I am mad at my step-father for his rudeness. I now am angry at my Mom for still being with him. I now am confused: Do I start by forgiving him first or her first? I would appreciate your suggestion.

When you think about what your step-father has done to you, how angry are you on a 1-to-10 scale? When you think about your Mom and what she has done to you, how angry are you on this same 1-to-10 scale? I recommend that you start with the one person who gets the lower score, the one toward whom you are less angry. I suggest this because it can be difficult to forgive when you are fuming at a particular person. Learning to forgive when you are less angry helps show you the path of forgiving and gets you ready for the more challenging one.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

You talk a lot about anger-reduction through forgiveness, but I do not think my primary emotion is anger. I am sad. Is the forgiveness process different if I am angry compared to my being sad?

Actually, the process of forgiveness will be the same whether you are angry or sad. You still will: a) commit to do no harm to the one who hurt you; b) try to see the inherent worth of the other; c) bear the pain so you do not pass that pain to the one who hurt you or to other people; and d) try to be kind, as best you can, toward the person. What may change is the outcome for you, with a reduction of sadness rather than anger.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy?

Healthy anger is a response to injustice that is short-lived. Healthy anger basically is your way of saying, “What you did was unfair. I deserve better than that.” Unhealthy anger differs from this in: a) its intensity [There may be insults or a temper tantrum, for example.]; b) its duration [It can last for months or years.]; c) its effect on the one who is angry [This kind of anger can deplete energy and increase anxiety.]; d) its effect on the one who offended [It can lead to the other feeling inappropriately attacked.]; and e) its effect on others [The one with unhealthy anger can displace the anger onto unsuspecting other people.].

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

It seems to me that if a person is forgiving only to get rid of anger, then this is not real forgiveness. Is this true?

There is a difference between the original motivation to forgive and what forgiveness itself actually is. Oftentimes, people start the forgiveness process to rid themselves of unhealthy anger. If they still go through the forgiveness process by committing to do no harm, try to understand who the other person is, bear the pain, and offer respect and kindness toward the offending other person, then this is actual forgiveness. The initial motivation to forgive can change so that a new motivation is to aid the one who acted unjustly.

For further information on this, you might want to read my essay (click the link below), at Psychology Today, entitled, 8 Reasons to Forgive.

Does the forgiveness process require that one feels empathy toward the other person, or is sympathy sufficient?

Empathy is the process by which one “steps inside the shoes of the other” and feels the feelings of that person. Sympathy is more of a reaction to the other. For example, suppose a teenager comes to you and he is very angry about failing a test. You show empathy if you try to feel the student’s anger. In contrast, you show sympathy by reacting to the student’s anger, for example, by feeling sad for the person.

When you forgive, we need to realize that this is both a process in which we start slowly and it is an imperfect process in that we do not always reach the deepest parts of that process. Thus, one can feel sympathy toward the offending person by feeling sorry for that person. Yet, a deeper response is “stepping inside the person’s shoes” with empathy and seeing, for example, the person’s woundedness, the person’s fears and confusions. I say this is “deeper” because you are developing more insights into whom the other actually is. As you see people, in all of their humanity, this more likely will lead to compassion for that person. The compassion can lead to forgiveness, or loving those who have not loved you.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

Forgiveness seems like such a “soft” idea. I need to be strong if I am to solve unjust problems.

When you forgive, you make a commitment to do no harm to the one who hurt you. Is this a “soft” response? When you forgive, you make a commitment to bear the pain that happened to you so that you do not pass the pain to others, including, for example, other family members who were not the ones who hurt you. Is this a “soft” response? When you struggle to love those who have withdrawn love from you, this seems to me to be a heroic response, not a “soft” one.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

Your Forgiveness Legacy

Forgiveness is not finished with you yet. How will you lead your life from this point forward? It is your choice. When that story is finally written, what will the final chapters say about you? The beauty of this story is that you are one of the contributing authors.  You do not write it alone, of course, but with the help of those who encourage you, instruct and guide you, and even hurt you. You are never alone when it comes to your love story. It does not matter one little bit where the story was going before you embraced the virtue of forgiveness. What matters now is how you finish that story, how you start to live your life from this point forward.

What do you think? Do you think that most people are deliberately and consciously writing their own love stories, in part on the basis of leading The Forgiving Life? Or, are most people rushing by, not giving much thought to forgiveness or love?

What do you think? Do you think that most people are aware of their legacy, what they will leave behind from this precise moment on,  or are they rushing about, not giving a moment’s notice to that legacy?

What do you think? Do you think that you can make a difference in a few or even many people’s lives by awakening them to the fact that they can rewrite their stories and make them love  stories through forgiveness?

Robert Enright


Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5320-5331). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.