An Anger Management Class Secret Ingredient to Success
Any anger management class should have forgiveness as part of the curriculum. Why is that? Because the first person that forgiveness changes is the one doing the forgiving. The purpose of forgiveness as part of an anger management class is not to help or change the one you are forgiving, but you.
You might ask, “How’s that work?” People often think of their anger as a way of keeping the one who hurt them in a kind of emotional prison. As long as they held onto the anger management problems about the relationship, the wrongdoer stays in jail. But when you really stop and think about it, the only one who is really in an emotional prison is you. More often than not, the person you are angry with is either unaware, doesn’t care or simply don’t give it as much thought as you. Meanwhile, you walk around stewing and obsessing over the wrong that was done to you. Your anger ends up affecting you more than the one who hurt you.
Forgiveness is the key to unlocking the prison door. There is not some automatic “click” that sets you free. You must choose to walk out of that cell. Some have lived with the label of “angry victim” for so long that it’s become part of them. They’d rather live in the cell because at least they know what to expect there. Forgiveness frees your from all that pent up anger.
Forgiving is not about focusing on our anger or on the event that caused us to be angry; it’s about focusing on the source of the anger – the person who hurt us. As you reach out to the one who hurt you – and yes I said reach out – you are the one who is healed.
Does Teaching Forgiveness in an Anger Management Class Work?
In a word – yes. Numerous scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated that forgiveness is a skill that can be taught and that the act of forgiving is associated with decreases in levels of anger, depression, anxiety, and an increased sense of overall well being and lowered blood pressure.
To give one example. A study conducted by research psychologists Suzanne Freedman and Robert Enright involved 12 women who were survivors of childhood incest. All were anxious, depressed and suffering from low self esteem before beginning the study. The participants were divided into two groups of six. One group was in an anger management class which exclusively focused forgiving their perpetrator and the other received no training at all. After completing the training, all six women in the forgiveness group reported less depression and anxiety on average and their sense of hopefulness increased. All six were able to forgive the perpetrator in one fashion or another.
What Forgiveness is Not
You may be afraid that an anger management class teaching forgiveness means pretending that nothing happened to you or that you have no right to feel angry. Forgiving may mean to you that you are letting someone get away with something.. Many people feel that forgiving requires that they forget the offense, which they rightly see as impossible. Most can’t imagine that their feelings toward the offender can ever change. And this can certainly make you wonder if anger management classes actually work or if they turn you into a doormat.
Although these concerns are understandable, they are not what forgiving is about. The purpose of forgiveness is actually to acknowledge that you have a right to be angry. Forgiving begins with acknowledging that you are a person who has a right to be treated with respect. It does not require denying your feelings. You don’t have to forget in order to forgive. Forgiveness does not produce amnesia.
Some people think you can use willpower to overcome anger. We can’t will our feelings to change. Saying “I will not be angry” 100 times as an anger management technique may produce exactly the opposite result. In fact, its more likely to make you angry because, as I explain in my white paper “This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Anger Management” it will likely do nothing but increase your focus on how angry you are. But we can take certain actions that will change our patterns of thinking. We might be surprised to discover that our feelings change in response to our actions.
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