Forgiveness is a moral virtue and need not occur only to aid a person in reducing anger. As a moral virtue, you can forgive as an end in and of itself, because it is good. Also, try to be aware of what happens inside you once you are no longer relaxed. Does the anger well up inside you again? If so, then the practice of forgiveness might be a more permanent solution to your anger than relaxation training by itself.
In my book, The Forgiving Life (2012), I have an exercise that I call The Forgiveness Landscape. In this exercise, you start in your childhood and try to recall the central unjust incidents and the people who were unjust to you. You then rate your level of anger on a 1-to-10 scale. You do the same for your adolescence, and the same for your adult years. You then order the people/incidences from the lowest (but still significant in your life) to the highest levels of anger. This will give you a profile of your anger. I then recommend that you start with the lowest level of anger and forgive that person. Move up the anger-ladder until you have forgiven the person toward whom you have the most anger. This should aid you in not only gaining insight into your anger, but also at whom you are angry, and then to rid yourself of that anger.
Forgiveness concerns people. We offer kindness, respect, generosity, and even love toward those who hurt us. Your knee cannot be willful in deciding to hurt you. You can be kind to yourself as you struggle with the knee, but the knee itself cannot act in an intentionally wrong way or be in a relationship with you in which both of you share inherent worth. You can accept that the knee is not performing well, but to accept and to forgive are not the same.
Editor's Note:This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on former students of Dr. Robert Enright who have continued their forgiveness research activities after graduation and who have made their own mark on the forgiveness movement.
Dr. Jichan J. Kim is a South Korean native who studied under Dr. Enright for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned both his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Educational Psychology while at the same time pursuing research projects that led Dr. Enright to call him “one of the most prolific graduate assistants I’ve ever instructed.”
During those four years, the two researchers worked together to conduct numerous forgiveness-related research projects including a study that explored how graduate-level theology students in South Korea perceived the difference between divine forgiveness and human forgiveness. The results of that project were published just last month in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.
After graduation, Dr. Kim left UW-Madison to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA–a world-class Christian university founded by Dr. Jerry Falwell who gained international fame as an advisor to world leaders and who was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by U.S. News & World Report in 1983. Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world with more than 15,000 students attending classes on campus and more than 94,000 students taking courses through Liberty University Online.
At Liberty University, Dr. Kim teaches Introduction to Research, Directed Research, and Psychology and Christianity. In Spring 2020, he is teaching a
semester-long, special topics course in forgiveness,
for which he is very excited. He is also leading a Psychology Study Abroad Trip to South Korea in June 2020 where students will learn about: 1) the aspects of a collectivistic culture in contrast to an American individualistic culture; and, 2) how that culture views forgiveness and reconciliation.
The full course load complements Dr. Kim’s research activities. Since leaving UW-Madison three years ago, Dr. Kim has become even more intricately involved in forgiveness research and forgiveness education both in the US and in his home country of South Korea. His research and studies, for example, have:
Examined the relationship between forgiveness and compassionate love;
Explored the idea of the school as the Just and Merciful Community;
Evaluated, together with his undergraduate research team at Liberty University, the effectiveness of a family-based forgiveness program with more than a dozen volunteer families; and,
Explored the relationship between interpersonal, self-, and divine forgiveness.
“I give special thanks to Dr. Enright for introducing to me the beauty of forgiveness. I owe him a great deal and I will try my best to follow in his footsteps through a life dedicated to driving out hatred through forgiving love.” Dr. Jichan J. Kim
In addition to his UW-Madison degrees, Dr. Kim has received degrees from Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA), and City College of New York. He also has extensive ministry experience in Madison, New York City, and Boston (serving various age groups in Korean immigrant congregations).
Dr. Kim and his wife, Jieun, have three children–Yewon (Arianna), Juwon (Aiden), and Sungwon (Joseph). For the past several years, Dr. Kim has financially supported the International Forgiveness Institute with an automaticmonthly donation through PayPal. He says he has two favorite quotes he tries to live by:
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Forgiveness is offering love to a person in the face of injustice and at a time when that person is most unlovable. (Dr. Robert Enright)
It is possible that your roommate has forgiven her boyfriend only to a point, but not completely. It seems that she still has residual anger that is bothering her. Also, even if she has forgiven him, she now may be struggling with the issue of reconciliation, or whether or not to continue the relationship. If she is talking about this as a call for help from you, then you might ask what her level of trust is with the boyfriend. See if she is struggling with the issue of reconciliation. It could be that she a) has forgiven, but not deeply yet, in which case she needs more time in the forgiveness process, or b) she is struggling with the issue of whether to reconcile or not.
The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, reminds us that forgiveness is an imperfect process for imperfect people. We do not necessarily reach perfection in forgiving right away, but instead this takes time. Try to be gentle with yourself when you have these fantasies. Try to remind yourself that you have made a commitment to “do no harm” to the one whom you are forgiving. This reminder will give you confidence that you will not act on the fantasy.
The key is this: When you look within, what do you see regarding your starting again? Do you have any motivation to try or not? If you have no motivation at all, then you need more time. Another question to ask yourself is this: Do I have the virtue of courage to go ahead? Courage can be part of the motivation. Another question is this: Do I have the energy right now to move forward with forgiving? Sometimes we need a rest and this is not dishonorable. As a final question, you might ask yourself this: Do I need to forgive someone else first? If the one you are trying to forgive has been deeply unfair, you might consider first forgiving someone for a lesser offense. You then can get more used to the forgiveness process, build up what I call “the forgiveness muscles” and then try to forgive the one who is more of a challenge.
The psychological defenses of rationalization and denial can be so strong as to block the truth from the person. Yet, the psychological defenses are not necessarily so strong as to keep the truth away indefinitely. Over time, a sense of guilt may creep into her story. Try to be aware of these even slightly open doors. It is at the time of even a little doubt in her mind that you can discuss what is true about stealing and what is false. Eventually, if she becomes aware, even a little, of her guilt, then you can begin a conversation about seeking forgiveness and making reparation for the theft.
When you encounter people who seem to be angry all the time, it is my conjecture (and I have not met them, so I cannot know for sure) that they are harboring the effects of a significant trauma in their lives, a trauma that could go back decades. For example, if a person was abused as a child, the effects of this can be mistrust in general and resentment that is displaced onto others. Being in a marriage in which the partner is continually unjust can lead to the angry disposition which you describe. Sometimes people are unaware that they are giving this signal of anger. If people who have anger abiding in their hearts can be made aware that there is a solution to defeating that anger—forgiveness—they might or might not at first accept this. The idea of forgiveness can make some people even more angry and so you have to be gentle and not insist on their choosing forgiving. They may need time to think about forgiveness, get used to the idea, and then try it as their own free-will choice when they are ready.
Forgiveness is a process that takes time. I have worked with people who definitely understand the process of forgiveness, practice it daily, and yet they still can have anger for up to a year or more. Does your anger or sadness diminish even a little? Try to be aware of these even small victories. Aristotle said that practice and then more practice is necessary to grow in greater maturity in the moral virtues. I find that this is particularly true of forgiveness because it is in the context of being hurt by others. I recommend that you be gentle with yourself, patient in the process of forgiveness, and never give up on the practice of forgiving. The dividends of stress-relief usually then come. You may not be free of all anger in the coming years, but it likely will diminish to manageable levels for you.