Gandhi] statement: ‘the weak can never forgive; forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” Because you have to work through the emotional pain, you have to be strong to forgive.”

As the holder of a Rhodes Scholar doctoral degree in social psychology from Oxford University, then a professor and director of clinical training at the University of Illinois, a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo, and an Eminent Scholar and Director of the Family Institute at The Florida State University, as well as an award-winning author of more than 250 publications about personal relationships and a Fellow of five different professional societies, he spoke with authority on the subject of forgiveness. His lecture was the ninth in a series of annual lectures honoring the legacy of Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of former president of the LDS Church Gordon B. Hinckley.

“We do our forgiving alone inside our hearts and minds,” Fincham continued. “What happens to the people we forgive depends on them. When we are forgiven, remember that doesn’t put us back to the same status we had with the person. That’s why forgiving is not the same as trusting the person again; you forgive them, then they have to behave in a way that earns your trust back. Forgiveness is not the same as denial or foolishness; you may forgive someone and yet protect yourself from future harm by that person. So if you’re the victim of spousal abuse, you may forgive the abuser, [but] that doesn’t mean you run back and put yourself in danger. That is foolishness…not forgiveness. You can forgive and keep your distance, and then when it is safe and prudent, you may or may not choose to reconcile with him or her. If you’re in a relationship where there’s consistent hurt all the time, then forgiveness doesn’t involve forgiveness of a specific hurt, it involves forgiveness for a hurtful relationship, and maybe the grounds for your thinking very seriously about whether this is a relationship that should continue.”

Watch these highlights here in the two-minute video below, or catch the full lecture here.

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