Chapter Three

Mastering the Art of Forgiveness


By Dr. Robert Leichtman

Forgiveness does not work well if we fail to recognize the subtle forms of anger. Some assume that the only signs of rage are agitated people who speak in loud voices. Yet, most anger manifests in silent or heavily disguised habits such as cynicism and judgmentalism. Many of these intellectualized forms of anger have been normalized and are no longer known for what they are.

There is a second reason for emphasizing this group of lesser but prevalent forms of anger. While forgiving our solid and well-established grievances can be difficult, taming our minimal resentments is far more manageable. Our efforts to reduce our tendency to be angry are more manageable if we start with less intense habits of being excessively critical and distrustful.

There are invisible aspects of anger

An invisible and silent form of anger often accompanies our effort to recall memories of our dislikes and annoyances. Many assume anger is not present because angry words are not used, and the body language is unchanged. Therefore, neither apologies nor forgiveness is required.

The difficulty in appreciating the significance of this invisible anger is that anger is often discussed as a concept but not as emotional energy. A more comprehensive view of human behavior reveals that the energies of emotions accompany all our thoughts and speech. When we condemn other people, ideas, and situations, we generate a hostile psychological atmosphere about us each time we express a negative opinion, even when it is only an unspoken thought.

Our environment’s invisible mental and emotional energies can significantly influence our mood and well-being. Those who doubt this assertion need to recall how much their comfort changes as they move from domestic safety to an office of competitive executives, bored bureaucrats, or demanding clients. Or perhaps a visit to a local hospital filled with sick patients and their worried relatives would present a shocking contrast to their usual frame of mind and mood.

Sending and receiving emotional energies

The anger we feel but do not speak will still have a subtle but significant effect on both the sender and the receiver of these energies. The impact is often difficult to define but is usually felt as irritation, discouragement, or other forms of agitation.

Because this influence is slight, we may not recognize it until after we recover from these effects and realize that we have been far too annoyed or discouraged recently. Or worse, we may learn how much we sabotaged our well-being by allowing our moodiness to color our interpretations and decisions.

Our projection of emotional energies occurs every time we express ourselves. The cheerful person spontaneously glows with joy and enthusiasm. The contented older person routinely projects a peaceful presence without thinking about it.

Likewise, hostile people who bristle with irritation also automatically send out the energy of annoyance. Chronic misanthropes do not have to say a word to project their condemnation of humanity. Depressed people also radiate their gloom. Many who must interact with these types can sense this irritation or despair.

The personality can express anger in hidden ways

We can easily overlook these common forms of angry self-expression as minor personality traits instead of being pathological. We need to be familiar with a shortlist of these more minor forms of anger.

The first common but subtle expression of anger is the tendency to be hypercritical. Recognizing the flaws in ideas or behavior is a normal function of our personality. The hypercritical, however, are eager faultfinders and complainers who find enjoyment and personal gain in this criticism. The less obvious sign of the hypercritical is the near absence of gratitude and compliments from them, except for a few favorites and minor situations.

Hypercritical people have an exceptional ability to detect flaws in ideas, abilities, and behavior. They tell themselves this criticism is simply the natural result of their sophisticated knowledge and more refined standards. Thus, they continue without shame or restraint.

At the same time, they pay a substantial personal cost. Contentment and genuine joy are rare in their life because they are so obsessed with what is faulty or borders on disgusting. Their inability to celebrate the goodness in life is a deficiency that affects their personal life. While they are often highly amused about the shortcomings of others, these are not happy people. 

The second significant way chronic anger commonly appears is the tendency to be intimidating and arrogant. This habit does not manifest in overt accusations of dishonesty or ignorance in others. Instead, it works out as a persistent habit of challenging the edges of accuracy and value about the claims of others. They often greet new opinions with faint praise or unflattering critiques. No one should expect a compliment from them except a few pathetic individuals who are no threat to their authority. 

Intimidating people like to be in control and often push themselves and their ideas in ways that stifle the contributions of others. They relish the opportunity to offer their opinion about every issue as if their stamp of approval is necessary for most situations. 

Many intimidating people manage to survive because they are often knowledgeable and skillful. Most can demonstrate good work habits and often become valuable employees. They love to take charge and be productive so that, despite being annoying, they can become almost indispensable. They can be adept at developing close associations with those who will help them preserve their status. 

Of course, such individuals are sensitive about receiving any disapproval, as if this is never appropriate. If offered, any criticism is likely to provoke a robust defensive response from them and, perhaps, be unfriended. Underneath this drama, these people suffer from a strong inner critic and are often depressed. 


The third significant way chronic anger appears in human behavior is to be excessively distrustful and cynical. These people also tend to be hypercritical but in a different way. The direction of their criticism is not about the quality of people, events, ideas, and policies. Instead, they distrust the authority and control of people, government, and institutions. Anyone making dogmatic statements or insisting that there is only one right standard or solution will usually trigger their objections. Of course, they do not hesitate to be opinionated and authoritative when allowed to act this way.

This distrust also applies to anything intangible or abstract. These are concrete-thinking people who want visible proof and results before giving their approval. Any statement others make about the accuracy and worth of an idea or technique must be validated for them. Their own beliefs, of course, are considered too obvious to require proof that they are valid. 

Even after appropriate proof to confirm the accuracy of specific claims is offered, suspicion still lingers. They may claim that those results were faked or somebody omitted essential facts. This hostile attitude about what is seen or heard never seems to end. The practitioners of this dysfunctional style are reluctant to reform their habits. They see themselves as people of vast knowledge and discriminating perception who are confident that nothing false will get past them.

This hostile regard of a large swath of life means they see their world as full of deception and falsehood. The fact that living in our imperfect world can still be enjoyable and fulfilling is a concept that makes little sense to them. These are fussy, brittle, and often unhappy people who lack tolerance, resilience, and a sense of humor. They learn little from their experiences as they fail to recognize their narrow views and rigid thinking create large blind spots in their perceptions.

The fourth significant way chronic anger works out in moderate and usually unrecognized ways is to be passive-aggressive in demeanor. Passive-aggressive people are often regarded as being very gentle and sweet. They can, at times, be most affectionate and genuinely friendly.

The typical sign of passive-aggressive people is their tendency to be deliberately vague about everything. This behavior forces others to guess what they want or mean, only to discover later that they somehow made the wrong assumption. 

They also exert their power passively by procrastinating and delaying significant decisions and projects. Others are often forced to wait for them to do something. These tactics are usually very effective until others get tired of these deliberate delays. 

The other definitive sign of a passive-aggressive person is their skillful practice of emotional blackmail. They imply they may have to withdraw their approval and “helpful” presence if they do not get what they want. It usually works because nobody wants to experience their cold indifference, which is how they punish the disobedient. 

Passive-aggressive people are amazingly vigilant and discerning. They quickly recognize those who will be soft targets to conquer and will promptly focus on them. Likewise, they spot those who will not be manipulated and quickly drop all pretense of interest in them. 

The fifth and final significant way chronic hostility manifests, but is not well recognized, is the person with the chip on their shoulder. This habit takes various forms, but they have a typical pattern. Often, some old injury or festering grievance lives on in the habit of projecting this discontent onto innocent people and situations.

For example, they can be very irritated by others who exhibit attitudes and behavior like the ones they disliked as a child. Many who had problems with their father or mother may take out their unresolved resentments on all men or women. If they were strongly criticized or restricted as a child, they might regard all authoritative people as adversaries. Old, unresolved frustrations still burn in their memories, causing them to treat many innocent people poorly. Irrational dislikes and criticisms permeate their thinking. Many innocuous events can trigger their animosity. They alternate between hostility and approval toward activities and relationships that are the reverse of what has annoyed them. They even will marry the total opposite of their hated parent. 

Passive-aggressive individuals can also demonstrate a streak of frivolousness about some events but take life far too seriously on other occasions. Some are very depressed and search for happiness in all the wrong places. They will have issues trusting people as their demons, i.e., old fears and resentments of their nemeses, lie very close to the surface of their emotions.


There are several ways minor degrees of anger can manifest without being recognized. Because these traits are so prevalent, society often considers them normal. Yet, these habits can distort or limit harmony and trust in significant relationships. If we fail to recognize where these simple aspects of anger hide in ourselves, we will not realize the full dimensions of our hostility. We also may miss the most accessible place to begin controlling our anger and mastering the art of forgiveness.    

Check out my following discourse about the necessity for owning our anger instead of blaming others for our distress.


  1. Anger is not just an attitude. It is also the invisible energy accompanying our spoken, unspoken, critical, and condemning thoughts. Just as our joy automatically radiates from us when we are enthusiastic, the hidden form of our anger pours out of us when we think about and express our strong dislikes.
  2. Several anger-based habits are socially acceptable when moderate in intensity. Reducing these minor forms of anger also diminishes the strength of more difficult grievances, making them a safe place to begin controlling our anger. These normalized forms of anger include these habits. 

Hypercriticism: These are dedicated faultfinders who take pride in finding people’s flaws, ideas, and methods. Their ego strength often depends on this ability.

Arrogance and intimidation: These individuals seek to be in control and will challenge the authority and competence of others.

Distrust and cynicism: Doubting the authenticity of any claim is the major habit of these individuals. They demand proof of any allegation in the most literal terms, but rarely will any evidence presented be sufficient to be accepted.

Passive-aggressive: These individuals can be overly sweet and gentle except when being ignored. They are experts at manipulating others by creating delays and threatening to withdraw their approval when they do not get what they want. 

Chips on the shoulder: These people nurse old wounds of neglect or abuse. They carry their irritation forever and project this rejection onto anyone who resembles their old nemesis. They have a natural affinity to those with a personality that is the opposite of their old nemesis.

Think on these things

Written by Dr. Robert Leichtman