We've all been wronged. Often, our immediate and natural response to wrongdoing, particularly when it is severe, is to become angry or resentful. However, many of us think that eventually we should forgive our wrongdoers. At its core, forgiveness involves overcoming negative emotions toward the wrongdoer and replacing them with some sense of goodwill. But how do we forgive? I certainly am not claiming to be particularly good at forgiving. As a philosopher, however, I can identify misconceptions some people have about forgiveness that might impede their ability to forgive.
ANGER IS NOT ALWAYS BAD. Our emotions communicate what we value and care about. Our anger or resentment in response to wrongdoing is our way to protest what just happened. It can express (even if only to oneself) "I'm valuable, and he/she shouldn't have treated me that way." When proportionate to the harm, anger is a good thing and should not be dismissed or repressed.
FORGIVENESS IS NOT FORGOING JUSTICE. People can be reluctant to forgive because they think it entails forgoing seeking reparations or punishment for the wrongdoing. It doesn't. Parents often forgive their children but still discipline them. Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive.
FORGIVING IS NOT CONDONING OR EXCUSING. Sometimes we are encouraged to address our anger by trying to understand the wrongdoer's perspective. Be careful! Sometimes we end up excusing the behavior ("I made him do it") or, worse, justifying it ("I deserved it"). Although this may remove our anger, this is not forgiveness.
FORGIVENESS IS NOT ALWAYS IN OUR CONTROL. Forgiving can be difficult. Like all our emotions, we can't just will our anger away. When our wrongdoer remains unrepentant, still poses a threat or exhibits an overall bad character, such a change can seem unjustified and psychologically impossible. Don't feel guilty. Forgiving is often a process, and in cases where the pain is deep and the wrong severe, may only be possible through God's grace.