Ask Dr. Forgiveness
Can I be perfectly fine without forgiving a person who acted unjustly against me? In other words, can the anger just vanish?
We have to make a distinction between healthy anger and unhealthy anger. Healthy anger occurs as a short-term reaction to others’ unfairness. The anger emerges because the one being treated unfairly knows that all people are worthy of respect, even oneself. Unhealthy anger occurs when the initial reaction of healthy anger does not end, but intensifies and remains in the person’s heart for months or even many years. At that point, the anger can have quite negative effects on one’s energy, ability to concentrate, and on one’s overall well-being. Healthy anger is normal. Unhealthy anger needs attention and amelioration.
In your experience, are people more critical of others who are unjust or of themselves when they break their own standards?
I find that people are more critical of themselves than they are of others. Many people find it difficult to welcome themselves back into the human community once they have behaved badly. I discuss this issue in a Psychology Today blog centered on self-loathing here:
In the past, I used to engage in what the expression is called “killing them with kindness.” It actually has been my mode of revenge, as I harbored deep anger while faking kindness. Is it possible to transition from fake kindness to the real thing?
Yes, it definitely is possible to change from a fake kindness to genuine kindness. We have thinking exercises in which we ask the one who is forgiving to see the struggles in the one who acted unfairly. Oftentimes, a person who is cruel to others has a history of being abused. Such an insight within the one who forgives (toward the one who was unfair) is not fostered to excuse the unjust behavior, but instead to see a genuine person, a hurting person, who is engaging in the injustice. As you begin to see a genuine person, one who has wounds and may be confused and frustrated, then a genuine sense of kindness toward that person can emerge. It takes time and so please be gently with yourself as you examine the true personhood of the other.
What do you suggest I do when trying to help a friend start the forgiveness process so that she does not feel personally condemned? In other words, the person might reason this way: Why is she suggesting this to me? Do I appear overly angry or something?
A key is to realize that forgiveness is a choice and so you can start by gently having a conversation about your friend’s inner world relative to the injustice(s) against her. Is she having emotional discomfort? Is she restless because of too much anger? Inner pain can be a great motivator for change. If she tells you that her inner world is not healthy, then your providing a possible solution in forgiving may get her attention. You will be able to ascertain her interest if she wants to discuss a solution to her inner pain. At that point you can suggest forgiveness, but please be sure to discuss what forgiveness both is (a moral virtue of being good to those who are not good to you) and what it is not (it is not excusing, forgetting, necessarily reconciling, or abandoning justice).