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.

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?