Perhaps the number one killer of mental and relational health in America is the refusal to go through the learning experience of emotional pain.  But I believe our next biggest mental health buzz kill is our refusal to forgive others and ourselves.  I just have to take a stab here at trying to reduce this colossal waste of serenity.

Forgiveness is a private act.  It is first of all an act of the mind and the will.  You first have to promise with all that you are that you will no longer scheme, hope, and work to get even, to make the other party hurt so bad they will repent and try to make it up to you.  If you think you can’t, start with praying for the welfare of the one who hurt you, and ask for the courage and wisdom to make that promise and keep it.  Only then can the words, actions, and finally the emotions of forgiveness come through you.

It may never include an “I forgive you” talk.  Sometimes the purpose of forgiving someone is to restore our closeness in that relationship, and other times it is to allow detachment to create more distance.  How forgiveness is expressed depends on the other person, on the relationship, its purpose, and how it will be acted out.  But some purposes are common to all occasions of forgiveness.  Let’s look for some motivations to forgive.


Christians are told that when the children of God forgive each other, it makes God happy.

I believe it, as I believe God loves us and knows that forgiveness is good for us.  It reduces the war and crime in our society, and on a personal level, it reduces our resentments, arguments, divorces, ulcers, insomnia and addictions.  Besides, being kind and polite to our enemies without needing or expecting anything in return is just the best way to keep our enemies at a safe distance.


Everyone!  We need to forgive whoever we are angry at, whoever we dread seeing at Walmart or McDonald's, and generally, anybody that can make us mad just by being happy.  We also need to forgive ourselves.  Believing that we have been forgiven by God or another person without forgiving ourselves is just like leaving a Christmas present all wrapped up under the tree -- it gives no joy to the giver or the receiver until we take it out into our everyday lives and enjoy playing with it.


We need to forgive everything they have ever done wrong, to us, to our loved ones or theirs, to themselves or others.  We also need to forgive every good thing they have failed to do, and every bad thing they will ever do in the future.  Past, present, and future, we are to love the sinner and hate the sin.

Now understand that forgiveness is not trust. Unlike forgiveness, trust has to be earned.  We need to forgive for our own sakes, long before the other person has earned our trust that they won’t hurt us again.  And if our enemy DOES mess up and try to hurt us again, we need to trust ourselves to get over it when they do.  This is a heck of a lot easier to do when we can kindly and politely forgive and wish them well without expecting anything in return.  We can trust ourselves to get over another betrayal if we know how and why to forgive, and how to set and enforce healthy boundaries for ourselves (more about those below).

And forgiveness does not mean condoning the other person's behavior.  It may or may not be a good idea to tell the other person you still think what they did was wrong, but it is always okay to say, "It is not that I am condoning or excusing what you did, I am just forgiving you."


ASAP.  Don't wait until the other person repents, reforms, asks for forgiveness, or even admits that they were wrong.  You sure don't need to wait until you feel like it, because forgiveness is a matter of faith, not feeling.  Don't wait until you understand the other person, or why they hurt you.  When it comes to forgiveness, just do it.


First, make a decision to forgive yourself as well as others, because you can’t hold onto forgiveness unless you keep giving it away.  Forgiveness can't be given until it has been received, not from your enemy, but from someone that accepts you as you are.  To accept yourself as you are, warts and all, you must first admit and accept your weaknesses, and repent of your mistakes and bad habits.  Strength is only made perfect in weakness.  Only when you know you need more grace than you deserve can you give forgiveness that isn’t earned.  Like with money, you must have some forgiveness to give it away.  Before you can put a smile on your face, you have to put one in your heart, every day.  Treat yourself as you treat others:  hate the sin (yours included), but love the sinner (yourself included).

The next step to safety is to drop the rock of resentment.  Figure out other ways of making yourself feel safe without carrying around anger to bodyguard your heart.  Believing that a resentment can be justified and smart is like wearing a gun on your hip – it keeps gentle people at a distance, attracts fighters, and generally provokes suspicion and rejection.  Commit to a life work of daily giving up your resentments, justifications, plans for revenge, and wishes for your enemy to suffer or fail.  Carrying a live resentment around is like loading up your gun and wearing bullets on your belt – you 're carrying a chip on your shoulder, wearing your hurt on your sleeve, and just asking for trouble.  

Third, choose and meditate on healthy beliefs.  You can never prove these beliefs right or wrong, but you can prove without a doubt the internal results of holding these beliefs.  You can know if they calm you down.  So taste the following beliefs, see that they have a healthy and calming effect on your relationships.  Then start meditating on them, so you will remember them on the spot, and be able to act upon them:   ~  All human beings are capable of repentance and reform.  ~  If we were born into our enemies’ bodies and situations, we don't know whether or not we might have turned out much worse.  ~  “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” asks Paul in Romans 14:4.   ~ When we are kind to them without needing or expecting anything in return, it delivers deep and painful wounds to their prideful and vengeful egos.  ~  What our enemies may need to hear they wouldn’t be able to hear from us.  ~  So we can just “Let go, and let God.”

Finally, resolve to protect yourself by showing love and respect from a healthy distance.  Set and carefully keep healthy boundaries.  A boundary is not a threat to another person, but a promise to yourself of what you will do to protect yourself if they violate your safety zone.  Protective behaviors that do not attack might include remarks such as, “Well that's your opinion,” or “I'm sorry you feel that way.”  The important thing when you are threatened or insulted is to immediately change the subject or end the conversation, before you take offense, or let yourself get upset.  Otherwise, your distress will show, and that would be showing blood to a shark.  You can’t play it cool on the outside without being cool on the inside, and you can’t do that without forgiving all around.  If you pray for them in private, you can speak to them and about them respectfully in public.  Or, instead of talking, make brief eye contact, give a quick little nod of recognition with a quick little smile, then move on to avoid them.  If you don’t shine a light of goodwill on your enemies, you remain the frightened deer, when you could so much more enjoy being the headlights on high beam.

Still don’t think you can do this?

  1. Underline in green all the ideas you agree with, and all the actions you’re willing to practice.
  2. Underline in red all the ideas you don’t agree with, the actions you’re not willing to practice.
  3. Take this to a pastor, counselor, or accountability partner.  Pray you can turn the red lights green.
  4. Change your beliefs and actions toward one person at a time, starting with one you wouldn’t have been able to forgive just doing it by yourself.  Figure out together what incentives you need.



These are not my guidelines.  They are the ones most frequently presented in the many books I have read to help couples work through their disagreements and misunderstandings.  They are also the ones I have been taught in my training, and the ones I have seen to work best in my office.   I invite couples to print this out, make a copy for each, and then I ask each partner to take some time rewording these ground rules, to reflect what they think would work best in their marriage.  Then they can exchange papers to discuss the additions, subtractions, and re-wordings they propose, and combine them into one new set of ground rules that they print out for themselves, not Paul Schmidt's guidelines, but "Our Ground Rules."

1.  Set aside a place as a "workshop" for practicing these ground rules.  Use it only to settle disagreements, so avoid using the sanctuaries of the kitchen, bedroom, eating area, or the TV room where you relax.  Perhaps use the living room or deck.  If your kids won't give you privacy, you might lock yourselves into your car in the garage.

2.  You may set aside a certain time of the week to do this on a regular basis, for practice, and to keep stress levels low by avoiding the build-up of anger.

3.  Discuss threatening subjects by appointment only. (“I need to talk with you about . . . . When would be a good time?”)

4.  Use the same data pool – anything that concerns one of you must be an active concern for the other.

5.  No physical violence, or threats of violence.  Keep your voices at a moderate volume.  This means no words could be heard through a closed door in the hall outside, and no one's voice could be heard through two closed doors in a room right across the hall.

6.  Stay on the subject.  Discuss only one issue at a time.  Use hand signals like these:

a.  “Emergency Brake” – Raise one hand.  This tells your partner to wait a few seconds and then proceed with caution.  You have heard about as much as you can stand right now, and you need to take a moment and calm yourself before hearing more.

     b.  “Below the Belt” – Raise both hands.  This tells your partner that you are being hurt so badly that you would have trouble forgiving.  Going any further would hurt your relationship.  This is a polite way to ask for an apology, or a gentler way to get the same point across.

     c.  “You’re boring me” – Put your hands over your ears for a second.  This tells your partner that he or she is going on too long, or is getting out of bounds.  You just can't hear anymore, so time to listen or both take time out to decompress.

7.  No interrupting.  Waiting your turn gets better results.

8.  Stay in the present tense – avoid discussing the past.  (“I am afraid that you will . . .” works better than “Of course there was the time when you . . . .”)

9.  Avoid the absolute usage of “always” and “never.”  Use “almost always” or “hardly ever.”

10.  Be both honest and kind.  Speak to the point, but positively.  “I love it when you . . .” works way better than “I need you to . . .” or worse still, “You need to . . . .”

11.  Use “I statements” instead of “you statements.” “I feel/I think you are lying . . .” is more honest, humble, and kind than “You are lying.”

12.  Be proactive, not reactive.  Look for win-win solutions that benefit both parties.

13.  Feelings are okay – it's what we do with them that counts.  Don't accuse your partner of feeling something.  This is no crime anyway, and besides, this can never be proved or disproved.

14.  Accept each other's different styles of expressing feelings.  Some may cry and some may raise their voices.  When you express yourself, try to express your emotions as calmly and clearly as you can.

15.  Have you considered the benefits of talking this out in front of another friend or couple to serve as a referee?

16.  If the discussion seems especially important or tense, observe the outline below.



You can write this out, speak it out, or best of all, do both.

If your partner objects to something, looks away, or starts fidgeting,

you can ask them to say what they are hearing, to make sure you're being understood.

You don't have to hear them or discuss anything yet, as that comes later in the outline.

State the problem (15 words or less, worded neutrally). For example, “We disagree on how we see and handle our son's defiance, disrespect, and disobedience."

In this matter I want:

In this I believe you want:

Deep down I need:

Deep down I believe you need:

In this our marriage needs:

Deep down I fear:

Deep down I believe you fear:

To resolve all this we could both:

In addition I could:

And you could:

Now I will listen to you.   How do you see each item above?

After you have heard each other out, you are. usually able to discuss better ways of understanding and solving this problem in the future.


Imagine that you have messed up big time—physically abused your child, cheated on your wife, stole money at work, or lied to your husband about where you were.  And let’s say you really want to make sure that both you and the people you’ve hurt can trust that you have learned your lessons of how and why not to do that again.  How would you go about crafting an apology that would do all that?

The purpose of most apologies today is merely to minimize pain for the apologizers, protect their image, and enable them to avoid the work they need to do but don’t want to do.  Like any other form of lying, over time, a weak apology fails at all three of these goals.

Most people don’t know how to go about restoring both the trust of others and their own trustworthiness.  That’s because there are so few role models in America for genuine remorse.  I can’t recall when I last heard a satisfactory apology from a public figure who had made a moral mess, can you?  An effective apology needs to answer three simple questions.

Why did I do it? 

Don’t blame it on the situation, or on anybody else’s behavior, because you can’t guarantee those won’t come up again.  Besides, that doesn’t take responsibility for the choices you made about how to handle your feelings.

Sure, maybe you put yourself in a bad situation, and you can change that.  But what else do you need to change?  attitudes you have harbored that provoked your choice?  beliefs you have used to rationalize or excuse your behavior?  images you’ve had of yourself and the other people involved here?  These ideas in your head can’t be proven right or wrong, but you and others can prove the kind of words and actions these beliefs will provoke and excuse.

Who did I hurt and how? 

Put yourself in their place.  Imagine a situation where they could theoretically do something like this to you.  Imagine how you’d feel, if there were no real remorse in the other person, how hard it would be to carry on like nothing had happened.  What would this do to your mind, your heart, your ability to go on like before, doing things for that person, facing your friends and family, trying to go to sleep at night, or fighting off your own bad, stress-related habits, like eating or drinking to your frustration?

If you have hurt someone in your personal life, you can apply what you have learned to your situation, and to your loved one.  “I understand that I have made you have to carry around feelings of ______ and _______, that I have embarrassed you in the eyes of ____, and that now you’re going to have to really struggle with your ­­­­­________ and _______.  This is what I have done to you.  What else have I messed up in your life?  I know that I have hurt _____ and _____, but who else do you think I have hurt, and how?”

What am I going to do about it?

How will you clean up your side of the street?  What will you do to help heal the hurt, and earn back the trust you have broken?  Again, put yourself in their place—what would you need them to do in this situation to resolve your hurt and mistrust?

Do you need to go have a talk with others you have hurt, to see how your actions have affected them, and tell them you were wrong and you are sorry?  How can you show them that you are going to teach yourself a lesson, by making sure you suffer more than all the pleasure you have derived from your bad habit over the years, even if it is possible, more than they will have to suffer for your actions?

Do you need to get an education, like anger management training, or understanding another culture, gender, or generation?  Do you need to talk with someone to learn new role models for your behavior in certain situations?

Do you need counseling to work through old feelings that you’ve never expressed toward people in your childhood, feelings that piggyback on your natural emotions to provoke and rationalize your bad habits?  Do you need residential treatment to break an addiction, to let your family have a break from you to heal, and to get you away from temptations you can’t resist?

Changing your beliefs requires admitting that you can and should change them, because they caused harmful behavior.  You first confess this to people you’ve hurt, but real change inside requires you to tell others who share these attitudes and beliefs, especially the friends and family who may have taught them to you in the first place, by their words and lifestyles.  And your lifestyle will also have to change, to express and firm up your new attitudes and beliefs.

Why don’t we ever hear apologies that answer these three questions in America?  Very few of us really believe in and practice personal growth.  Spin doctors say the public would see repentance as weak, weird and wacko, but I think those words better describe the conscience of any nation which values image over substance, and anesthesia over the truth that hurts while it is setting us free, free of the illusions that we are better than others, and don’t need them.

I pray that America may soon see a genuine, effective apology from one of its celebrities.  I pray that you and I will amend our wrongs by helping others get over our messes, by cleaning them up.  That way we can bring some major good things out of the next bad situation we create.

Dr. Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington, and Shelbyville. 


The great majority of fights we’re fired up for just aren’t worth fighting. Recently I tried to get into an argument with a relative that was harshly criticizing my wife. She appreciated that I wanted to protect her, but she didn’t really need it. In fact she seemed amused at my efforts, and when I asked her later why, she said, "It was like watching you wrestle a pig. You both got dirty, and the pig loved it." So here’s ten steps for staying out of the mud when someone has hurt you deeply, or a nasty argument starts.

Stop talking. You don’t need to get into a mud-flinging contest.Stop listening. Close your eyes to signal this, and take a deep breath to slow down.Stop thinking, of what to say next, of how to get even, of how you look to others.Walk away or turn away. Start taking a little time-out.Rise above the situation. Pray you can see your enemy, yourself and your situation as God does, for example, as two siblings fighting and breaking a piece of their father’s or mother’s heart.

Realize that life isn’t fair, and be thankful it isn’t. Maybe life has been a lot harder on the person who’s putting you down than it has been for you. If you’d spent your life in her shoes, who knows that you might not be meaner than she in this situation. And who knows what she’s been through today, stuff that isn’t fair to her?

Remember some of the mean, selfish and dishonest stuff you’ve done in life, and how many dear people have forgiven you for all this. Realize you can only keep feeling this forgiveness if you keep giving it away, to those like the enemy of the day, who doesn’t deserve forgiveness any more or less than you did. So, Forgive whoever is making you angry. Resolve to avoid a silly war of revenge. Pray some blessings down on them. Hope they can learn to relax and calm down.

Ask God/your conscience if you can help answer that prayer, and how. Imagine your doing it, and that it will make a difference in the other person’s life somehow.

Do what you can to bless your enemy. Sometimes doing or saying anything, especially something kind, will make matter worse for the moment. SO do it later when things have calmed down. Meanwhile, Quit while you’re enemy thinks he’s ahead. This way he’s got no motive for continuing to attack you. Holding your hands up to your shoulders facing out says you’re holding nothing against your enemy to throw at him later, and you’re backing off. He can think he won if he wants to. Walk away and don’t look back. To clear your mind, get busy doing "the next right thing."

Now none of this stuff about forgiveness says anything about TRUST, trusting other people not to hurt you again, trusting yourself to handle it better if they did. Trust has to be both earned and given.

They say that a life well lived is the best revenge. I wholeheartedly agree. To take the high road up and out of the pig pen is just plain smart, and darn good for your blood pressure.

I was teaching some of these things recently to a hot-headed client for whom I’m doing some "anger management." His language is generally, shall we say, colorful. He often feels like people are doing bodily functions onto him, and he loves thinking how he’s going to get even.

I started explaining how to detach quietly and just let the other person keep her anger. I said often the best thing to do in a gunfight is to jump on the Forgiveness Stagecoach and take the high road out of Dodge. His eyes opened wide, and with a big smile he said:

"So if I rise above revenge, take the high road of forgiveness, and if I take that sewer pipe up there with me, I can make that sewer flow backwards, can’t I?" I never thought about it that way, but now, I can’t get his smile and his picture out of my mind. Or for that matter, my wife’s picture of the pig fight. Nothing like a good laugh to pull the plug on a cesspool!

I like to think of anger as the normal human response to injustice. It’s the way we’re supposed to feel inside when something is unfair. It’s healthy, because it helps us to see what we can do to correct the injustice, and then it motivates us to do it. After we have taken action, the anger is supposed to go away, so we can forgive and relax and sleep like a baby.

Using anger this way I call staying in the fairway. It’s the way to make things fair. To go experience too little or too much anger is rough on us and others, so I call this going into the rough.

The rough on the left is too little anger, where nothing gets corrected. You just push the anger down into the subconscious where it eats you alive and becomes something like paranoia, insomnia or an ulcer. Or it may come out sideways as you snap at innocent loved ones, who naturally pull back from you.

The rough on the right is taking the law into your own hands, and using your anger to humiliate or get even with the unfair party. Mean or vengeful words or actions always come back to haunt us sooner or later. Getting even starts a long, downwardly spiraling chain of events that is likely to degrade all parties involved. The worst thing is that the injustice is never really identified or corrected, just added to.

Perhaps you’re in the rough right now about something. You have been for quite awhile, and you’re tired of it. You’re probably trying the best you know how to correct a loved one (or a hated one), and it’s not helping. Well here’s a little way to change your attitude and turn things around. It’s a prayer or meditation in four steps: REJOICE, RELEASE, HOPE, and HELP.


Ask God (or your higher power) to have no mercy, and to just wear out your enemy’s backside. "Make ____ so miserable they will feel the pain they have caused others." The positive purpose of this prayer is that it gets a lot of hatred out of your system, so it doesn’t get spoken or acted out on human beings who either don’t deserve it or won’t forgive you for it.

To get it off your chest, it really helps to believe there is a God who is big and personal enough take this anger. Jews and Christians have been encouraged to pray like this by Psalms 35 and 109. Once you feel a bit relieved of your hatred by sending it up toward the sky, you will be more ready for the second prayer.


Let God be God, and teach you the best solution for all concerned. "God, do whatever you can to make things right. If you prefer a softer way to turn my enemy’s heart and life around, and to restore the love of life to me and my enemy’s other victims, do whatever you need to do." This begins to neutralize the acid that’s still in your stomach.


This even more positive prayer turns neutralized acid into good will. Once you’ve said the release prayers hard and often enough, you will feel you mean it. Then you can pray, "Lord, if there’s a way for you to bring love, joy, peace, wisdom and true courage into my enemy’s heart, to turn that life around into a good life, help me imagine it. Help me want to help you make it happen."


This last step gets you back involved again in your enemy’s life, to help answer the prayer of step 3, and to correct the underlying cause for the injustice. If you spend enough time in the third prayer, you will be able to go to the last one: "God if there’s anything I can do to help you bring good things into this person’s life, please show me. Give me the ability, the desire and the opportunity to convey your blessing to this person." Wait for your sanctified imagination to show you what to do, how it will help, and to give you the desire to go ahead.

In conclusion, anger is an acid in your mind, heart and stomach that is meant to inspire action to dissolve injustice. This 4-step prayer gets you out of the rough of too much or too little anger, and focuses you on correcting the problem. I hope that your prayers of rejoicing, releasing, hoping and helping can get you, your anger and perhaps even your enemy out of the rough and back into the fairway.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt