Chapter Six

Mastering the Art of Forgiveness


By Dr. Robert Leichtman

Entrenched anger is never purely a product of our emotions. Both the mind and emotions are involved in creating our significant resentments. Reason supplies the figurative bricks of specific people or situations that have annoyed us. Anger is the cement that holds it all together as a complex memory of irritations. Both the head and the heart were necessary to develop and focus our anger, and both will be required to unravel the original pain and apply forgiveness. 

The heart’s contribution to forgiveness can be in gratitude, goodwill, and basic kindness. The mind can support forgiveness by recognizing the value of people, events, and associations. Only our heartfelt love can dissolve the feeling of resentment and malice. Only a new understanding of the value of a life free of grievances can remove our justifications for hatred and disgust. 

Forgiveness acts like a vast river of love and wisdom that can flow over all resentments to dissolve them, leaving only a core of goodness. While this river has many tributaries, gratitude, or thankfulness, can be the most important. Gratitude adds appreciation to affection and recognizes the profound value that lurks within the circumstances that irritate us.  

The unique role of gratitude in the practice of forgiveness 

A capacity for gratitude contributes to our efforts to forgive in ways that may seem obscure but are essential to the overall process of forgiveness. Gratitude supports the practice of forgiveness in these ways.

  • Gratitude shifts our mood and perspective to an affectionate and constructive focus on what we sense and remember. No one can begin forgiving while in a bad mood.
  • Gratitude aligns us with our storehouse of goodwill and kindness and turns us away from the pool of negative feelings and remembrances.
  • Gratitude draws us closer to our higher humanity and spirit as the inexhaustible source of benevolent life energies.

Beware half-steps in forgiveness 

Sometimes we cease our efforts to forgive once we no longer are consumed by outrage about important events and people. Some only downgrade their anger to merely disliking someone or a situation. They tell themselves: “I am not angry! I simply do not like that person or situation.” 

Others assume they are finished with anger once they replace it with hostile indifference. However, this is a shift of labels more than a shift of attitudes and a clever way to deny that we are still angry. 

Unfortunately, the difference between hatred and dislike is only a matter of degree. The primary force of both comes from the same source. Anger is like mud. Mud remains mud, even if diluted, colored with pink dye, and scented with citrus. It is still something that darkens our humanity and creates friction in our emotions. This diluted mud often thrives in us as the mild prejudices and stereotypes we comfortably engage in our lives. 

While the resentment behind our prejudices is not at maximum intensity, anger is still anger. Moving through life with an abundance of dislikes will keep us vulnerable to outbursts of anger. When provoked or exhausted, our dislikes can quickly gather strength and emerge as outrage. 

How do we apply gratitude to the process of forgiveness?

Authentic forgiveness can occur only when we are in a good mood and feeling generous about life. Because these periods of spontaneous benevolence can be rare for many, we need to learn how to initiate this mood and outlook when we want it. 

The easiest way to do this is to learn to practice gratitude. We can do this by affectionately thinking about the many blessings in our lives and how this causes us to develop a warm-hearted appreciation of them. For instance, we can be thankful for our physical possessions and great friendships. Sometimes our gratitude can be directed to how our exceptional talents or refined awareness and discernment have enriched our life. Others can find comfort in appreciating the quiet peace and joy they are experiencing now. 

Once a mood of gratitude is built, we can direct our attention to those areas where we have been upset and too critical. It is as if we have found a cleaning fluid for emotions, and we can cleanse small bits of angry memories by drawing them into this pool of goodwill. The negativity begins to dissolve as we dip small amounts of our annoyances into our feeling of appreciation and acceptance. 

We must work slowly and take on only little chunks of anger at a time. If we work too fast or engage in large amounts of irritation, we will drown in our resentments. However, suppose we learn to stay within the limits of our ability to forgive. In that case, we can maintain a positive mindset and bring awareness of our old enemies and hardships into our reservoir of goodwill.  

This method may not explicitly forgive our old enemies, but it can allow us to engage in an indirect form of forgiveness. These small steps begin the process of forgiveness by reducing our storehouse of anger. This is a safe way to work that will not trigger an avalanche of grievances that often occurs when we attempt to give a full pardon to our enemies. The more we continue these simple efforts, the more we will neutralize vast amounts of stored anger in us


The mental counterpart of gratitude 

The mind plays a vital role in the practice of forgiveness. While our hearts may be ready to forgive, we can still be preoccupied with why we want to maintain our resentments and recycle grievances. The key to the process of forgiveness often lies in challenging why we assume our anger is justified and should continue. 

Eventually, we must recognize that our initial rush to negative judgments and resentment blinded us to many aspects of our experiences. We may have failed to acknowledge some mitigating and admirable qualities in our adversaries, proving they are not pure evil. We also may not recognize the constructive side of what happened to us as we grew in our capacity for self-reliance and self-control. 

We also may have learned that one of our great blind spots is that we believe the only real good people are those who think, look, and act like us. This conviction can make it almost impossible to forgive individuals who have different values and views. Still, our common sense tells us good people come in all sizes, ages, temperaments, and interests. We are undercutting the quality of our life unless we broaden our perspectives and accept the value of people who differ from us.  

Our most difficult experiences often teach us the most

Once we have some emotional distance from the overt hurts and wounds of our challenging experiences, we can recognize that some good things happened during our distress. We may realize that our hardships caused us pain but also made us stronger in significant ways. 

But first, we must acknowledge that anger and disappointment suck the life out of us. They can leave us empty and bitter if we fail to overcome them. Many never recognize that something that causes us to engage in endless complaining and anger is more than a challenge. It also represents a powerful lesson about the immature way of responding to irritating experiences.

Until we recognize this message, our distress will continue and cripple our progress. Nothing will fully relieve our difficulty until we realize the true meaning of these dark experiences and engage in effective reforms.

Stressful experiences eventually force us to become more vigorous, resilient, and creative in our responses. Fussy and grumpy people, for instance, often encourage us to become patient and tolerant as the only reasonable way to cope with them. Sick and genuinely needy people compel us to be humble and charitable as we care for them. Recognizing these developments helps us to find reasons to let go of some of our anger in these situations.    

Our spiritual life lessons usually include some problems we can overcome only by living through these hardships. We don’t learn to be resilient, patient, or courageous by reading romance novels—real-life experience is required. These are skills we master as we throw ourselves into their practice. At first, we may be motivated only by the urge to survive. Still, eventually, we recognize that authentic understanding and constructive attitudes, not just willpower, are essential to managing hardships and building harmony.  


The fundamental force we need to perform forgiveness is the combined power of our head and heart. Our minds must recognize the burden of our useless anger and find a better way to view old situations and relationships. The heart is also involved as we summon our capacity for tolerance and kindness and direct them into old resentments and grievances. 

This way, the two streams of energy of our head and heart can combine to achieve what each part often cannot do by itself. We can love but still remember the horrors of what happened that was so devastating. We also can fully accept the facts of what has happened and still hate. Ultimately, we need to let go of specific judgments and the pain they still cause. Combining the forces of kindness and understanding with acceptance makes a successful combination.


Both understanding and love are required for most forgiveness. Love from the heart is needed to dissolve the anger. Knowledge from the head is necessary to dissolve the reasons for the anger.

We can generate the heart’s love by directing our attention to established experiences, relationships, talents, or possessions that fill us with gratitude. Once developed, we can redirect our mood of thankfulness to small areas where our anger still smolders.

We must apply our gratitude and expectations (the best of our heart and head) to forgive the former objects of our resentment. Do this for several minutes and repeat at intervals. Remember, we have maintained our anger for a considerable period, and it may take time to eradicate the bulk of it.  


  1. Take time to develop a feeling of gratitude in your life. Then bring some old memory tinged with anger into your stream of gratitude. Let it flow into your memories to dissolve that anger. Are you ready to allow some forgiveness?
  2. Consider being proactive in your approach to complex situations or people. Consider solutions, reforms, and repairs that you can use to improve your thinking about an unpleasant memory. How can you extract some constructive insight or other benefits from these memories? For example, how has this event or relationship caused you to become more independent or self-reliant? Will this help to modify your resentment? Are you ready to allow some forgiveness?
  3. Can you sense something more extensive and benevolent in your experiences? Is there something greater than your personal feelings about the situation that distresses you? Do you sense a great loving force distantly involved in your experience? Does this offer a broader perspective that will help heal this situation? 

Think on these things

Written by Dr. Robert Leichtman