Author Archive: directorifi
Is excessive anger the only serious concern with a lack of forgiveness? What about sadness or grief?
You are correct that a person may experience sadness or grief rather than or in addition to anger when treated very unfairly by others. As documented in the book, Forgiveness Therapy (2024) by Enright and Fitzgibbons, it is excessive anger in particular (the kind of anger that is intense and long lasting) that can lead, over time, to psychological compromise such as anxiety and depression. So, from a mental health standpoint, it is the excessive anger that is of primary concern and in need of amelioration.
If my motivation is to reduce my rage toward the one who was really unfair to me and if I am not getting any relief, then is this a good reason to abandon the quest to forgive this person?
If you are struggling with offering forgiveness, you certainly can take a break for a while and refresh before trying again. Yet, please keep in mind that the essence of forgiveness is to be merciful toward the offending person and so you still can continue with the forgiveness process regardless of your own psychological improvement. Please keep in mind that it can take time for psychological improvement to occur when you forgive, especially when you are deeply hurt. Therefore, you may need patience and time before you experience the psychological improvement. Thus, you can forgive as you remain psychologically challenged and then hope for such improvement within yourself as you engage in the forgiveness process.
The victim being healed is a consequence of forgiving. Forgiveness itself is the merciful reaching out to the offending person in terms of how you think about this person, how you feel about this person, and how you would behave toward this person (if it is safe to interact with this person).
Is it wrong to want to forgive someone by making the decision to help yourself to be freed from the rage and resentment? Or, is forgiveness only legitimate if you do it for the offending person?
We need to make a distinction between what forgiveness is and what are motivations for forgiving. When a person, who was treated unjustly, has the goal of reducing rage, this is a legitimate motivation. At the same time, forgiveness itself, as a moral virtue, is for the one who offended. So, as you appropriate forgiveness, you are doing your best to reach out to the other with kindness, respect, generosity, and even love. Your motivation for doing so may be to help yourself to heal emotionally. Further, this motivation eventually can change toward wanting the best for the one who offended.
In recent months, the theme of suffering and finding meaning in that suffering has emerged more and more because of current events in the world, including the conflicts in Ukraine, in Israel and Gaza, and in Nigeria as examples. To reflect on the importance of finding meaning in suffering, we are reposting an essay first published here at the International Forgiveness Institute on October 15, 2013:
Let us start with the prophetic words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as he mourns the passing of Lady Macbeth in Act 5, Scene 5:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
There is no meaning in life and therefore there is no meaning in suffering. To live and to suffer are meaningless. Yet, experience tells us that this kind of thinking is a dangerous illusion. Did Martin Luther King, Jr. have no meaning when he wrote his Letter from the Birmingham jail? Did Maximilian Kolbe see no meaning in life when he asked the Nazis to let him take the place of a condemned man who had a family? Whether one’s beliefs are in God or in random variations generated by mutations, we are either made for or have evolved toward finding meaning in our life. The skeptic would say that my point is a happy illusion: Yes, we need to believe this, but we do so just to stay alive; it is adaptive to think fairytale thoughts.
Yet, what else in nature can you identify that is so very important and at the same time is an illusion? I can think of nothing. If finding and having meaning is tied to our well-being, then there must be something to it. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived Auschwitz (which Maximilian Kolbe chose not to survive for a higher good of protecting another person), observed this: Only those who survived Auschwitz found meaning in the profound suffering endured there. Those who found meaninglessness died. Finding meaning in this case was tied to positive, concrete outcomes. There was a need (to find meaning) that was fulfilled (surviving and even thriving). Can you think of any other real need that is not tied to something real that can fulfill it? If not, then it seems reasonable to say that we have real needs with real fulfillments and finding meaning and achieving the state of thriving are concretely, really linked together without illusion.
When we are treated deeply unjustly by others, we suffer. If we have come, through wisdom, to know the meaning of life, then we will find meaning in our suffering. If we find meaning in both life and suffering, we have the foundation to forgive well and to survive well the cruelty against us.
Sound and fury, signifying nothing? Please be careful in so concluding.