How Your Anger Gets in the Way of Forgiveness
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel.”
“Forgive and forget”. Has anyone ever said that to you? At the time, what did you think about that? That saying brings up a lot of feelings for all of us. If you weren’t ready to hear that, you might have dug your heels in even deeper and started seething. You may have felt it was sage advice, but thought to yourself, “It’s impossible!” “How on earth can I forgive that blankety blank so and so for that?” You may have thought, “Well, what she/he did was premeditated and against all human moral standards”. Your anger may have gone global, feeling like what someone did to you was an example of man’s inhumanity to man. Believe me, I’ve been there! It’s very true, if we know that a wrong was accidental, it’s a lot easier to forgive.
Does it make it easier to forgive if we know the “why” behind it?
If we are not at fault, maybe we are dealing with someone who is narcissistic and the why is that “there isn’t a cure for ass”. This is a quotation I heard from a friend trying to support me. If we played a part in the reason why, then does the anger work to cover that up so we don’t have to face our humanity?
Sometimes we get caught up in the “how” of the whole situation.
You may understand why someone did something to you, but not the how of it. I remember thinking over and over about a situation where I could get the why, but not the how. The way that someone hurts you may be so out of your realm that you just can’t even fathom it. And so my thinking went like this…… “If she just didn’t steal my personal belongings, if she just stayed out of my house and my car, ….. if they just didn’t steal my money….if, if, if, …….then, I could forgive. Or, if she would just give this one thing back to me, a gift from a dear friend, that’s all I want…. It’s difficult to forgive if you know the perpetrator doesn’t care what they did to you or feels you somehow deserved whatever you got. And you are thinking, even if they did think I deserved something, who would do that, what kind of person would actually do that? People may make it sound easy, but forgiveness can be pretty complex. It involves our feelings, thinking and our biological reactions.
I was driving my daughter’s friend home one day. Fiona is a very loving, but a very sensitive girl. She told her friend about how she dropped a glass jar that had some dirt in it that her class had collected that afternoon and was going to use to conduct an experiment. I know her well and I was pretty sure she was still embarrassed by the incident and that she was fishing for some support from her friend, Katlyn. She said that one of the boys in the class told her that it was okay and that he had bumped into her. This definitely made her feel better. Another boy said she was clumsy. Fiona was quick to defend herself and say it was the other boy’s fault because he bumped her. Hearing this was interesting to me, because it was a poignant example (a slice, a microcosm, can’t find the word???) of how feeling and/or thinking we are guilty, ashamed, clumsy, or generally not good, causes us anger, either at ourselves or others. The anger is especially strong if we feel demoralized by someone or that we were unfairly judged or treated. Katlyn, matter-of-factly said, “We all make mistakes, that’s the definition of being human”. I’ve known Katlyn to be an old, wise soul and I thought, how wonderful to be this enlightened at age nine.
There are a lot of reasons we get angry and a lot of reasons why we don’t forgive easily.
- We feel betrayed
- We feel embarrassed or have lost face
- We feel taken advantage of
- We feel threatened
- We feel fear
- We feel we need revenge
- We feel morally superior
- We’ve taken a loss- -emotionally, physically, financially or spiritually
- We’ve been abused
- We have baggage over similar issues that has been stuffed and it’s the proverbial straw
- We feel confused
- We feel guilty
- We feel judged harshly
What are some of the reasons you have for not forgiving?
Anger and our biology:
If we feel angry when we perceive a threat, this may be a good thing. It may allow us to flee a dangerous situation or take a stand and fight for what we believe is right. However, anger, like fear, arouses the body. Our blood pressure increases, our breathing changes, our digestion stops, and our stress hormones increase. If there is a real physical threat, then our body is mobilized to either flee the scene or confront the attacker. However, in our world today, a lot of our perceived threats and anger are not instances where we are going to fight or flee and then all these biological changes distress the body leading to heart attacks, plaque build-up in the arteries, stroke and compromise to our immune system.
In my next article I will talk about How You Can Get to the Point of Forgiveness.