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.

I am feeling pressure from my particular faith. It seems to me that if I do not forgive, I am in trouble. Can you help me?

It is not unusual for me to hear this kind of worry: “Uh-oh, I had better forgive or else I will not be forgiven by God and so I am eternally condemned.”  Yet, as I have studied this particular belief system to see if I can alleviate that worry, I find that many people misunderstand these issues coming from faith.  In reflecting on the religious exhortation to forgive, I am convinced that the kind of thinking described here is incorrect.

Take, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer in the Christian faith, in which people ask to be forgiven only as they forgive.  Taken out of context by focusing exclusively on this one theme in the prayer, this idea seems to be a grim and perhaps scary command.

Yet, in its broader context, it is all about love.  After all, the one who is praying begins with one of the most intimate and loving set of words by saying, “Our Father.” In other words, the one who prays is saying, “I am in a loving relationship.  My loving Father values forgiving. I, too, out of love, want to do the same.  As I love my Father, I will forgive and be forgiven.”  This is a petition of love to uplift, not a grim obligation to bring a person down.  The motivation here is to love God and to show it by forgiving.

For more information, listen to Dr. Enright discuss forgiveness from a religious perspective as a guest on The Drew Mariani Show, a production of Relevant Radio.

I am a religious person, a Christian. When I forgive, I ask God to help me. I now am wondering if this form of forgiveness is passive. In other words, rather than I doing the work, aren’t I asking God to do the work?

There is a large difference between passivity and grace. When you ask God for help in forgiving, you are asking for the grace to go forward well. You work with the grace; you are not then passively stopping your own process of forgiveness. In other words, people continue walking the hard path of forgiveness, but now with grace, which can make that walk more bearable, more efficient, and more complete. Do you see how you are not passively handing over the entire process to God?

For more information, see Faith and Religion.

Is it possible to forgive someone who is deceased? If so, what would the forgiveness look like?

Yes, you can forgive someone who is deceased. Forgiveness includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. One can think of the other person as possessing inherent (unconditional) worth. One can cultivate feelings of compassion for the person, not because of what he or she did, but in spite of this. Even behaviors can be a part of the forgiveness. For example, one might donate to the deceased person’s favorite charity. One might say a kind word about the deceased to family members. Depending on one’s religious beliefs, the forgiver can offer a prayer for the one who died.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Defined.