Tag Archives: Forgiveness

How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Makes Us Who We Are

If the embedded video doesn’t play, click here.

This is a 20 minute talk about how people find meaning in their own suffering without relying on supernatural or religious explanations for it. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, try skipping through the first half. The last 5-10 minutes is where this talk gets really good.

Andrew Solomon acknowledges that you can do this while still being really angry about what happened. You don’t have to say something is at all ok in order to find meaning in it.

Here is where I disagree with Andrew. I understand why he focuses so much on the circumstances that have spurred people into doing amazing things, but the former is much less important than the latter.  This is a minor quibble with an otherwise invigorating talk, though, and I suspect that he’d agree with me if we were sitting down to dinner. It’s hard to compress this kind of worldview into such a short amount of time.


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Mailbag #14

Anonymous asks:

How do I respond to my brother’s request that I forgive our toxic mother?

Something tells me he’s more interested in Kodak moments than forgiveness.

That is, I get the impression that your brother wants the entire family to gather together for birthdays, weddings, and holidays without tension. He wants to make lots of happy memories  and dreams of family pictures that include everyone.

The difference between his fantasy family and the one he actually has right now is stark. I’d explain your reasons for not wanting to spend ( more? any?) time with her one more time with him.  If you trust him, I’d offer to get together separately with him and any other siblings you two might have.

Sometimes people are so intent on preserving the image of their happy family that they are too quick to gloss over serious issues that can’t be swept underneath the rug.  You’ll be able to tell fairly soon if this is something he’s trying to do. Don’t assume it will happen, but do  think about what kind of relationship you’d want to have with him if he continues to press the issue. 

And go read Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents. Despite the title, this is a great book for successfully handling just about any type of relationship with manipulative, controlling, or abusive people.


Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 


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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.)


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.

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Is Forgiveness Without an Apology Really Forgiveness?

Is forgiveness without an apology [really] forgiveness?

Someone recently found this blog by typing that question into a search engine.

I know I’ve mentioned this here before but the answer is yes. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.

At the bare minimum reconciliation requires an apology, a commitment to change and stitching your relationship – professional, romantic,  platonic or otherwise –  back together. In short, it’s something that can only happen if everyone participates. Reconciliation is a beautiful act…but it’s never guaranteed to happen.

One can forgive someone without being given an apology because it’s not about them or what they did anymore. Instead it’s about allowing yourself to walk away from the cycle of harm.

And even with forgiveness the person who harmed you still has to face the consequences of his or her actions – legal troubles (in extreme cases), the erosion of trust, a relationship that may or may not overcome whatever has just happened.

Often forgiveness is the first step to restoring things to the way they used to be.

Sometimes people forgive and the relationship continues with a few additional boundaries in place.

And every once in a great while a person will forgive without allowing for the possibility of reconciliation. I’ve only ever had to exercise this option once but it was the best choice for that situation.


What do you think? Have you ever struggled with differentiating between forgiveness and reconciliation? What have been your experiences with forgiving someone who never apologized?




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How to Forgive Without an Apology

Imagine that someone you know just stepped on your toes.

“Ouch! That really hurt.”

Most of us would say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry. Are your feet ok?”

Sometimes, though, the response is, “I’ll walk where I want to walk. It’s up to you to keep your toes out of the way.”

What happens when the person who hurts you doesn’t apologize or even acknowledge what they did did wrong?

How do you forgive someone in this situation?

First, remember that forgiveness is not a synonym for reconciliation. You can completely forgive someone and still not trust them or have any interest in continuing the relationship.

As noble as it is to try to restore a broken relationship this cannot be accomplished unless everyone involved is working toward that goal. This is even more true when the person who damaged the relationship isn’t willing to own up to his or her actions.

Second, forgiveness isn’t ultimately about them or what happened.  Releasing your anger or bitterness is a gift to yourself. Forgiveness is a process. Most people don’t wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to release my anger starting…now!” Just do as much as you can right now.

In the past I’ve visualized tying a balloon to my anger and watching it float away or pretending that I was chipping pieces from an ever-shrinking boulder. This may sound hokey but it has been pretty effective for me.

Third, don’t pretend everything is ok in the meantime. It isn’t (especially if this list sounds familiar to you.)

Fourth, buy new shoes. It’s much easier to stomp on the toes peeking out of sandals than it is someone who shows up wearing, say, these.

Emotionally speaking this might mean that you stop talking about certain topics with someone, tell them you’ll end the conversation if they do or say X (and then do it!), only agree to spend time with them around other people or no longer see them at all.

(Photo by Salvatore Vuono from freedigitalphotos.net.)


How do you react in this situation?


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