Ask Dr. Forgiveness

What is the difference between letting go of your anger and forgiving a person?

When we forgive, we tend to let go of most or sometimes all of our anger. When we let go of our anger we do not necessarily forgive. For example, we can let go of anger and dismiss a person as unworthy of our respect or love. Forgiveness, on the other hand, strives to respect and love those who have hurt us. Forgiveness never condemns a person for an unjust act. At the same time, forgiveness does acknowledge unjust acts as wrong.

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When I was 16 I got pregnant to my 21 year old boyfriend and since the beginning my parents and family prohibited me to see him. I always had a grudge on them for being the reason my daughter ,now 3, doesn’t have a father figure in her life. I was previously under alot of emotional stress where I became suicidal and thank god I’m fine now but I still have that anger and grudge feeling, how can I her rid of it because I know that all they’ve done was be supportive but I don’t know how to forgive them.

First, I am sorry for your difficulties with your parents. This has been very hard on you. You are seeing that your parents and you have had different values regarding your seeing the father of your child. A key here is to see that both of you have good reasons for your decisions. In your case, you wanted your daughter to have a father. In your parents’ case, they wanted to protect you. Your decision to forgive them is a good one because, as you know, your intention to have a father for your daughter is an honorable intention.

This decision to forgive is courageous and it may take some time. We have a step-by-step process for forgiving that is described in my new book, The Forgiving Life. Because you are raising a child alone, I would like to send you a free copy of that book. If you feel comfortable doing so, please leave your mailing address with our director (director@internationalforgiveness.com). I will see to it personally that you receive the free copy of the book. As you read it, please ask questions here and we will help you.

Thank you for your courage.

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How do I know when and if I am forgiving? What does it feel like? I am a young woman from a normal (read: alcoholic, broken, etc.) family. Now, in times of stress, when I know I should forgive myself, or my partner, I feel only anger or numbness. I want peace, and I want to learn to forgive. Can you tell me where to start, and how i’ll know I’m forgiving? Thank you.

This is an important question. You will know that you have begun to forgive when you wish the other person well. This wishing-the-other-well may start as just a glimmer in your heart at first, but then it grows.

Anger is usually the place where forgiveness begins because when we forgive, we react to unfair treatment and our first reaction is likely to be anger or numbness, just as you describe. So, you are not alone in these feelings.

When you start a forgiveness process, please be aware that you are giving mercy to the one who hurt you. You are willing to get rid of resentment and to offer goodness of some kind to him or her. This takes time, so please be gentle with yourself.

As you continue to forgive, this idea of merciful goodness toward the one who was unfair builds and gives you a sense of hope and well-being. These feelings can be strong motivators to continue to forgive.

Do you have some sense of what forgiveness feels like? Please write again if you need more clarification.

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It seems to me that forgiveness is a good thing when someone has been really unfair to me. Yet, anger is a natural part of reacting to injustice. So, to forgive, does a person have to suppress anger? If so, then forgiveness seems like it is psychologically unhealthy.

When people forgive, the goal is to reduce or even eliminate the anger, not to suppress it. When we enter a forgiveness process, we look first at the anger, which is a way of acknowledging that anger, not suppressing it. Thus, when we forgive we acknowledge anger as a first step to reduce or even eliminate it. Forgiveness, then, is a healthy, not an unhealthy response.

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When I forgive, do I have to trust the other person, or are these different?

When a person forgives, he or she may or may not trust the other. It depends on the situation. For example, suppose your partner is a compulsive gambler who has squandered the family fortune. This is an offense for which you can forgive him or her. Yet, you can and should withhold trust in this one area of gambling until he or she proves trustworthy. Trust has to be earned by demonstrations and this can take time. The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation, which includes trust. Just to be clear, you can reconcile with a person and trust him or her in most things, with the understanding that work will be done in the one area that hurts the relationship.

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