Tagged: “Why Forgive?”

Forgiveness basically is transcendence, right? As we forgive, we transcend anger.

Well, actually, that is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a moral virtue of offering goodness to another person who is acting unjustly. You can transcend a situation without any thought or action of goodness toward another person. Here is an example: A person transcends the struggle of disappointment as his home is destroyed by a tornado. There is no person here to forgive, yet there is transcendence. The person is going beyond the disappointment and even anger, but without another person being in that process. Forgiving involves reaching out to another person, even when the forgiver is feeling pain that is not transcended or reduced yet.

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In your book, “Forgiveness Is a Choice,” you start with a case study of Mary Ann. Would it have been easier for her just to divorce her husband, given that he was toxic, rather than forgiving and reconciling?

Because forgiveness is a choice, we have to be careful not to judge others for their particular decision. In Mary Ann’s case, there was a genuine reconciliation. Since reconciliation involves mutual trust, we can surmise that he made important changes. Mary Ann is happy now and so her decision to forgive and reconcile was wise.

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I think anger is normal.  You do not seem to think so.  Would you please clarify?

We have to make a distinction between healthy anger and unhealthy anger.  Healthy anger occurs as a short-term reaction to others’ unfairness.  The anger emerges because the one being treated unfairly knows that all people are worthy of respect, even oneself.  Unhealthy anger occurs when the initial reaction of healthy anger does not end, but intensifies and remains in the person’s heart for months or even many years.  At that point, the anger can have quite negative effects on one’s energy, ability to concentrate, and on one’s overall well-being.  Healthy anger is normal.  Unhealthy anger needs attention and amelioration.

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What do you suggest I do when trying to help a friend start the forgiveness process so that she does not feel personally condemned?  In other words, the person might reason this way: Why is she suggesting this to me?  Do I appear overly angry or something?

A key is to realize that forgiveness is a choice and so you can start by gently having a conversation about your friend’s inner world relative to the injustice(s) against her.  Is she having emotional discomfort?  Is she restless because of too much anger?  Inner pain can be a great motivator for change.  If she tells you that her inner world is not healthy, then your providing a possible solution in forgiving may get her attention.  You will be able to ascertain her interest if she wants to discuss a solution to her inner pain.  At that point you can suggest forgiveness, but please be sure to discuss what forgiveness both is (a moral virtue of being good to those who are not good to you) and what it is not (it is not excusing, forgetting, necessarily reconciling, or abandoning justice).

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You recently asked me how power can help me overcome the anger within.  Well, I will tell you. If I can get back at the one who was ridiculous to me, then I get rid of the anger.  You as a psychologist should know this.  The name of this cleansing is called catharsis, right?

Catharsis or “letting it all out” will not necessarily cleanse your anger in the long run.  Yes, you may feel empowered for a short time, but if the injustice against you is deep, then the internal effects on you can last for many years.  For example, we have worked in a hospice situation in which some of the participants in our forgiveness intervention had been carrying anger within them for over 40 years.  Nothing they had tried cleansed that anger until, 40 years later, they made the choice to forgive.

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