I am worried that if my anger diminishes upon forgiving, then I will lose my edge to fight for justice. After all, anger can be a motivator to fight fairly for justice.

It seems to me that anger is not the primary motive for seeking justice. Instead, the primary motivator is the conviction that the other(s) acted unfairly. This knowledge can lead to the decision that change must occur. This conviction (the other was unfair) and decision (I need to act) can be the primary motivators for seeking a fair solution. While anger may be part of that, we have to be careful in placing anger too high in this motivation list. Why? It is because anger, if intense and long-lasting, can lead to irrational (unhelpful) thinking (examples: “The other is completely evil.” “I must seek revenge for what happened to me.”). When anger that is extreme is lessened, then we have greater cognitive clarity and even more energy to fight fairly for justice and to persevere in the pursuit of that justice.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I can be rather rude sometimes and I do not like that at all. How can I find the true origins of my anger?

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I have an exercise called The Forgiveness Landscape. In this exercise, I ask you to take a paper and pencil and begin writing down the hurtful injustices against you: from your earliest childhood memory, to later childhood experiences of injustice, then into adolescence, early adulthood, and up to the present time. I then ask you to rate the hurtfulness of these experiences. Next, you order these unjust experiences from the least hurtful experience (yet, still significant because you have identified it) to the most hurtful experience at the top of the page. That most hurtful experience at the top, if it still is causing you considerable pain, may be the primary source of your current anger. The key is to start at the bottom, where you still may have some hurt, and forgive that particular person. Move up the list, forgiving the people as you go. When you reach the top, you already will have practice in forgiving and so you may be ready to forgive this particular person, even though it is hard to do. This may lessen your anger so that you are not displacing it onto others.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I have been hurt by a couple of my friends. I am angry about it. Now I am feeling guilty about being angry. Should I feel guilty about this?

When people are unfair to us, a natural response is to be angry. The anger is a signal to you that others should treat you with respect. Given that such short-term anger is a natural response, please try to see this so that your guilt lessens. On the other hand, there is excessive anger that needs to be tempered in some people. If your anger gets extreme (temper tantrums that affect others) or is very long-lasting (over weeks or months or even years), then it would be good to see and address this. Short-term and tempered anger is to be expected; the extreme form does need work. Forgiving people who have made you angry can reduce that anger which can then lessen guilt because your behavior has changed.

For additional information, see “Anger and Sadness in the Forgiveness Process.”

You emphasize, in the early part of the forgiveness process, trying to understand the offender. Doesn’t this just open us up to excusing the other? After all, if we understand the other, we might develop sympathy for that person and so conclude: “Oh, this person is ok. I will just let it go and move on.”

Understanding the one who offended is very different from excusing the person’s behavior. We can accept a person as having unconditional worth and then hold fast to the truth that the behavior was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong despite my understanding the person as a person. In other words, it is important to separate the person and the unjust actions. We try to welcome the person back into the human community as we forgive; we do not then accept the behavior.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I was hurt by a stranger and so I have no clue about his past. How can I do the thinking work of forgiveness toward this person, given that I know nothing about him?

We talk about taking the personal, the global, and the cosmic perspectives when trying to understand and forgive another person. The personal perspective, which you find difficult to take, asks the forgiver to examine the past of the offending person and to see if this person suffered injustices and emotional wounds from others. Because you cannot know these issues, you can move to the global and cosmic perspectives. I will share only the global perspective for you here. If you find it helpful, then you might want to go more deeply and consider the cosmic perspective, depending on your belief system.

In the global perspective, we ask people to see the common humanity between yourself as forgiver and the one who offended you. Here are some questions centered on the global perspective: Do you share a common humanity with the one who hurt you? Do you both have unique DNA in that, when both of you die, there never will be another human being exactly like you on this planet? Does this make you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Does this make the one who hurt you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Will that person die some day? Will you die some day? You share that as part of your common humanity. Do you need sufficient rest and nutrition to stay healthy? Does the one who hurt you need the same? Do you see your common humanity? In all likelihood, even though you cannot know for sure, that person has been treated unfairly in the past by others. You very well may share the fact that both of you carry wounds in your heart.

For more information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I am not angry with the person who hurt me. Instead, I am sad. Can you differentiate anger and sadness in the forgiveness process?

People have different affective reactions when hurt by others. As you say, sometimes people respond with sadness, some with confusion, and some with anger. I focus on the theme of anger because that is the one emotion that can deepen and cause even greater pain than currently is the case. People who are sad can and should go through the forgiveness process if they so choose. Going though the forgiveness process should lessen the sadness, even if it will not eliminate the sadness entirely in all cases. People who are very angry and who have been so for a long time should especially think about forgiving as a protection for their own well-being, as well as for the possibility of a renewed relationship, if this is a goal. Deep and abiding anger has been shown to relate to a number of mental health challenges as seen in the book, Forgiveness Therapy by R. Enright and R. Fitzgibbons (2015).

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I used to be a fan of forgiveness, but lately I have changed my mind. The forgiveness process has so much shaming in it: Forgive or you are a bad person; you have anger and because anger is unacceptable, then you are incompetent; others can forgive, but not you. Do you see the shaming here?

Yes, I do see the shaming, but in no case does the forgiveness process involve any of the statements in your question. No one passes judgement on one who is deciding whether or not to forgive. This is why I deliberately entitled my first self-help book as Forgiveness Is a Choice. I did not entitle it, Forgiveness Is a Demand or Else! Further, anger is a natural part of our response when treated unjustly. There is healthy and unhealthy anger. The healthy kind occurs shortly after an offense against people and shows them that they deserve to be treated better. The unhealthy kind is not a condemnation, but instead a sign that the person should begin to pay attention to that kind of anger that deepens and abides because it can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. If you go to the doctor for a sore knee, should you be condemned? If you have a broken heart in need of mending, should you be condemned? No. Regarding pressure to forgive, each of us has a unique journey of forgiveness depending on who hurt us, when, and how deeply. We should not compare ourselves to others, thinking that forgiveness is some kind of race in which we all must cross the finish line at the same time. Do you now see that the forgiveness process is not a shaming process?

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?