Anger: The Great Controversy Aug 27, 2020 16:48:29 GMT
Post by Susan Peabody on Aug 27, 2020 16:48:29 GMT
"Forgive: To give up resentment of or claim to requital for; to cease to feel resentment against (an offender); to stop blaming or being angry with (someone) for something they have done."
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Forgiving my mother happened naturally because the timing was perfect, but it goes without saying that letting go of anger is controversial. Most religions ask us to forgive. Christianity considers it mandatory. You must forgive (1) to be a good Christian, and (2) because God loves all of his children, even those who stray into evil ways, and they must be forgiven.
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5: 43.
In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the author Bill Wilson (the co-founder of A.A.) also picks up on theme of forgiveness by making it necessary for sobriety. He does not call it forgiveness, but letting go of resentment, and it is not to please God, but in the interest of self.
Resentment is the “number one” offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spirituality malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically. . . . It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. . . . [T]his business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. . . . If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. . . . They [resentments] may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison. (p. 64-66)
On the other hand, there are the scientific psychologists (as opposed to the transpersonal therapists), like Susan Forward, in Toxic Parents, and Laura Davis, in The Courage to Heal, who proclaim that forgiveness is not necessarily a part of the recovery process—it might even be dangerous. In talking about recovering from an abusive childhood, Susan Forward says this:
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Isn’t the first step to forgive my parents?” My answer is no. . . . t is not necessary to forgive your parents in order to feel better about yourself and to change your life. . . . Why in the world should you “Pardon” a father who terrorized and battered you, who made your childhood a living hell? ... Early in my professional career I too believed that to forgive people who had injured you, especially your parents, was an important part of the healing process. . . . The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this absolution was really another form of denial. . . . One of the most dangerous things about forgiveness is that it undercuts your ability to let go of your pent-up emotions. How can you acknowledge your anger against a parent whom you’ve already forgiven? (pp 187-189)
Of course, Jesus, Bill Wilson and Susan Forward are all right. Surprise! Bill Wilson’s suggestion about letting go of resentment is helpful and realistic. If we stop hating people we feel better about ourselves and others. Then we are less likely to turn to mood-altering experiences that can harm us. Susan Forward is correct when she says that we must own our anger before we forgive. Anger is honest. Anger in the right setting is therapeutic. Anger can lead to justice. Anger can free us from tyranny. So timing is everything. And by coming out against forgiveness Forward allows us to take our time without shame. But anger can also hurt if it turns into resentment. (Resentment is anger re-visited over and over again when we least want or expect it.) And resentment can easily lead to revenge and even Forward, in her book, is not in favor of this. So Christ is correct when he tells us to forgive for our own good. After all, anger led to the death of Abel. (Genesis 4)
I, personally, subscribe to all of the ideologies discussed above. I want to be free to feel my anger without guilt or shame, but I also want to forgive others who hurt me so that I can please God and be benevolent to my fellow human beings. But most of all, I believe in the concept of forgiveness because I desperately want to forgive myself. When I realized that my mom was my scapegoat and that I was angry at her to avoid my own guilt and shame, I was basically discovering that I had not forgiven myself. Furthermore, I intuitively knew that if I could let go of my anger at myself, my shame and guilt and self-loathing would quickly follow. This, in turn would raise myself esteem and I would feel better.
I want to add, for the sake of those who are afraid to let go of their anger, that you do not have to like the person who hurt you or continue to let that person abuse you. You don’t even have to feel obligated to associate with that person. Sometimes, you can only love your neighbor/enemy from a distance.
I have also come to realize that forgiveness is not a constant state. It ebbs and flows like the tide. I sometimes feel no resentment about those who hurt me and other times I feel the anger all over again. But this does mean I have not progressed. I have found that as long as I ask God for the strength to release my anger, or I announce in a 12-Step meeting that I am going to “turn it over,” or I tell my therapist I am really tired of these rage dreams and want them to go away, that the anger comes less and less often.