Can we apply the forgiveness process onto oneself? Is there such a thing as self-forgiveness?

It seems to me that if we can apply moral virtues such as love toward ourselves, then we should be able to apply forgiveness toward ourselves. After all, to forgive on its highest level is to unconditionally love (in the sense of the Greek term, agape) those who have been unjust to us. To forgive the self is to unconditionally offer love to the self when one has broken one’s own standards. A significant difference between forgiving others and forgiving the self is this: When we forgive ourselves, we usually hurt other people by our actions; as we forgive ourselves, we should go to those whom we have hurt and seek forgiveness from them. I discuss the theme of self-forgiveness in the following essay on the Psychology Today website (click the link below):

The Cure for Self Loathing? Self-Forgiveness

If I forgive, will all of the pain in my heart be gone?

The science of forgiveness suggests that the pain becomes considerably more bearable upon forgiving people for serious injustices. As the late Lewis Smedes used to say, forgiveness is for imperfect people. Thus, we do not necessarily get rid of all anger or all sadness upon forgiving. Yet, as I have heard from one person, “Anger used to control me, but now I am in control of my anger.” Forgiveness is what led to this triumph.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

What is the appeal of anger that it can become a habit, almost an addiction? Can suppressed or passive anger become like that, too?

I think the appeal is the adrenaline rush, the feeling of being wide awake and in control, the feeling that others will not take advantage of me.  All of this is reasonable if it is within reasonable bounds.  By that I mean that the anger is not controlling you, which can happen as people fly out of control with a temper that then is hard to manage.

A habit of anger, when intense, is hard to break, but it can be done with a strong will, the practice of forgiveness, and an awareness of how the anger-habit has compromised one’s life.  Passive anger can be habit-forming as well and that is a more difficult habit to break if the person is unaware of it.  Insights of unhappiness or of reduced energy can be clues to people that they are harboring passive anger in need of healing.

Forgiving others for injustices that have fostered this kind of anger is an important step in curing the anger.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is hard for me. Is it all right to start and stop the process of forgiveness?

Yes, it is all right to start and stop the forgiveness process if you feel that you need a rest from the challenges of forgiving.  As an analogy, if we want to be physically fit, we do not work at that fitness 10 hours a day every day.  We need to be more temperate than that.  So, working on forgiveness for an hour or less some of the days of a week seems reasonable to me.  Taking a week off is fine.  I was asked by a person if she could take a year off of the forgiveness process.  This, to me, would be similar to taking off a year of physical fitness training.  One likely would get out of shape waiting that long.  One probably would get out of forgiveness-fitness shape as well waiting for a year.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

You say that we should not have excessive or toxic anger. Is some anger ok to have as I forgive? If so, how do I know how much is too much?

The keys to distinguishing healthy and unhealthy anger are these:

1. Are you in control of that anger or is it controlling you (with a strong temper, for example, or making you and others miserable)?  If you are in control, this is good.

2. Has the anger continued for weeks or longer?  If so, it likely is unhealthy anger.

3. Are others giving you feedback that your anger is inappropriate?  If this message comes from a reliable source, then it may be time to reflect on that anger possibly being unhealthy.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

Does forgiveness start with bearing the pain so that pain is not cast onto others?

Bearing the pain is part of the forgiveness process, but it is not the start of that process because bearing the pain is difficult for most people.  The beginning of forgiveness is to understand clearly what forgiveness is and is not.  To forgive is to make a deliberate choice to be good to those who are not good to you.  To forgive is not to excuse the behavior, to abandon justice, or to automatically reconcile if the other’s behavior is dangerous for you.  Once the person understands what forgiveness is, I recommend a step prior to bearing the pain: Commit to doing no harm to the one who hurt you.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

What is the difference between “not taking it seriously” and forgiving?

To “not take it seriously” implies neutrality.  When we forgive we never are neutral regarding the person who hurt us.  We are hurt because what happened matters (for fairness) and whom the person is matters (because we share a common humanity).  Thus, forgiveness is linked to: a) expecting fairness; b) having a sense of respect and even love toward the other; and c) self-respect and love.  None of this is neutral and should be taken seriously.  The key in forgiveness is not letting what matters destroy us or the other.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .