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?

I have been working on forgiving someone and it has been about two months now. I still am angry. What if my anger never goes away?

If you have been deeply hurt by another’s unfairness, please be gentle with yourself. The process of forgiving takes time. Two months is not a sufficient amount of time in your particular case. I would recommend the following:

a) Take more time in the forgiving.

b) Examine the different units of our Process Model of Forgiveness. Which of the units
do you think you have mastered? Which are still a struggle for you? Go back to those that are challenges and spend more time on them.

c) Regarding your anger, has it lessened, stayed the same, or deepened in these two months? If it has lessened, are you in control of the anger or is the anger controlling you?

d) Anger does not necessarily go away entirely. You may have some residual anger left over. This is why I asked if you now feel more control over the anger. If so, then your accepting, at least for now, that you have some residual anger may be a next step for you.

e) If your anger remains and if you feel that the anger is controlling you, then you might want to re-think whom to forgive. Sometimes, for example, a man is trying to forgive his wife and he makes little progress. At times in such cases, the husband is very angry with his mother; his wife by her actions reminds him of his mother, whom he has not forgiven. If for now he puts aside the task of forgiving his wife and turns instead to forgiving his mother, this then can open up the forgiveness process more deeply when he again turns to the goal of forgiving his wife.

f) Please have hope that your anger will lessen. I say that because the scientific evidence
shows that as people work on the forgiveness process and give it enough time, anger
lessens to a statistically significant degree.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am not sure if I really want to forgive. How will I know when I am ready?

As you look within, consider asking yourself these questions: a) Have my attempts at this point to heal from this difficult experience been effective? b) If not, what other options other than forgiveness do I have? c) Am I hopeful that these other options will work for me?; d) Might forgiveness help me to heal? e) Have I confronted any fears about forgiving or any doubts about what the forgiveness process might involve? If you do not have viable options and if you have overcome fears or doubts about forgiveness, then perhaps it is time to give this a try.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

 

I find that whenever I forgive someone, it is never really over. What I mean is I can wake up weeks later and I am angry all over again. This is getting discouraging. What can I do to be rid of the anger so it does not return?

This is actually a more common question than you might imagine. Anger is uncomfortable for us and when it is intense, it can be unhealthy for us. Something to keep in mind is this: As you continually forgive, I mean truly persist, then the anger will diminish. It will move to a more healthy level. A key is for you to be in control of your anger rather than the anger to be in control of you. The emotion of anger may be with you for a long time, but the emotion of unhealthy anger will not be. For now, let us make this the goal—not to be entirely rid of the anger but to persist in forgiving until the anger is manageable. When anger comes to visit unexpectedly a week or a month from now, be prepared to forgive again. The more we practice forgiveness, the more quickly we actually forgive. So, please be encouraged.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I suffer from chronic anxiety. Will this alter how I go through the forgiveness process relative to those who are not suffering in this way?

Sometimes our anxiety comes from not feeling safe. Sometimes our not feeling safe emerges when others treat us unfairly. In other words, you may be expecting poor treatment from others now, even those who usually are fair. A first step may be to think of one person who may have hurt you and at whom you still harbor resentment. You can forgive through the exact same pathway as described, for example, in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. With anger lessened, anxiety can diminish. Of course, this will vary for each person. We have to be gentle with ourselves as we learn to forgive, to give up anger, and to know with some confidence that we can meet the next interpersonal challenge with forgiveness, helping us to meet these challenges with less anxiety than in the past.

To learn more, read Forgiveness Is a Choice.