I am not angry with the person who hurt me. Instead, I am sad. Can you differentiate anger and sadness in the forgiveness process?
People have different affective reactions when hurt by others. As you say, sometimes people respond with sadness, some with confusion, and some with anger. I focus on the theme of anger because that is the one emotion that can deepen and cause even greater pain than currently is the case. People who are sad can and should go through the forgiveness process if they so choose. Going though the forgiveness process should lessen the sadness, even if it will not eliminate the sadness entirely in all cases. People who are very angry and who have been so for a long time should especially think about forgiving as a protection for their own well-being, as well as for the possibility of a renewed relationship, if this is a goal. Deep and abiding anger has been shown to relate to a number of mental health challenges as seen in the book, Forgiveness Therapy by R. Enright and R. Fitzgibbons (2015).
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
I used to be a fan of forgiveness, but lately I have changed my mind. The forgiveness process has so much shaming in it: Forgive or you are a bad person; you have anger and because anger is unacceptable, then you are incompetent; others can forgive, but not you. Do you see the shaming here?
Yes, I do see the shaming, but in no case does the forgiveness process involve any of the statements in your question. No one passes judgement on one who is deciding whether or not to forgive. This is why I deliberately entitled my first self-help book as Forgiveness Is a Choice. I did not entitle it, Forgiveness Is a Demand or Else! Further, anger is a natural part of our response when treated unjustly. There is healthy and unhealthy anger. The healthy kind occurs shortly after an offense against people and shows them that they deserve to be treated better. The unhealthy kind is not a condemnation, but instead a sign that the person should begin to pay attention to that kind of anger that deepens and abides because it can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. If you go to the doctor for a sore knee, should you be condemned? If you have a broken heart in need of mending, should you be condemned? No. Regarding pressure to forgive, each of us has a unique journey of forgiveness depending on who hurt us, when, and how deeply. We should not compare ourselves to others, thinking that forgiveness is some kind of race in which we all must cross the finish line at the same time. Do you now see that the forgiveness process is not a shaming process?
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
I have been working on forgiving someone and it has been about two months now. I still am angry. What if my anger never goes away?
If you have been deeply hurt by another’s unfairness, please be gentle with yourself. The process of forgiving takes time. Two months is not a sufficient amount of time in your particular case. I would recommend the following:
a) Take more time in the forgiving.
b) Examine the different units of our Process Model of Forgiveness. Which of the units
do you think you have mastered? Which are still a struggle for you? Go back to those that are challenges and spend more time on them.
c) Regarding your anger, has it lessened, stayed the same, or deepened in these two months? If it has lessened, are you in control of the anger or is the anger controlling you?
d) Anger does not necessarily go away entirely. You may have some residual anger left over. This is why I asked if you now feel more control over the anger. If so, then your accepting, at least for now, that you have some residual anger may be a next step for you.
e) If your anger remains and if you feel that the anger is controlling you, then you might want to re-think whom to forgive. Sometimes, for example, a man is trying to forgive his wife and he makes little progress. At times in such cases, the husband is very angry with his mother; his wife by her actions reminds him of his mother, whom he has not forgiven. If for now he puts aside the task of forgiving his wife and turns instead to forgiving his mother, this then can open up the forgiveness process more deeply when he again turns to the goal of forgiving his wife.
f) Please have hope that your anger will lessen. I say that because the scientific evidence
shows that as people work on the forgiveness process and give it enough time, anger
lessens to a statistically significant degree.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
I have noticed that in both Hebrew and Christian scripture the central stories of person-to-person forgiveness focus on family issues only. Does this imply that we are to forgive only family members because of the love we share? Maybe it is too hard to forgive strangers.
While the story of Joseph forgiving his 10 half-brothers in the Hebrew scriptures and the story of the father forgiving his Prodigal Son in the Christian scriptures center on family issues, there are other passages showing the importance of forgiving people who are not family. Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter 18. In this story, the king forgives a servant who owes a large debt. That servant then refuses to forgive the debt of another servant, who is not a family member. The king is very unhappy about this lack of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father in Matthew chapter 6, people are exhorted to forgive and this is not centered on family members only. Thus, it appears that scripture does not focus on family only when teaching us about the importance of forgiving others.
For additional information, see the “Faith and Religion” page on this website.
Our research shows that the decision to go ahead with forgiving is one of the hardest parts of this process. I think this is the case because change in general is difficult. For example, if we decide to get into physical shape, going to the gym for the first time, seeing all of that equipment, and deciding on the type of gym membership can be stressful. Moving to a new town and apartment for a new job is change that can be stressful. I think the decision to forgive is similar. We have questions: What, exactly, is forgiveness? Will it work for me? Will the process be painful? These initial worries can be alleviated by courageously going forward, even slowly. As people enter the process of forgiveness and they see even small benefits at first, then this increases confidence in the process and hope for a positive outcome.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?