I think that getting rid of one’s anger is not a good thing if the goal is to achieve justice. Don’t we need some anger as a motivator to get up and do something about continual put-downs by others?
Anger in the short run is seen as reasonable because the person is basically saying, “What you did was wrong. I am a person worthy of respect and that is what I am asking of you.” At the same time, if this anger stays with a person, deepens, and lasts for many months, it can be counter-productive. One then might demand too much from the other. One might turn the quest for justice into a motivation to seek revenge and hurt the other. So, we have to be careful when discussing the benefits of anger. There are such benefits in the short-run, but anger has a way of taking up residence in the human heart if we are not careful and thus the one harboring the anger can be damaged.
Learn more at Why Forgive?
In my experience, I find that mental health professionals emphasize catharsis or “getting the anger off one’s chest.” I now am wondering if this is an incomplete approach to good treatment. What do you think?
Catharsis as the exclusive end in and of itself is not advised when the anger is deep and long-lasting. This is because the venting of anger does not cure the anger in the vast majority of cases. Taking some time to be aware of the anger, and the expression of it within temperate (reasonable) bounds in the short-run, can help the client to be aware of the depth of that anger. The cure for the anger, in other words the deep reduction in that anger, is forgiveness, shown scientifically to be the case (see Enright & Fitzgibbons, Forgiveness Therapy, 2015).
In your book with Dr. Fitzgibbons, Forgiveness Therapy (2015), you focus on the initial emotional reaction as unhealthy anger. I feel more sad than angry and so I am wondering why such a heavy emphasis on anger in particular.
In our experience, we do see that some people present with anger, some with confusion, some with mild anger, and some with a burning hatred. So, you are correct that anger is not the exclusive presenting emotion. Yet, it is excessive anger that most concerns us because of the scientifically-supported relationship between deep, abiding anger (unhealthy anger) and the development of other psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. See for example, Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., Valdivieso, I., Leibenluft, E., & Stringaris, A. (2016). The status of irritability in psychiatry: A conceptual and quantitative review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 55, 556-570. When a client presents with a pattern of unhealthy anger because of unjust treatment by others, and if the person chooses to forgive, we do recommend Forgiveness Therapy as the treatment approach so that psychological symptoms can decrease.
If I practice forgiveness a lot, will I become faster at reaching an endpoint of forgiving, or will this depend on the severity of the injustice against me?
In my own experience with others, I see that as people practice forgiveness, they actually do become what I call “expert forgivers” in that they forgive more quickly and more deeply than was the case in the past. At the same time, if the current injustice is severe, this will take longer to forgive the one who perpetrated this severe injustice. Even if it takes you longer now to forgive people for recent severe injustices against you, the length of your forgiving still likely will be shorter than it might have been years ago, when you were just starting to learn about forgiveness.
For additional information, see The Forgiving Life.
I have been taught to forgive since I was a child. I think I am pretty good at it now. Recently, I have hit a road block and I just can’t seem to forgive a particular person. Given all of my experience with forgiving, since childhood, I am perplexed about my inability to forgive now. Help!
Because you have not described the current injustice, I am not able to say for sure, but I do have this question for you: How severe is the current injustice relative to all others you have faced in your life? If it is very severe, then please note that your forgiving this particular person may take more time and effort. This is ok. It does not mean that you are unforgiving. Please note that forgiveness is a process that can take months if the injustice is severe and if it is recent. Try to take the time to examine this person from what I call the personal, global, and cosmic perspectives in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. Taking time with these perspectives may help you in moving forward with your forgiveness of this person.