Might pride block forgiving? In other words, pride might lead a person to stand firm and say to the self, “I never will forgive unless the other apologizes!”

Yes, I do think that at times pride can lead to such a statement.  We have to be careful, however, because some cultures and faiths require an apology prior to forgiving.  If pride is blocking the forgiveness process, it might help if the person requiring the apology contemplates this question: “Are you hurting yourself by insisting on the apology?  Might you be preventing yourself from reducing resentment and being set free from emotional disruption as you wait for a prior response from the other?”

I can sympathize with my sister who hurt me, but I have a hard time empathizing with her (stepping inside her shoes, so to speak, and feeling what it is like being her). Can I ever feel compassion for her without empathy?

Not being able to empathize with your sister today does not mean you will never be able to do this.  Empathy can open the door to compassion.  Sympathy, or feeling sorry for her, also may be such a door to the eventual development of compassion.  Yet, as you are seeing, empathy is the deeper, more challenging perspective.  Here are some questions that might help you with empathy toward your sister:  Was your sister hurt by others some time in the past?  How deeply was she hurt?  Is she still carrying those wounds?  Can you see your sister’s struggles in life?  Your answers may induce a greater empathy for her as you see her wounds from her perspective.

In my experience, the longer a person harbors deep anger, then the longer pain and even a sense of hopelessness seem to rule their lives. As a person practices compassion in the face of others’ pain, the greater the likelihood that you are setting yourself and even your family free from pain (that started within you). So, I think it is really important to conquer that pain through forgiveness not only for yourself but also for loved ones. What do you think about this?

I agree with you and have nothing more to add to your wisdom.  All that you say makes sense to me.

I see a lot of anger being expressed in social media. What can you suggest as a way to start reducing this?

If more students have forgiveness education when they are young, then this will give them a chance to more deeply see the inherent (built-in) worth of others.  As we see that all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable, I truly think that deliberately hurtful verbal attacks on others will lessen.

Why Resentment Lasts—and How to Defeat It

robert-enright 3Editor’s Note: As a regular blog contributor to the online version of Psychology Today, Dr. Robert Enright (founder of the International Forgiveness Institute) has repeatedly received special recognition for his posts. Yesterday, his latest blog was given “Essential Topic” status meaning that it receives prominent placement on their website along with being featured on the first page of blog topics like“Education” and “Therapy.” Here is that blog:
Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today

“I resent that!”  Philosophers have made the case that such statements are good (MacLachlan, 2010).  It shows that you respect yourself and will not let others take advantage of you.  Resentment shows that you are a person of moral character who knows right from wrong and therefore knows when wrong is done against you.  In contrast, psychologists can get worried about resentment because they mean something different.
Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
Source: Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
 To psychologists, resentment over a long period of time can be an unhealthy response to injustice, sometimes an injustice that won’t quit such as continual demeaning comments from a partner or the unreasonable demands of a boss who just doesn’t “get it.”  Resentment in cases like these represents a development in one’s anger from mild to deeper…….and it lingers. This kind of resentment can lead to unhappiness, continual irritability, and psychological compromise including excessive anxiety and depression (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Let us keep the philosopher’s resentment and let us banish the other.

Yet, the psychologist’s kind of resentment all too often is not a polite guest.  It seems to never know when to leave.  In fact, if left unchecked it can take over the psychological house within you.  Why is this?  Consider three reasons.

First, we have all felt the initial euphoria created by a response of courage after another’s offense.  We will stand up for ourselves.  We will resist.  Resentment can give you a feeling not only of euphoria but also of strength.  Nurturing such a rewarding feeling can become a habit.  I know of one person who, upon having his morning cup of coffee, would replay the injustice and feel the inner strength as a way of getting ready for the day.  He did this until he realized that over the long-term, such a routine was leaving him drained before he even left for work.  His temporary adrenaline rush was turning on him.  This is a case of positive reinforcement for something that shows itself in the long run not to be so positive.

Second, once we realize that our short-term euphoria is turning against us, we just don’t know how to get the resentment to leave.  How do I turn off the resentment?  What path do I take to have some inner quiet?  Taking up jogging might do it……but once you have recovered your energy from the run, the anger returns.  How about relaxation training?  Same issue: once the muscle relaxation is over, there is the resentment with its perverse smile looking back at you.  “I just don’t know how to rid myself of the resentment!” is a cry I hear too often.


“Resentment could linger for the rest of your life unless you confront it.”


Third, and this is the most sinister of all, resentment can become a part of your identity, a part of who you are as a person.  You move from showing resentful behavior to being a resentful person and there is a large difference between the two. Once you start saying that you are a particular kind of person, it sometimes is threatening to change the identity.  So often people will live with an identity—a sense of self, a sense of who one is—that is compromising for them because they are afraid of change.  The familiar is better than the alternative even if the familiar includes pain and unnecessary suffering.

Source: Mimagephotography/Dreamstime.com

So then, what to do about the unwanted guest?  Try these 5 approaches:

  • Try to see the inner world of the one causing the disturbance.  Might he be carrying an extra burden of resentment, perhaps from times past?  Might she be living with bitterness that is spreading to others, including you?  Can you see the woundedness within the person who is wounding you?
  • Commit to doing no harm to the one who is harming you.  This allows for a new kind of inner strength to develop.
  • Stand in the pain so that you do not pass that pain to innocent others.  This, too, can strengthen you.
  • Science has shown on many occasions that there is a resentment-buster in the name of forgiveness (Enright, 2012).  To forgive is a way of offering goodness to the one who gave you the unwanted present of resentment.  Rather than the strength of the clinched fist and jaw, the strength from forgiveness shows that you can soften your heart toward the one who infected your heart. This can bring you inner relief.
  • Finally, be open to your new identity:  I am someone who can stand in the pain.  I am someone who can forgive. I am even someone who can ask resentment to leave……and it leaves.

Which is the better identity: a life lived with an unwanted inner guest or a life free to be a conduit of good toward others and yourself?


Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today
References:
Enright, R.D. (2012).  The Forgiving Life.  Washington, D.C.: APA Books.
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
MacLachlan, A. (2010).  Unreasonable resentments.  Journal of Social Philosophy, 41. 422-441.

I have a friend who uses sarcasm a lot. He ends up hurting people and then says, “Oh, come on! I was only kidding.” I suspect hidden and deep anger in him. What do you think?

If this is a pattern and if he sees that others are hurt (which you imply that he does), then, yes, I suspect the same: hidden (from him) and deep anger.  He may need to courageously explore who has hurt him in the past and try to practice forgiving, if he chooses.  It might lessen or even eliminate his hurtful sarcasm.

Would there even be a need for forgiveness to exist if people never reacted with toxic or unhealthy anger?

Forgiving others is not done exclusively because it has excellent psychological benefits, shown by research.  Forgiving others also is good in and of itself because it is a moral virtue (as are justice and kindness and respect).  Showing goodness as the goal of forgiving (rather than deriving a psychological benefit) is sufficient for forgiveness to be a part of your and others’ life.  To address your point directly, as we both know, reacting to injustices only with temperate, short-term (not unhealthy) anger is not likely as part of the human condition.  Thus, the need for forgiveness, for psychological reasons, will continue to be alive and well on this earth.