Three Tips for Forgiveness: A Key Factor in Anger Management

Elizabeth, 32, cried during anger management class as she told how one year ago - her 19-month-old girl was permanently brain-damaged as the result of a medical error at the hospital in which she was delivered.

Elizabeth had a legitimate grievance toward the hospital and medical staff, and felt that she could never forgive them for what she saw as their incompetence. She clearly was not yet ready to forgive. She felt she needed her simmering anger to motivate her to do what she felt she needed to do legally and otherwise to deal with this horrific situation.

Yet, at some point in the future - when she is ready - Elizabeth might decide to find a way to forgive. To be able to do this, she will have to take the step of separating two things in her mind: (1) blaming the hospital for what they did and (2) blaming them for her resulting feelings about the situation.

Reasons to forgive

Elizabeth cannot change what was done to her daughter, but she can change how she lives the rest of her life. If she continues to hold an intense grievance, she is giving what happened in the past the power to determine her present emotional well being. Until she forgives, Elizabeth will be victimized over and over again, trapped in an emotional prison.

Should you forgive?

The answer to this question always comes down to personal choices and decisions. Some people in our anger management classes feel that certain things cannot and shouldn't be forgiven; others feel that ultimately anything can be forgiven.

As an example of what is possible, the staff of the Stanford Forgiveness Project successfully worked with Protestant and Catholic families of Northern Ireland whose children had been killed by each other. Using the techniques taught by the Stanford group, these grieving parents were able to forgive and get on with their lives.

On the other hand, Dr. Abrams-Spring, author of the classic `"After the Affair," cautions that quickly and easily forgiving a cheating partner indicates low self-esteem. In her view, forgiveness must be earned by the offending partner, but given automatically.

Reasons to forgive

Studies have shown that there are measurable benefits to forgiveness:

- Forgiving is good for your health. Studies show that people who forgive report fewer health problems while people who blame others for their troubles have a higher incidence of illness such as cardiovascular disease and cancers.

- Forgiving is good for your peace of mind. Scientific research shows that forgiveness often improves your peace of mind. A 1996 study showed that the more people forgave those who hurt them, the less angry they were.

- Two studies of divorced people show that those who forgave their former spouse were healthier emotionally than those who chose not to forgive. The forgivers had a higher sense of well being and lower anxiety and depression.

Forgiveness tips

It is common for angry people to think, "I want to forgive, and I know I should, but I don't know how." Here are some starting points:

Tip 1: Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience to complete. You must be ready. Realize that forgiveness is for you - not for anyone else.

Tip 2: Realize that forgiving does not mean you are condoning the actions of the offender or what they did to you. It does mean that you will blame less and find a way to think differently about what happened to you.

Tip 3: Refocus on the positives in your life. A life well lived is the best revenge. People who find a way to see love, beauty and kindness around them are better able to forgive and get past their grievances.

Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter "Taming The Anger Bee" at http://www.angercoach.com and receive two bonus reports.

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