302. Forgiveness vs. Emotional Constipation


Lots of folks are stuck, or as I like to say, emotionally constipated. They can’t get past some hurt or offense, some slight or inconsideration.  So they slaver over their hurt like a dog with a meaty bone. Try to take it away and you will lose a limb. It does not make sense on first thought that someone would cling to a hurt as if it were a family heirloom. Why hoard an infection or grasp possessively  at cancer? The indignant victim claims “Justice! I want justice!!” but all they have is anger that distills into wormwood bitterness over time. One sip will blind even the man who has built up tolerance to lesser liquors.

Well, let’s look closer. When a person is hurt by someone else, there is a split second or more in which the mind determines what emotional reaction to display. Often the reaction  is limited to sadness (letting go of the hurt) or anger (gripping tightly to the offense). Sadness yields control; anger seizes it. If you visit a pre school, watch what reactions arise when one toddler takes another toddler’s toy. Tears or hitting, whimpering or screaming. But there are other combinations of emotional responses one can make, depending on maturity and modeling examples.

Now a concrete fictional example. My buddy calls and says, “Hey, I got free tickets to the Steelers game in Baltimore from my brother-in-law. December game. Wanna go?”

“Are you kidding?  Of course. What do I need to do?”

“Nothing. There are four tickets, so I’m gonna see if my son and grandson want to come along too.”

“Awesome! Keep me posted so I can keep my schedule clear.”

“Okay. Later.”

Time goes by. We chat here and there, but instead of getting clearer, it gets fuzzier. Eddie is vague and talks about if he gets the tickets instead of when. “What do you mean, IF?”

“Well,  Tom is backing up on the offer. He wants me to take his grandkids now.”

“Are they coming?”

“One of them wants to…”

“So what does that mean?”

“You’re out, man. Sorry.”


Here’s where the menu of options and combos arises.

1. Anger with some guilting attached.

“Bolsheviks, man! Couldn’t you have just not dealt me in to begin with?”

2. Victim drama and operatic exit.

“I can’t believe it! I mean, the hurt and betrayal are overwhelming. I have to go puke.”

3. Just tears and sobbing.

“No, sniffle, sniffle. How could you? No, uh, uh, uh, the hurt hurts so stinkin’ bad.”

4. Reverse energy attack.

“You spineless scumbag! You lied to me and aren’t man enough to keep your word.”

5. Pure guilt.

“After all I have done for you. I gave you blood, man. I gave you my kidney back in ’08. I want it back. NOW!!”

6. The fake with a twist of sour grapes.

“Oh, no problem. I wasn’t that interested anyway. I have a free community concert to go to that day anyway. No blood, no foul, man. It’s cool. Actually, I don’t like either team, you know. Plus, that late in the season they’ll be playing for nothing. Bunch of thugs anyway. No worries.”

7. Revenge.

“Oh I understand completely…which is why I am uninviting you to our New Year’s party. Yeah, just tear up the invitation if we send you one by mistake.”

8. Humor.

“That’s really funny, man. You got me going for a second. Pulling the rug out from under me. I mean it, you got me. A masterful ploy. Oh that’s too funny. You kill me. I get it. You punked me, Dude. Well done.”

9. Denial.

“This is not happening. It’s impossible. You are lying. I am going. I can’t hear you. Lalalalala.”

10. Passive aggression.

“So, okay. Um, but I booked a hotel room for that night, you know. Baltimore is sold out of rooms for that weekend. So, uh, if I cancel I’ll be out $160. So you’re gonna cover that, right?”

11. Self blame.

“I knew it was too good to be true. I’m a fool. No one really likes me for me. I’m a loser. I wouldn’t take myself to a pro football game either. I’m a waste of time and skin.”


Image result for psycho face  pictures

Not one of these reactions is a very healthy way out of the situation. Each of these options will keep the actor stuck in a place of bitterness and repetition rather than a healthy resolution. So I offer forgiveness as the preferred response to hurts.

The uninvited guy played by me… “Well, thanks for telling me. I can see it was hard for you.”

Ticket withholder buddy, “Yeah, I was dreading this scene. I’ve gone over it a hundred times and could not find a respectful way to tell you. I’m just sorry, man.”

“Okay, it really sucks. I was excited and told everyone I was going, you know, I really played it up.”

“Oh, no. Look, just tell them I blew it. It’s on me not you.”

” It’s not really. You got stuck in the middle. I’ve been in binds like that before. Remember that painting job I got into where the paint never hardened?”

“Yeah, what a nightmare!”

“It was my painting Vietnam. I got hung out to dry and abandoned by the paint guys. They could have resolved the situation easily, but they chose to lie to me. Thanks for not lying to me.”

“Whew. Are you pissed at me?”

“No. I’m disappointed and a little embarrassed, but I’m not angry with you. You are the messenger, Eddie. You are my friend. That’s more important than a stupid maybe awesome football game.”

“Thanks for handling this so graciously. I felt so stupid and rude. I told Tom I wasn’t going to the game.”

“No, don’t do that for me.”

“It’s not about you. I don’t like getting jerked around either.”

“So you’re really not going?”


“Can I have your ticket?”  (Followed by edgy laughter.)

“You suck, man, but you’re my buddy. Thanks.”

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