Ask Dr. Forgiveness

I have an anger problem. I can go on and on when someone frustrates me. I have tried forgiving but it does not seem to be helping my anger issue. Any suggestions?

Think of anger as multi-layered. Suppose, as an example, that you have five layers of anger: 1) you are angry with your mother for shaming you many times when you were a child; 2) you are angry at the one who bullied you in middle school; 3) you are angry at something your boss did last week; 4) you are angry with your partner today for being insensitive; and 5) you are angry with your child today for showing disrespect.

Now, suppose you forgive your child for the disrespect, but you are still angry with your partner. This issue with the partner could spill over into your relationship with your child so that you “go on and on” with your already-forgiven child. The reason for your continued anger may center in your unforgiveness toward your partner.

At the very heart of the matter might be this: You still harbor resentment toward your mother for injustices that happened years ago. So, to benefit (with anger reduction), you may have to take an inventory of all who still need your forgiveness. Start with the smaller issues and work up to the big ones. Forgive each person for their injustices. Wipe the resentment slate clean. This should greatly reduce your anger. This approach is considered in a deliberate and systematic way in my new book,??The Forgiving Life, available in our Store.

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I am a homeschooling mom with a 6-year-old. I am interested in incorporating forgiveness into the curriculum. What would you recommend? How often would you recommend that we discuss forgiveness?

We have a wide selection of comprehensive, easy-to-use forgiveness curriculum guides for you in the Store section of this website. These range from pre-kindergarten (age 4) through grade 10 (age 15). We have written each guide so that the teacher, in this case you, can spend about one hour per week for about 12 to 15 weeks on forgiveness themes. The forgiveness curricula center on popular literature that should hold your child’s interest, such as Dr. Seuss books in grade 1 (age 6). You can read the first chapter of one of the guides in our Store.

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I am a product of the 1970’s when strong women were encouraged to assert themselves. I can’t say that I bought into all the hype, but a part of that is still with me. When I think of being assertive and forgiving at the same time, they seem at odds with each other. Can one forgive and be assertive at the same time?

Yes, one can be assertive and forgive at the same time. When you forgive, please realize that you should not ignore justice. Forgive and stand up for yourself. Yet, if you can practice forgiveness first and let some of your anger subside (if you are angry in these kinds of situations), then your assertiveness through justice-seeking is likely to be better. In other words, you are more likely to ask for only that which is necessary and not, out of anger, take a “pound of flesh” from the other person. When we are less angry we are likely to be more civil.

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I have seen that various groups have a “forgiveness day.” What is your opinion of that? Can we forgive in a day?

The idea of a Forgiveness Day, I think, is simply to bring awareness to people of the importance of forgiving. If people begin to think that they can wrap up all of their resentments in one grand, 24-hour effort to forgive all people for all offenses, I think this is unrealistic. Forgiveness is a process that can take time (weeks or months) and all who promote forgiveness days should make that clear.

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Six years ago, when I met my boyfriend, a woman who is his ‘best friend’ (they had dated when they were 17) tried to break us up. We are now 32. There has been a pattern of her trying to break us up, but she has never succeeded. Yet, in a way maybe she has succeeded. My boyfriend and I now have an issue of trust because we have broken up and gotten back together several times. The latest incident is causing serious problems. She apologized to me in an email. After a month I responded saying this, “‘Thanks for your apology, however, this is a process for me…maybe the future will bring something better.” I was sincere in this response. I tried to forgive, especially for my benefit because I know the anger is harmful for me, but I could not get the slightest grasp of it concerning her. A half hour after I sent this, she texted my boyfriend saying, ‘”Is she serious?! I’m trying to be nice and give HER a chance, I put my heart and soul into that apology! I did this all for you! You’re going to throw away a 16 year friendship for this chick?!” I am angrier than ever, and so much further from being able to forgive her. While it’s true that I do love to hate her I also don’t want to continue to carry all this anger and resentment inside me. I am at a loss of how to move forward here. They haven’t spoken since, but we both know its only a matter of time before she gets desperate enough to try some new tactic of manipulating her way back into his life. I need to find a way to truly forgive, for myself, and it just seems like such an impossible concept!!! Any suggestions?

There are two major issues here: 1) Your possibly forgiving your boyfriend’s friend of 16 years; and, 2) you being protected from her “manipulations” as you call them. Let us start with this second issue. Your boyfriend needs to know clearly that you need protection from his friend. I suggest that you show him this response so that he can see the seriousness of this.

I repeat: You need to be protected from his friend and he has to help you. Your relationship is the first priority here, not his friendship with her. Your boyfriend has to see the destructive pattern created by his friend, who seems to have strong feelings for your boyfriend. She seems jealous, and her pattern of showing the jealousy is harmful. You say that you both know she will be manipulative again. Together you should both be ready for this and openly communicate with each other when you see this happening.

The next step concerns your boyfriend and his friend. The issue is one of justice, not forgiveness. If—if—they are to have a friendship, certain conditions must be met: 1) She must understand that she is being manipulative; 2) She must be honest about her feelings toward your boyfriend; 3) she has to commit to controlling those feelings; and 4) there will be no more manipulations toward you. Then and only then might your boyfriend and you consider reconciliation with her. If these conditions are not possible, then reconciliation is not recommended because you will suffer once again.

If reconciliation happens in this way so that you are protected, this may slowly increase your trust of your boyfriend. If the reconciliation does not happen because your boyfriend stands strong against the manipulations, this too may increase your trust toward him. After all, he is protecting you.

Regarding the issue of forgiveness, I recommend that you start small. Say to yourself, whenever you think of her and anger wells inside of you: “(Her name) is a person of worth, not because of what she has done, but in spite of that. I will try to see the humanity in her.”

Try to see the frustration and confusion that has caused her to suffer. She now is throwing that suffering onto you. As your boyfriend practices justice for your sake and you practice forgiveness toward her, your feelings of trust are likely to increase toward your boyfriend and your feelings of deep anger toward the friend are likely to decrease.

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