Archive for November, 2023

When I forgive someone, I discover that my anger is never truly over. In other words, I can wake up weeks later and feel the same level of anger. This is starting to get depressing. How can I let go of my anger so that it doesn’t come back?

We all forgive imperfectly because we are imperfect human beings. After experiencing severe hurt, we can have our anger lessen, but occasionally it flares up again when we are reminded of the offending party and the unfair event. Please understand that this is normal. I want to encourage you by telling you that people tell me that when they practice forgiveness, the anger returns, but it comes back milder than before. When you revisit forgiveness toward someone you have already forgiven, you might notice that the process goes more quickly and thoroughly than it did the last time around as you continue to practice forgiveness toward new people and new injustices. Welcome to the group of flawed individuals, then. When the anger flares up again, go back to forgiveness.  By doing this, you’ll take charge of your anger instead of letting it control you.

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To be honest with you, I fear my anger, even though I know that in order to forgive, I must face my anger toward the person who wronged me. Because the person who hurt me was so cruel, repeatedly, I’m afraid I might lose control. I dislike being afraid of myself. Please assist me in getting over this.

First of all, you should acknowledge one very positive thing: you know that you are furious. Some people try to hide how angry they are, which makes it harder to let go of the anger. Ultimately, if you are diminishing the anger, how can you lessen it? What should you do if you have a deep cut on your arm and you’re worried about getting an infection? Your fear is impeding healing if it hinders you to the point where you are unable to clean the wound and apply an antibiotic. Anger and injustices work similarly. More often than not, the issue is not anger itself, but rather fear of anger.

Please remember that forgiveness is a kind of antiseptic, a kind of cleansing agent that you do have against toxic anger. You will notice that the anger lessens as you continue to practice forgiveness. You have forgiveness to support you once more, even if the anger reappears. As your forgiveness improves through practice, you’ll find that you have less fear of your bad feelings because you’ll have a potent remedy for them. Savor the purifying effects of forgiveness.

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Why is it important to use stories when working with primary school children on the theme of forgiveness?

The use of stories helps young students see how story characters work though conflict without putting any pressure on the students to start forgiving others.  After all, forgiveness education is not forgiveness therapy and so class instruction in schools needs to start with understanding what forgiveness is, what it is not, how people go about it, and what happens when people forgive.  If students are then drawn to the beauty of forgiveness, it is their choice to do so in the classroom and on the playground when other students behave unfairly.

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I am kind of confused by your call for taking the perspective of the one who wounded me.  If I “step inside the shoes” of this person by inducing empathy, might this lead to my justifying this person’s behavior?  Aren’t I just giving this person a “way out” by such an approach?

Actually, no, this approach should not lead to you excusing the other person’s behavior.  This is the case because, in our Process Model of Forgiveness, we start by seeing the other person’s injustice and we label that injustice as wrong.  So, when we take the other’s perspective, we are doing this as we acknowledge that what the other did was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong.  If we did not do that, then yes, there could be a misunderstanding by the forgiver that what the other did was not so bad under the circumstances.  This is why it is very important, early in forgiving, to label the injustice as unfair and explain to the forgiver that forgiveness does not include an excusing of this behavior.  Our response in forgiving is to change our view of the person without changing the understanding of what happened to us.

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Upon reflection, I realize that I have a long list of people I need to forgive, spanning from my early years to the present day of my adult life. Everything looks so overwhelming. Who should I start with, and why? How do I organize myself while forgiving in this way?

This is a typical and significant inquiry. It is important since it is challenging to arrange all of these details. I walk you through this process of organizing in the way you want in my book, The Forgiving Life, especially in Chapters 8 and 9.

Here is a summary of those chapters: Make a list of all the family members who have harmed you. Make a list of all the instances in which they treated you unjustly. Next go on to experiences with classmates during elementary school, then adolescence, and finally adulthood with relationships and employment. As accurately as you can, enumerate every instance of significant injustice.

Start with your family of origin (where you grew up) as that is where your personal behavioral pattern may have been formed. It is not advisable for you to start forgiving the one person for the one thing that you found most difficult. Before going up the hurt-scale to the one person and one event that hurt you the most, start small and practice forgiveness. Next, proceed to schooling or your peer group, depending on which one most needs your forgiveness, and repeat the same process. Work up to the bigger problems by starting with the smaller ones. You will eventually reach a point in time when you might need to extend forgiveness to a spouse or other close relative who have deeply hurt you. Because of all of your previous forgiveness work, you will already be strengthened, so this new task won’t be as difficult as it could have been if you hadn’t first developed your capacity for forgiveness by forgiving other people for lesser injustices.

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