How to Shift from Anger to Forgiveness

December 29, 2020 0

How to Shift from Anger to Forgiveness and Gain Pain Relief

By Dr. James Fricton

Forgiveness and gratitude help a person let go of personal grudges and experiencing an unwanted state of bitterness.

Negative emotions of anger and frustration and positive emotions of gratitude and forgiveness are personal expressions of internal feelings that people have. A person’s pain, anger, and frustration can be generated as a form of personal protection. This occurs when an individual senses that they are in a situation that poses a potential threat to their well-being.

Although anger and frustration are common reactions when someone violates your personal boundaries or blocks your goals and aspiration, they can become a persistent problem. A host of negative consequences including stress and chronic pain (1-15) may follow. Ongoing anger can be a self-isolating factor. Ongoing unmanaged anger can eventually cause harm to many people that you actually care about.

This article will examine the emotions of anger and frustration, why they impact pain, and how you can shift to gratitude and forgiveness to help pain conditions. First, we’ll answer common questions that relate to our conversation.

What are the Symptoms of Anger, Frustration, and Resentment?

The symptoms of anger, frustration, and resentment can be identified as:

Anger is a negative emotion to a perceived threat when personal boundaries and feelings of safety are violated.

Frustration is a negative emotion, like anger, to a perceived threat to fulfilling your intentions, will or goal.

Resentment is a prolonged feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.

These 3 negative human emotions are often tied together since anger is often directed at whatever person or situation may interfere with your intent or goals. Anger and resentment often result from persistent frustration. The frustration of someone or some event interfering with your goals can then amplify any feelings of anger towards someone or some situation that violate personal boundaries in the process.

As a trait, anger is more commonly manifested as aggression and studied in health-outcomes research (1). Anger is a natural emotion that helps individuals feel more in control. Relative to other negative emotions, such as fear, sadness, guilt, and shame, anger is the most prominent emotion in chronic pain patients.3 It is related to how we think about an event, person, or situation.

What Causes Anger, Resentment, and Frustration?

The major ingredients to a person’s anger include the fear of being safe, the perception of being mistreated or abused, and the subsequent resentment of the threat. False beliefs, skewed point of view, and paranoid thinking can combine to create destructive anger over-reactions. Anger and frustration are a destructive force similar to fire. There is a role for it, but it may also destroy your home, your business, your career, and your personal relationships.

Common hidden causes of people’s anger, resentment, and frustration are:

  • Specific person (such as a spouse, family member, coworker or supervisor).
  • Event (traffic jams, canceled flight, conflict at work).
  • Social group or organization.
  • Memories of traumatic or enraging events can also trigger angry feelings.
  • Worrying or brooding about your personal problems.
  • Feeling rejected.
  • Feeling threatened.
  • Experiencing loss.
  • Experience pain and suffering.
  • Misinterpretations of situations to think someone is attempting (consciously or not) to hurt you.

Uncontrolled Anger may Induce Chronic Pain

Can anger, frustration, and resentment increase physical pain and make you sick?

Yes. Prolonged anger and frustration are threats that turn the volume up on pain and delay recovery from the pain condition. Where there is pain, the adverse effects may include anger. Persistent anger, frustration, and resentment can lead to many negative physiologic and behavioral consequences.

They may actually make you ill and increase pain due to the over-reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. The experience of both anger and frustration amplifies pain with a stronger emotion-induced pain response and higher emotional reaction. Patients who report an inability to forgive others will experience higher pain and psychological distress resulting from higher levels of anger. Less forgiveness and more anger equals more pain.

Unforgiveness and a consistent state of anger contribute to the following pain and illnesses:

Pain and Illness: Thoughts and Attitudes:
Persistent Pain. Ruminating and over-thinking an offense. “You really are terrible for doing that”.
Decrease immune reaction. Illusions of success. “If only they didn’t do that.”
Rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure. Bad guy. “You are so immoral and wrong in doing that.”
Tensing muscles headaches, and muscle pain. Revenge: “I’ll get you for this.”
Sharpened senses. Rejection: Your heart is wounded.
An opening the eye pupils. Unfairness: Your rights are violated.
Sweating Loss of control: Your future is threatened.
Failure: Your goals are being blocked.

What happens if a person denies a healthy process of resolving feelings of anger and frustration?

Less anxiety, stress, and hostility means that a person sleeps better. Extreme bitterness and unforgiveness may cause teeth grinding issues, tension headaches, and worsening sleep apnea.

Persistent unrecognized anger and frustration can generate significant resentment and the intention to lash out at others to get revenge. These factors can lead you to take adverse relational actions. This may include making threats and defending yourself. It commonly occurs by striking out to get revenge against the target you think is causing your loss or pain.

John Hopkins Medicine talks about how individuals who hang on to grudges are more likely to experience severe depression and a post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to other health conditions. The MN Head and Neck Pain Center has found that people can train themselves to act in healthier ways. Hopkins July 28, 2017 Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It article states that “62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives”.

How Uncontrolled Anger may Induce Chronic Pain?Extreme bitterness and unforgiveness-may cause jaw pain and loss of sleep

Studies connect uncontrolled anger to negatively affecting a person’s physical health, including increasing a person’s pain level. According to David Cosio, PhD, ABPP, unrelenting anger links to inflammation, particularly with blood levels of c-reactive protein and interleukin-6.

His October 29, 2019 Anger Expression & Chronic Pain article covers how disruptive, impulse-control, anger-induces conduct disorders may lead to oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, pyromania, and an antisocial personality disorder. This poses major public health concerns because they greatly increase the risk of incarceration, personal injury, depression, substance abuse, and death by homicide or suicide.

Cosio discloses that “Approximately 5% to 15% of the US population, is disabled by impulse control disorders”,

Anger also avoids dealing with pain. It can feel better to be angry than it does to be in pain. This may be done consciously or unconsciously.

Anger may temporarily feel like it helps by:

  • Offering a distraction.
  • Avoiding responsibility for the pain.
  • Taking a person from “self-focus” to being “other focused”.
  • Covers up feelings of vulnerability, becoming angry.
  • Creates a feeling of righteousness, power, and moral superiority.
  • Seems to justify taking an aggressive action.
  • Proving a temporary boost to self-esteem, but follows with drop in self-esteem.

Poorly managed anger does not address or resolve any problem.

What is the End Result of Managing Feelings of Anger and Frustration Incorrectly?

Anger and frustration mediate the association between forgiveness and psychological distress and pain. In other words, when you have less forgiveness, it can result in more anger and more pain.

When someone fails to recognize or even deny their feelings of anger, not only do they mute negative emotions but also they dilute positive ones. Stifling one’s feelings may actually amplify them also which has a domino effect of making the urge to stifle our emotions even stronger.

It is similar to trying to shove a beach ball under the surface of a pool. It takes a lot of energy to keep it underwater and it will simply pop up anyway, somewhere and somehow, in unexpected places or inappropriate times.

People are often mad at slow drivers but perhaps it’s not driving slow that leads to anger but other causes such as they hate their job. When someone does not acknowledge and move past the anger with forgiveness and gratitude, you can end up grinding your teeth (which may (which may cause TMJ disorders) or tensing your back and shoulders which generates more pain.

Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to resolve anger.

Gratitude journals let you express gratitude. They can be a step in your pain management that aids the processing of negative feelings. Positive psychological interventions are a way to cultivate feelings of gratitude, find purpose in life, foster kindness, and other positive emotions. They are promising strategies for patients with chronic pain.

“If we make a commitment to ourselves to aim for healthier expressions of anger, we do a great service to ourselves and to others. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-awareness can lead us toward greater compassion for those around us, and to more authentic, happy relationships. It may take some discipline to look at anger this deeply, and there may be setbacks along the way. But, in the end, understanding and managing anger will lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life.” – Bernard Golden at Berkely (4)

How are Triggers for Anger, Frustration, and Resentment Identified?

Be mindful of your emotions and improve your self-awareness of what triggers them. Learn how to identify your underlying feelings (e.g, fear, guilt, grief, confusion, shame, loss) and the subsequent negative thoughts.

Whenever we carry negative emotions or a negative self-concept, we need to get to the root of what is generating these negative emotions. Think of a situation that generated your anger and frustration. Note when you felt these emotions, how long they lasted. Try to think of the actions, situations, thoughts, relationships, performance, and other factors that make you feel bad about yourself.

Once these triggers are identified, it is easier to void obvious triggers such as verbally abusive people and those who take advantage of others. Then you can better adapt to unavoidable triggers for anger when your boundaries are violated. Whatever internal or external factors have stimulated anger, it is important to recognize them.

Risk factors can be counteracted with protective factors of forgiveness and gratitude.

What are the Benefits of Forgiveness and Gratitude?

Most people benefit from applying forgiveness as it can reduce the anger of feeling hurt and wounded due to an adverse circumstance or relationship. Gratitude is the readiness to show appreciation and kindness toward others, despite anger or frustration.

Showing gratitude and forgiveness can reverse anger, frustration, and increasing pain. Forgiveness helps a person let go of anger, resentment, and hostility toward others. Studies have shown that patients who had higher scores on forgiveness-related variables reported lower levels of pain, anger, and psychological distress (1).

Gratitude and showing kindness to others can reduce the frustration of not achieving goals, which reduces anger and pain. People who are able to let go of these negative emotions and shift to positive emotions such as gratitude and forgiveness have more control of their relational responses.

A person may experience the following benefits when a true state of forgiveness and gratitude is obtained:

  • Improvements in pain and recovery.
  • a stronger immune system to prevent illness.
  • Overall enjoyment and a zest for living.
  • Better self-care and self-efficacy processes.
  • The ability to reconcile mistakes and imperfections.
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • The ability to laugh, have fun, and sleep better.
  • The ability to better deal with life’s stressors.

Positive emotions also encourage Positive Automatic Thoughts or PATs such as “I am who I am”, “I do my best”, “I try to be helpful” “Nobody’s perfect”, “I’m okay no matter what happens”, “I can just let it go”.

How to Show Forgiveness and Gratitude to let go of Hurt

1. Be aware of your response to anger and frustration. Patients may be taught how to use relaxation techniques, such as calming benefits, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. They also may benefit from understanding how to change the way they process their thoughts using cognitive restructuring.

2. Make positive behavior changes. This may include problem-solving, seeking an outlet (eg, exercise, hobby, talking to someone), distraction (eg, going to the movies with a friend), and/or pursuing healthier alternatives when feeling pain or loneliness, such as watching a comedy. These feelings can be released with forgiveness and, then, gratitude.

3. If you think that someone is trying to hurt you, it helps to shift to positive thoughts. Be yourself: kind and caring. Forgiving and grateful. These are more powerful human responses to emotional hurt and can reduce your tension levels.

4. Shift from grudge to gratitude. Being grateful helps you shift from your role as victim and releases the controlling hold of the offending person and situation. As you replace thoughts of grudges with gratitude, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You may rather fell, joy, relief, compassion, and understanding.

Does forgiving benefit the Offender more than the Person Wronged?

There are many reasons that forgiveness can actually benefit the person wronged more than the offender.

Forgiving is healthier and will reduce persistent symptoms of anger and frustration. It also takes less time and energy to just let it go than to continually hold a grudge. Forgiving also can clear your mind of distracting and counterproductive thoughts of resentment and revenge.

It also allows you to spend more time on things that matter, such as becoming the best person you can be. Forgiving supports ongoing relationships to thrive despite the ups and downs of relationships. No relationship is perfect and anger comes with all relationships and forgiveness and gratitude allow meaningful relationships to grow.

For people dealing with persistent anger, forgiveness can be the best revenge. Sometimes the best way to get revenge on your offender is for them to see you move forward and succeed and be happy. Some controlling individuals may want to hold you in the grip of fear and anger.

What if a person’s anger is caused by physical or sexual abuse?

If there is someone who is trying to hurt you or make unwanted physical or sexual advances that use force, threats, or takes advantage of you without your consent, it is important to recognize this. Get away from that harmful person and get help from a health professional as quickly as possible.

Physical abuse is any physical force that injures you or puts your health in danger. Sexual abuse is any intentional and unwanted sexual contact without consent. Physical and sexual abuse that involves non-accidental and unwanted use of force can result in bodily injury, anxiety, pain, insult, impairment, and prolonged emotional consequences. Sometimes abusive behavior does not cause pain or even leave a bruise, but it can still result in anger, pain, and illness.

How do you Deal with Angry People?

Angry people are difficult to be around and manifest their anger in many direct and indirect ways. We all become angry at times but some people are persistently angry. Thus, we all need to know how to deal with these people in our lives.

Tips for dealing with difficult people instead of getting angry at them:

  • Find your own peace and protect it.
  • Do not rationalize angry bad behavior by those around you.
  • Stop seeking acceptance from them; this most likely has nothing to do with you.
  • Stop judging them. It is their issue. “let it be.”
  • Be brave, be gentle, and be free.
  • Their anger is not a life-altering tragedy. It can be a life-changing lesson. Take control of your self. You decide how you handle this.
  • Keep your motives and expectations in check. Be mindful of your thoughts.
  • Think loving thoughts. Channel your negative thoughts into positive ones.
  • Avoid looking for intentions and reasons. This defense mechanism in their behavior.
  • Forgive them.
  • Do not try to control or fix the situation, back away. Control only your own feelings and actions. They need to fix themselves. Just lead by example.
  • Remind yourself that actions speak louder than words.
  • Maintain your healthy personal boundaries. Insist on respect or walk away.
  • Protect yourself and those you love. Give your thoughts, time, and energy to those who bring you joy.

The key to anger prevention is to identify the false beliefs at the root of your emotions. False beliefs, coupled with other factors like a point of view, emotional reactivity, and previous experience, can combine to create destructive emotional reactions. Two of the major ingredients to a person’s anger are; fear and a perception of being mistreated or abused. You need to learn to get over anger.

Personal Goals that Help You Move to Forgiveness and Gratefulness

  • Recognize that both your negative emotions and negative thoughts are normal and natural. Emotions teach you about the world by how you react. They are protective emotions as long as they do not get out of control.
  • Maintain appreciation and gratitude and when needed forgiveness of those people or situations that generated the anger.
  • Avoid situations that lead to anger and frustration.
  • When anger occurs, get over it and find forgiveness and show gratitude to those good people or things that bring you joy.

Give yourself permission to:

  • Recognize when and why you feel anger and frustration and what triggered it. Know what it feels like t
  • Step away and shift to forgiveness and gratitude for the good things you do have in life and relationships.
  • Enjoy the positive feelings of letting go of anger and frustration through forgiveness and gratitude.
  • Show that you care for yourself and others but doing positive actions.
  • Let go of the past, enjoy the present moment, and plan for a great future.

When you feel grateful, emotions of resentment and rage tend to dissipate.

What are the Key Steps to Forgiveness and Gratitude?

Follow the 3 simple steps to your action plan to develop acceptance and empathy:

1. Health Emotional Habits: Make it a healthy HABIT of letting go of anger and frustration through forgiveness and gratitude. Practice thinking of forgiveness and gratitude as a healthy habit. Take positive steps each day to be thankful and appreciative of the little things in life that are not worth getting angry over. Let the anger go.

2. Take Mindful Pauses: Pause to Assess and Understand anger and frustration. Start new emotions and enjoy the moment. Emotions of anger and frustration can come on after someone or some event blocks your goals and intentions. These negative emotions may linger for days to months depending on the situation. Like pain in different areas of your body, you need to recognize these emotions, their triggers, and how to shift from negative to positive emotions. To do so, take PAUSES to check-in on your emotions but try not to judge them, particularly if negative. Just noticing is sufficient to shift to doing something that will lift your mood and let go of anger and frustration.

3. Practice calming daily: Practice calming techniques that are provided in this training. Take 10 minutes during the day to close your eyes, breath slow and deep, and let your mind, emotions, and body settle down. You will learn to let go of anger and frustration or feel more forgiveness and gratitude for yourself and others.

When to Seek a Health Professional’s Help for Emotional Problems?

The following red flags help to indicate when it’s best to seek a health professional:

  • Harboring persistent hostility to someone or in general.
  • Persistent anger and plotting revenge to get back at someone.
  • Major changes in your life to avoid certain angry people.
  • The threat of physical injury due to physical or sexual abuse from another person.
  • Resorting to shame and bullying of others.
  • If you feel like hurting others.

If you identify with any of these red flags, consider making an appointment with a mental health professional.

SUMMARY: Your Health Depends on Forgiveness

If you have taken consistent actions to improve your emotional health and still do not feel good, seek professional help today.

The input from a knowledgeable, caring health professional can help someone see the root of negative emotions more clearly. It helps a person achieve states of forgiveness and gratitude that could not be otherwise gained on our own.

Call 763-577-2484 to request an office visit or a telemedicine visit today online by clicking here: Schedule A Clinic Visit

About the Author


About the Author

James Fricton DDS, MS is a leading orofacial pain specialist at the Minnesota Head and Neck Pain Clinic, Chair of the Specialty Committee for the AAOP, and University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus

Additional References

1. Pederson T. Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Anger Disorder Linked to Inflammation. Available at: Accessed December 11, 2017.

2. American Psychological Association. Controlling anger before it controls you. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2018.

3. Treating Anger Disorders: Anger Management Treatment Program Options. Available at: Accessed February 19, 2018.

4. How to Overcome Destructive Anger. Accessed October 2, 2016

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