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It is sometimes thought that, if someone hurts us, they need to offer a full and genuine apology. It is then up to us how we choose to respond. If it seems to us that they really are sorry, then we usually feel that we can—and perhaps ought to—accept their apology and ‘move on’.

This is not necessarily an irrational or reckless response. A sincere apology is a rare and precious thing. It will have taken a great deal of painful ‘inner work’. Someone who is genuinely remorseful will have overcome all the self-protecting barriers of denial, self-justification, minimising, victim-blaming…

I have argued elsewhere that there can be immense value in the outward-directed ‘Fight’ reaction of anger. But anger can also lead to acts of vengeance or retaliatory violence. In such cases, this emotion is no longer serving a positive function. How is it that our anger can turn negative in this way?

What drives the need to take revenge?

Anger or resentment is evoked in us when someone does or says something that conveys the underlying message: ‘You are lower than me on the scale of worth’. So this emotion is a healthy and useful response when it serves to resist or defy this message. Its…

The role of compassion

We all know what it is like to suffer. We have all experienced, to greater or lesser degrees, the torment and anguish of unrelieved pain. When we were in that state, we desperately wanted those around us to do everything they could to remove our pain. Yet we have also experienced situations in which we have failed to act to alleviate the suffering of others — even when we knew there was something we could have done. How can this be? How is it that we failed to act?

What seems to have been lacking is the emotion of compassion…

Photo: from Canuck Place Children’s Hospice

Joy is no ordinary emotion. It may have a family resemblance to other positive feelings. But there are good reasons to think that joy is unique insofar as it is evoked only when we are in a close, intimate connection with goodness, truth and beauty. And these are the ‘ultimate’ values: they give our lives purpose and make life worth living. So joy could scarcely be more important to us.

If this understanding of joy is right, then we would have a good explanation as to why our lives might be so ‘joy-less’: we have become disconnected, estranged or alienated…

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Unconditional forgiveness is not always psychologically possible, nor is it morally appropriate. Forgiveness should only be offered when we receive a genuine apology, and even then it is entirely up to us. But what alternatives are open to us? What does a future without forgiveness look like?

Suppose we find ourselves in a situation where the person who has hurt us has not taken responsibility or apologised for what they did. Very often, we will be advised to forgive them regardless—if only so that we can ‘let go’ and ‘move on’ with our lives.

But there are two serious problems…

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The emotion of anger can do considerable harm. At the extreme end, it can lead to acts of vengeance or retaliatory violence. But it can also transform into a permanent background temperament of bitterness, cynicism and distrust. In either case, anger is not serving a positive function in our lives.

However, like the ‘Fight’ response to the threat of physical danger, feelings of anger can be of immense value when we have been harmed.

1. Anger tells us that we have been wronged.

Suppose you find yourself feeling resentful when someone speaks to you in a patronising tone of voice. This emotion reveals to you that you are being…

Relational Approaches

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