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How Forgiveness Can Help Release Anger

Learn how forgiveness can help you let go of anger from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


Forgiveness is something that's brought up a lot in the context of anger management. Forgiveness though is actually a difficult term oftentimes to define and it's frequently misunderstood. Oftentimes, people coming in with anger management issues might see forgiving a person in fact as a way of becoming a doormat. A way of sort of passively accepting, enabling or even encouraging that behavior. That doesn't have to be the case. In fact forgiveness does recognize or acknowledge even accept that a past transgression or violation occurred. That doesn't mean that the person is okay with it, that it occurred and that they would welcome it in the future. But forgiveness involves at least two steps.

First is the acknowledgement that it did occur, which is really simply saying I'm not going to deny reality. That seems to be fairly rational and that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to put up with it in the future. The second piece though, and this is what a lot of people do struggle with, is fostering some type of compassion for that other person. So that might involve some type of sort of empathy by taking the other person's perspective, recognizing that the other person although they made a mistake and did something wrong, it doesn't mean they have to be condemned for it or devalued as a person.

And again I want to be clear. Forgiving them doesn't necessarily mean that I resolve things with them or continue in the same relationship with them. It also doesn't mean that I don't in fact use very strict consequences. I might do all of those things. But forgiveness is really about one, accepting what happened, that it happened. It doesn't mean I'm saying it's good. It means I acknowledge that it occurred. And two, that I'm demonstrating some form of compassion and empathy for that person. The third step in terms of resolution is something that can be independent. And what I have to decide is I can have compassion for that person, realize they did something wrong but also believe that they're going to continue to act that way and that might be something that I don't want to tolerate.

So I might remove myself from that relationship or punish that behavior in some way to reduce the likelihood of it occurring again. The one important thing about forgiveness to keep in mind is that it might be good for the person who violated your standard in a way to be forgiven, perhaps it helps them. But it's really important to know that forgiveness actually helps us. Because what it does seem to indicate is that there are physiological changes that take place when we practice forgiveness that might in fact be good for our physiology, reducing our risk of all kinds of markers that predict coronary artery disease and things like that. So forgiveness isn't about being soft or passive. It's really about doing what might be best for the person in fact who's been the victim of a potential violation.

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