Should You Forgive Someone Who Has Anger Issues?

How do I forgive someone without speaking to him or her?

How to forgive someone who doesn’t know they’re wrong?

Should I forgive when an apology isn’t given?

My search logs for On the Other Hand have been blowing up lately with questions about forgiveness. These are just a sample of them.

I’ve talked about this before but I thought I’d expand on this topic today. (Click on the links if you’re interested in reading about the how of forgiveness.)

History

I grew up in religious traditions that heavily emphasized forgiveness. My parents grew up Mennonite and passed many of those values down to their children. Turning the other cheek is the definition of that denomination.

When I was young my parents attended/pastored churches that believed in stuff like demonic possession. One of the ways demons were thought to gain a foothold in your life was by latching on to something in your life (some people call these doorways): an unconfessed sin, a traumatic experience, reading or listening to the wrong thing, a sin committed by your ancestor, etc.

People who were thought to be possessed by an evil spirit were encouraged to purge their lives of anything that might draw negative beings near them.

The Upside…

Of this is that I grew into an adult who very rarely holds a grudge. If anything I’d bend over backwards to restore a damaged relationship even if the other person hadn’t done anything to show that he or she was truly sorry.

Is this a bad trait? Not always. It’s much hard to make an enemy of someone who is (virtually) always willing to reconcile.

My challenge in my 20s, though, has been and is to find the balance between reconciliation and setting boundaries with people who run roughshod over them. In the past it’s been hard for me to say, “it really hurt me when you did X.” My first impulse is to forgive and forget without ever really talking about it or asking for different behaviour in the future.

This isn’t good.

How Have I Changed This?

By getting pissed off.

There comes a time when you’ve had enough. My definition of that term probably isn’t yours in any given situation. And I’ll admit that I’m still learning how to be more assertive. Each step in that direction is a small victory.

But when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough.

I’ll forgive but I won’t forget.

Internet searchers, this is what I recommend you do as well. By all means forgive for the sake of your own health but remember that you have options. Forgiveness isn’t a free pass for anyone to keep causing harm to you.

You can forgive and never speak to that person again. You can forgive and take a giant step back from them. You can forgive someone without giving them your trust again.

0 Responses to Should You Forgive Someone Who Has Anger Issues?

  1. Somehow I lost touch with your blog. I’m glad I’m back…this was such a nice article. I think you are an amazing person. This very subject was always one thing I didn’t agree with my parents on. I watched people ‘walk all over’ my mom. I can think of two instances where she would allow it and when I questioned her and expressed that I thought it didn’t necessarily please God to let people ‘use’ you the way they were. She always responded the same way…”I choose to forgive”. GRRR it would infuriate me. It truly is/was a Mennonite way of life!
    There’s something to be said for not holding a grudge and practicing forgiveness, but I think it’s just as wise to protect yourself!

    • Hmm, let’s try this again. My last comment disappeared just as I was posting it.

      Welcome back! I’ve really missed your comments but assumed you were busy gardening this time of year. 

      Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me.

      How did you learn to be more assertive? As much as I admire the Mennonite faith in other ways this really isn’t a skill they seem to promote. 🙂

    • I think that the most important question we should ask ourselves is, “Am I doing this person a favour by taking his or her crap?”

      More often than not, what we’re doing is enabling them, allowing them to stay blind to the damage they cause us. 

      I have a sister who thinks it’s alright to scream at me and to put me down whenever she wants. After one such incident I told her to stay away from me, and I’ve made good on the promise I made to myself of not contacting her. She needs to know how much she hurts me. Because  it isn’t good for her to go around hurting others.

      • Too true.

        I’m in the process of setting much firmer boundaries with certain people in my life myself. I won’t lie – it’s tough. Really tough. But I think in the end it will be good for everyone involved.

  2. Wow! Thank you for writing that last paragraph. I needed that today. Thank you. Thank you.  As you may know, I have issues with my entire file of origin. And I struggle with “Should I keep in touch with them should I not” thing.

    But you’ve reminded me that I can forgive them, yes. I can sweep what they’ve done to me under the rug by rationalizing that they don’t know any better, yes. But … I can’t let them hurt me again. Because the cost to me is too high.

    Thanks again.

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