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.
I have tried and tried and tried to forgive a particular person, but to no avail. I still have anger. Should I move in a direction other than forgiveness?
You say that you still have anger. How much anger do you have relative to the amount of anger you had prior to forgiving? Forgiveness does not necessarily expunge all anger. A key is this: Is the anger controlling you or are you now in control of the anger? If the latter is the case, then you very well may be forgiving. As the late Lewis Smedes said, forgiveness is an imperfect act for imperfect people. You need not have perfect forgiveness in order to have accomplished it to some degree.
Yet, let us presume that you are not forgiving even though you have tried. If you still are motivate to forgive, you can start at the beginning of the forgiveness process and persevere with regard to this one person. As a final point, if you are having difficulty forgiving Person A, you might try first forgiving someone else, Person B. I suggest this because, for example, some people have trouble forgiving a partner if the partner’s behavior reminds them of one of their own parent’s behavior. Forgiving the parent first then frees the forgiver to have more success with forgiving the partner.
For additional information, see: Learning to Forgive Others.