Ask Dr. Forgiveness
Discipline can include pardoning a child on occasion. For example, suppose you tell the child to stay in his bedroom for a half hour because he hit his brother. After 20 minutes you can go into the room and let the child know that you will not be asking him to spend the rest of the half hour in the room. You can say, by way of instruction, that you are showing mercy on the child. Mercy is going beyond what is fair. You then could ask that child to go and have mercy on his sibling, the one whom he had hit earlier. Pardon and forgiveness are not the same thing, but they are related. As another example, you can discipline a child and tell her this, “Even though I am sending you to your room and even though I am disappointed in what you did, I still very much love you as a person, as my child.” You are acknowledging her inherent worth as a person despite your being angry at the moment.
Most people do find it more difficult to forgive family members because they are the ones who are supposed to be loyal toward and loving with you. When that expectation is broken, then it is hard to forgive especially if the forgiver has not had much practice in forgiving.
What are some techniques you would recommend for making a person more aware of their inner sense of anger and the depth of that anger?
First, I would not rush this, but be patient with the person. Sometimes a person puts up the psychological defenses of suppression, repression, and/or denial for a good reason. The person may need some time, for example, to get used to what happened before starting on the journey toward emotional healing. When the person is ready, you first can work with him or her to make that which is unconscious (repressed or denied, for example) now conscious. What helps is this: If the person has the safety net of forgiveness and knows that he or she can confront and eliminate that anger, then the person is less likely to fear the uncovering of that emotion.
Another technique is to make the person aware of his or her inner pain as a result of an injustice. If the person can look within courageously and see how much pain is in there, then he or she may be motivated to get rid of that pain. The first step is to examine the pain and label it. Are you in mourning only? Are you angry? Are you perhaps even furious? The diagnosis helps the person see the amount of forgiveness work necessary now to heal.
You talk of making people aware of their negative emotions prior to starting the forgiveness process. Isn’t it the case that some people just repress their anger or what I call compartmentalize it? Can’t we just let them do this without making them be aware of their bitterness or anger?
If someone repressed their anger, then they often will not think that they have anything to forgive. “Why should I forgive? I am over the hurt. The person really did not hurt me all that much.” A person who has repressed anger is not giving herself the opportunity to get rid of that anger and if it is very deep anger it could develop eventually into anxiety and psychological depression. It is because of these consequences of holding onto repressed anger that it is better to try to bring it to the surface and deal with it through forgiveness if someone has been cruel and therefore is the cause of the anger.
In my attempts to forgive, I try to respond with empathy and compassion to the one who hurt me. Is it possible to have such deep empathy and compassion that these qualities just abide in a person and are there, to be appropriated, any time and any place for any person and for any reason?
Yes, it is possible to carefully cultivate the qualities of empathy and compassion so that they are part of who you are as a person. I call it becoming “forgivingly fit.” It takes practice and then even more practice over years to develop such a deep, abiding sense of these qualities. As a motivation for you to so cultivate these, I have a chapter in the book, The Forgiving Life, in which I challenge the reader to leave a legacy of love in this world. To do so requires conscious effort and time so that you leave more love than anger in this challenging world when you die. If you have this legacy as a goal, it may be easier to stay at the task of practicing daily the qualities of empathy and compassion.