Hatred, Anger, and Forgiveness – What I’ve Learned

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Anger and I don’t have a relationship.

We don’t speak and we don’t communicate otherwise. I avoid it at all costs, and its presence is extremely uncomfortable and unfamiliar to me. That being said, I’ve never really taken the time to learn how to process and overcome anger properly. It’s on my list of things to do and character flaws to address, but hear me out anyway.

I recently listened to a sermon by Pastor Dharius Daniels where he said that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning we never feel angry first; we feel ashamed then angry, betrayed then angry, used then angry, etc. This idea stuck with me firmly enough that I had to pause the message and let my mind run back to the memory of the three-year dance I did with anger.

I’ve only truly had a faceoff with not just anger, but complete rage, once in my life. It was so foreign to me that I couldn’t identify what it was at first. For the first time in my twenty years, I felt completely cold and indifferent. But the reason Pastor Dharius’ words impacted me so much was because I wasn’t cold and indifferent initially. No, at first I felt confused, ashamed, abandoned, and hurt. At first I shed a lot of tears and asked a lot of questions. But as the days went on the stream of tears began to dry up, and all the sob-inducing emotions I listed earlier began to combine and morph into this huge, hard, mass of something unidentifiable. It was as if someone flipped a switch in my brain and I was suddenly in an area of my consciousness that I didn’t even know existed.

I had no good thing to say about the situation or the person involved (because you know there was a person involved). I thought it was stillness that I felt, but I was moving, I was just so tightly wound that all I was doing was vibrating. And as those vibrations rolled off of me, the more sensitive side of my mind wondered what was happening to me and who I was becoming.

It eventually dawned on me that I was furious. So this is what real anger felt like. I always wondered how people could be so cold toward a person of a situation when it was so obvious that they were just hurt. I was so flippant about it, like can’t they see that they’re just suppressing the real feelings with all that anger? If you’ve ever seen a person completely explode and get into a life-defining altercation with another person that actually started years before and wondered how they lived with all that anger, it’s not as hard as you might think.

The surfacing of the anger can be likened to a volcanic explosion. We’ve all seen them on tv – the lava shooting out of the cone, the ash, the smoke, the violent sounds. But the anger you live with is more like the magma that lives inside the deepest recesses of the volcano. The liquid rock is slow and quiet, but is kept unbelievably hot in its confined space. It cannot escape and release the pressure, it just moves back and forth. The outside of the mountain may look calm and cool, but deep inside, something sinister is constantly cooking.

It took me days to even realize I was angry, and it took me months and years to realize the true depth and breadth of the rage I was harboring.

Relationships are sacred to me. I may share my struggles on this very public platform, but I am actually a very guarded and private person. I am intentional about my close relationships because I know the power they can hold.

I don’t just let people into my life. I share my experiences because I believe that vulnerability is power, and we are made free through our testimonies. But the friends I have that really know me, I mean know me to the point where it’s impossible for me to hide from them, are extremely important to me. There comes a point in intimate relationships where we completely expose the hand that life has dealt us. It’s a point where we let another person know exactly what we’re dealing with, what we’re walking through, and what we’re fighting against.

That takes a great deal of effort for me to do, because when you expose yourself that way, you are giving another person the ability to hurt you. Intimacy is a beautiful thing, and with the right person can be incredibly life-giving and restorative. But when I was walking through this season it didn’t feel good initially. It felt like I was handing another person a figuratively loaded gun and trusting them to not blow your head off. It felt like I was stepping up on a chair, placing my head in a noose and saying ‘please don’t push this chair from under me.’ I’m sorry for all the death analogies, but to me that’s how complete vulnerability felt before the life-giving release, freedom, and empowerment that came with being known really set in. It feels like you’re giving another person all they need to end you, to shatter you, to smash you into a million unrecognizable pieces.

So imagine my anguish when I let someone into that space I protect so much, and they defiled it. Actually you don’t have to imagine it, I’ll just tell you that I didn’t handle t gracefully, maturely, peacefully, or any of the other adult, saved person ways. There were heaps of cuss words and lots of long nights and ice cream, binge eating sessions.

As I explained earlier, I didn’t really know how to process it at first, but I felt this range of emotions before the anger set in, and it did set in. I barred the door to that place in my heart and sealed it with ice. I didn’t want to ever go back inside, but for some reason I became obsessed with sitting just outside the ice-covered door and thinking about the contents of the room and all that happened there. I also had the overwhelming urge to invite others to sit outside the door and explain to them in great detail what was inside the room, what happened in the room, why the door was locked and covered in ice.

Anger and hurt does that – it makes you want to tell your side of the story over and over and over again to other people. It makes you want to create this tribe of people who are all on your side. You desperately want people to understand why you’ve barricaded yourself outside this room, and even though anger would have you believe that you don’t care about what’s in that room, you know that you are completely overrun with desire to be validated in your feelings by as many people as possible. You want everyone to tell you that you have a right to be angry. You want everyone to tell you that it’s okay for you to hate them, and that what they did was unforgivable. If you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s true. It’s unbelievably satisfying for people to not only join you in your dysfunction, but to alleviate you of any responsibility to continue to be a decent human being toward another person because of something they did to you. It makes your toes curl and your jaw fall slack with bliss because the broken pieces of your soul crave that. External justification becomes a drug in seasons of hurt – we become addicted to hearing from other people that what we are doing and who we have become is okay because what they did to us warrants it.

For some reason I was able to resist the urge to drag everyone I encountered to the wall outside this door and tell them my story. There was always a tiny voice inside my soul telling me that if I started doing that, if I started spreading this anger that had taken root inside of me, I would have the hardest time getting past it. And there was a part of me that wanted to get past it just as desperately as the other parts wanted to relish in it.

So aside from the few who watched it all happen first hand, I kept the details of the experience and what I thought about this person to myself.

Just a note to everyone reading: before you choose to share the things a person disclosed to you in confidence with other people after you two are no longer on good terms, remember that is a  reflection of your character and trustworthiness, not theirs. It does not matter how bad they hurt you, you cannot hurt them back by pulling out the loaded gun they gave you and giving out the bullets to everyone and expect to be made whole at the same time.

Sarah Jakes Roberts expressed it best when she said, “I wanted to hurt you the way you hurt me, but I couldn’t cut you and tend my own wounds. You can get even or you can get better. You can’t do both at the same time.”

There are only a few voices that can break through the barrier that anger especially builds up inside our minds. Only a few voices can make it through the ferocity of our response to our heart condition to actually impact change, and I think those voices sound like truth and power.

When we are wronged (I mean truly wronged by ours and the standards of everyone around us),  when we have every single right to be offended because we were so clearly in the right, choosing to forgive instead of seethe is the most powerful thing we can do.

I’m not speaking in a vacuum here, I’m speaking from a place of knowing because I was there.

Forgiveness felt like surrender to me. I had to relinquish the death-grip I had on my justification. I had to let go of why I was right and put some distance between myself and the anger I was feeling in order to analyze it and understand it.

The first thing I realized was that this wasn’t just anger for the other person; it was also anger toward myself. I was pissed off at my apparent lack of judgement, my false interpretation of their character, my expectations and hopes, my own stupidity. I was angry at myself for giving them the gun. I was angry at myself for stepping on the chair. I was angry at myself because I knew that if I hadn’t given them the tools they needed to hurt me, I wouldn’t still be suffocating and bleeding out. I wouldn’t care as much as I did. I wouldn’t have completely closed off this section of my mind because the thought of entering it again was excruciating.

So after I surrendered and came to this realization, the great thaw began. And as the door began to thaw, I encountered a few things I hadn’t seen in a while, namely empathy and grace. This morning I was listening to the 100th episode of RobCast, a podcast hosted by Pastor Rob Bell. In this episode Rob turned his mic over to Elizabeth Gilbert (whom I completely adore) and she was asking him a series of life questions that made my arm hair stand up. I don’t know if it was because I was listening at 4 am and that’s the hour for lovers and creators, or because the topics were just that hard-hitting, but either way I was inspired enough to leave my warm bed before the sun was awake to write this all down.

Rob was talking about forgiveness, in particular an experience he had with working through forgiving another person for a wrong they had committed against him. And in his brilliance, Rob said something profound that I don’t think I will ever forget. He said in the midst of the complete darkness that betrayal and hurt brings, in order to get to forgiveness, you have to find the shreds of empathy and the tiny sparks of light that still exist inside of you. He said he had to remind himself that the person who hurt him was a person – like with children and people who loved them. He had to remind himself that the totality of their existence wasn’t just what they did to him. He had to dig deeper than he ever had before to find someone or something in this person’s past or upbringing that could possibly justify the kind of hurt and betrayal they had inflicted on him. And whether or not that was the actual reason didn’t matter, it just had to be enough to convince his brain that the offender was indeed a creation with a soul. He needed empathy to make the forgiving process an honest one. And this was when I had to get out of bed and open a fresh Word document because it was just too much.

In the fight to make forgiveness an honest action rather than just lip service, I had to rationalize the person’s actions in my mind. But surprisingly when I started looking for reasons to be empathetic, I found them. It took me one month to garner enough cause to release them, and that list of causes included because I took part in letting the whole ordeal happen. My anger and hatred toward myself were shocking, and so strong that I felt almost depressed at the realization that I could resent my own soul so much. I’m usually very hard on myself but this was on some other level. I had to let that go, and the way I did that was remember that I’m human too. I make mistakes too. There are people who love me too. And the same grace I extend to others is what I need to extend to myself.

I was so mad with me because there were red flags, and warning signs, smoke signals and helicopters hovering letting me know that I had gone too far and ALL for the wrong reasons. But as is often the case on the road to intimacy, I chose to ignore all of this because my heart was involved. So I slid down a slippery slope that was lined with gratification, and chose to bond with another person over our shared dysfunction.

I have found that no matter how right I am in a situation, I will almost always find a reason to blame myself for it happening. I will question something I said or did, replay an alternate scenario in my mind or contemplate my motives. Always. So in order for me to truly forgive the person, I had to forgive myself, which was so much easier said than done.

During the conversations I had with the Holy Spirit about this, He showed me the great difference in perspectives that past Daniah and present Daniah have. I had to forgive myself for knowing and not doing, for not walking in my truth.

Like I said, it took a month for the door to thaw and for me to revisit that room and find the causes. But the way I knew the forgiveness was genuine is because the moment I began the conversation with the other person, the first thing I said was ‘I’m sorry.” This won’t always be the case, if you are victimized or abused, I do not think you have reason to say sorry for anything. But I will leave victim blaming for another post because I have strong feelings toward that. I just don’t want you to misunderstand me. I’m speaking about situations that you entered into and fostered at will and suddenly found yourself being emotionally hurt by another person that resulted in your isolation from them, and feelings of hostility and reproach toward them. NOT abuse. NOT prolonged, systematic oppression. But in working through my particular situation, I realized that I had things to apologize for as well. There were things I could have handled better, things I could have had the courage to confront instead of choosing to ignore them.

The result of my confrontation was complete peace, and the anger that I hated because it was making my life a living hell completely dissipated. It was not a long conversation, nor was it overly emotional. But it was extremely freeing and completely satisfying. I felt the events of a painful chapter of my life finally relinquishing its control over all my subsequent chapters. I felt warm and whole again.

So, if you find yourself unwilling to forgive, wrapped in anger, sitting outside your own frigid door being falsely warmed by the external justification of your hate tribe against the person who deeply wounded you, I have some humble advice.

First, you have to break up the party. You have to send all the people you’ve planted this hatred and resentment in home. You have to stop watering their seeds, and you have to stop being warmed by their disparaging words against the person you’re holding in. You have to stop talking about it to anyone and everyone who will listen. And as you stop telling other people, you will slowly begin to stop telling yourself the story.

After the crowd is gone, try doing what Pastor Rob suggested and attempt to see this person as human again instead of some faceless, nameless, soulless being. You can pretend that you don’t think of them that way, but if you’re calling down curses on them, if you would hit them with a car or completely ignore their existence on planet earth if you saw them again, you need to try this one. There’s no shame here, the human mind is a deep and sometimes very dark place. We don’t like to admit that we think horrible thoughts about other people, but when we ignore the darkness it only consumes more of us.

After you remember that they are human, try empathy. This won’t be easy because you have to let go of all the justification you’ve been holding on to. But I promise you if you can find and hold on to just one thing that somewhat explains why that person did what they did to you, more light and reasons for empathy will begin to reveal themselves. Again, I’m not talking about instances where violent acts of injustice or abuse were committed against you. I am speaking about the kind of hurt that occurs between people who each willfully entered into an intimate relationship with each other and offense took place as it often does.

Once you’ve done this, you may find yourself feeling sorry for that other person – like the scales have tipped slightly in your favor. The thaw has begun, you’re taking your power back. As you reclaim your authority, don’t make the mistake of believing you can forgive them without forgiving you. Anger turned inward is the breeding ground for depression and self-harm. I’ve been there too, and it isn’t a good place to be.

Once you set yourself and the other person free, you may feel the need to confront them like I did, or you may not. Whatever you decide, don’t let fear make the decision for you. If the only thing holding you back from going into that room and speaking with that person again is fear, march into that room and call them. Fear and unforgiveness are actually besties. And standing up to both of them at the same time will empower you more than you ever thought possible.

So, there you have it – my anger and forgiveness experience and what I learned from it. I’m not calling any names and I’m not being specific in this post because to be honest, it has nothing to do with the person who hurt me and everything to do with me. Also, I no longer need to feel justified or draw people to my side. It’s over now and behind us both. I can finally say I have no ill will toward them and I wish them the absolute best in everything they do. I have no intention of rehashing my own pain or slandering someone else.

I gained a brand new perspective when I submitted myself to the forgiving process, and it has completely changed my life. You don’t realize the areas of your life that have been shrouded or the parts of people you cannot see when you’re harboring offense and resentment. You will not reach your full potential as a purpose-filled child of Yahweh taking up valuable space in your life holding on to the things other people have done to hurt you.

It’s poison and it’s not doing you any good. Point blank. Please take it in the most loving and gracious way possible when I say you are above this. You are much too powerful to be in such a powerless position. I’m not minimizing the kind of offense that people have to walk through at all, and I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt because it does. My job here is to share my process, and let you know that I think you can do it. I can have that kind of confidence in you because I know how big my Father is, and He’s big enough for you too. Try Him if you haven’t.

Pray about it. It sounds too simple, but we make it hard with our human logic and hidden shame. Bare your soul on your knees. Lay it all out there – all the hatred, all the anger, all the pain and sadness. Yahweh is big enough and He can take it. I promise you won’t disgust Him or make Him flinch with the passion of your emotions. He’s seen it all and worse, and His grace is sufficient for ALL of us simultaneously. His mercy and healing begins where our pride and reservation ends. Be honest with Him.

Let’s get to work on reclaiming the real estate in our hearts and lives.

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