What to do with difficult people…

… In my post below I mentioned briefly that I had a strained relationship with my mom until very recently. This estrangement prevented me from developing healthy relationships with other women. I won’t elaborate on the circumstances out of respect for my mother but I will acknowledge I wasn’t the easiest daughter to raise. Shocker. Stubborn, opinionated, and extroverted, I don’t think my bookish introverted mother knew just what to make of me.

At the first opportune moment I was out from under her roof like a shot, eager to do whatever the hell I felt like doing whenever I wanted. That didn’t work out for me but it was something I needed to learn for myself. There was a period in my young adulthood where we didn’t speak for two years. Then when we tried to reconcile all the old resentment and anger resurfaced. It became easier to turn my back on the whole situation and move on with my life. But you never really move on. Some hurts you carry around with you and I learned, after moving all over the US, you can’t run from yourself.

So what changed? How did 30 years of dysfunction finally end?

I forgave.

When she didn’t want it, I forgave. When she wouldn’t accept, I forgave. When she denied any wrong doing, I forgave. Even when she refused to apologize, I forgave. I couldn’t change her so my only recourse was to forgive her. The only thing about the whole messed up situation I actually had any control over was how I reacted to her. The only thing I could change was myself and my attitude. Oh, and I grew up a little bit.

Growing up helps. It is easy to be bitter and nurse anger or turn on backs on situations too difficult to bear. It shows a level of maturity to face these challenges. Children place blame, “He did it”! Grown ups acknowledge their hand in the ordeal and work to set it right. Now, I’m not going to go on and on about how mature I am – this blog would certainly prove otherwise; however, I will go on and on about how I got where I am because of the Church. And the good thief. Do we even know what his crimes were? I know it had to be something heinous because crucifixion was reserved for the baddest of the bads, and yet he got to bypass purgatory because Christ forgave. The forgiveness I found in my first reconciliation is the same source of forgiveness I found to try and heal my family.

After awhile my obnoxious optimism and enthusiastic zeal for the Church got the better of my mom and two years after my conversion, in 2006, she came back home to Rome after a 30+ year absence. Any transformation this family has undergone is the from the sole intercession of St. Joseph, a little red plastic rosary, the Holy Roman Church, and the sacrament of reconciliation – the same reconciliation given by Christ. Any forgiveness I was able to give was because much was forgiven of me.

For Lent, please reconcile. Please forgive. Whether the person you need to forgive wants that forgiveness or not – for yourself, forgive.

Titian, Christ and the Good Thief.

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  • Katie O’Keefe

    I’ve been working on this one myself this Lent.  I kind of stumbled into the realization that I was carrying about 20 years of bitterness around on my back (Thank you, EWTN Radio!)  And the thing that really got me is that the bitterness toward one person can suck other people into the black hole of your anger.  There were so many people I had to forgive.  I hope that someday, they forgive me, too. 

  • robertgwirth

    Thank you, ladies!  I learned something in a 12-step program years ago — at first it sounds and feels phony to pray for my enemies and to ask for the grace to forgive them.  But it works.
    Besides, Jesus says it’s mandatory.  Besides the plea in the Our Father, He said plainly, if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.
    Warnings like that keep me on my toes.

  • Mary

    When I came back to the church as the prodigal daughter I realized (it was all grace) to forgive numerous family members who had slandered my name though they had never asked me to forgive them.  One of those people was my sister. We had not communicated or seen one another for a number of years. I realized that I had to do what needed to be done if I was going to be serious about my Christian faith. I put all the anger and resentment aside. Things are not perfect because some of my family members have made a decision to not let things go. I still treat everyone the same and I am at peace. This forgiveness thing is very serious. If we remember that forgiving is an act of the will and not about feelings it helps to put things into perspective. 

  • JacqueB

    I love this! I don’t know anyone who couldn’t profit from this; encluding and on the top of the list Me.

  • I have a question – and it’s something I’ve been struggling with for a long time – something becoming Catholic hasn’t really helped. When it comes to forgiveness, I was always taught that we don’t really have the power to do what God doesn’t himself do; we can’t forgive the unrepentant. If someone takes no responsibility for the wrong they have done to us, and they don’t feel any contrition, then we simply do not have the power to offer forgiveness.

    I understand we can chose to let go of our own resentment and try to move on, but in speaking of forgiveness specifically, I don’t see how we can offer it to those who don’t ask for it and don’t accept it.

    Maybe someone can help me out here or set me straight. I don’t think the Bible teaches differently, or the catechism for that matter. But I’m hardly the expert.

    • In addition to Kat’s post and Marco’s comments Here’s my two cents:

      Yes you can forgive the unrepentant.  Your forgiveness, no not forgetting or opening yourself up to other hurt from that direction, is YOURS.  It’s not dependant on the ‘subject’ of your forgiveness feeling sorry or imperfectly contrite.   Most morons often are unawares, and even if they know they wronged you, don’t hold your breath.

      Are you going to let some joker keep you from experiencing real freedom?

      Now I found this http://www.chastitysf.com/q_guilt.htm  helpful in my relationship with God.  

      In forgiving those people who step on my toes in this life:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/questions/personalconcerns/brokentrust.html  sums it up nicely.   Here’s a really good brief article: http://www.christian-depression.org/cdp/articles/forgiveness.php

      But, more than those little articles, go find yourself a ‘holy’ friend.  That might be a good confessor, a ‘spiritual advisor’ or a Saint who’s life you can read and contemplate.  I’m partial to Don Bosco right now.   Christ himself is a good example.  His friends ditched him at his most painful time in his life.

  • Anonymous

    “… If someone takes no responsibility for the wrong they have done to us, and they don’t feel any contrition, then we simply do not have the power to offer forgiveness…”

    For your consideration:

    If you are not God, then you still have to forgive them.

    Saint Steven, the first martyr forgave his persecutors even though many of them did not repent and are probably in Hell.

    We do not have full knowledge therefore we can change our hearts and mind up until Death; at death, we have full knowledge and cannot change our minds.

    “As the tree is bent, so it shall fall”

    Forgive everyone, and let God judge them.

     Christ forgave everyone upon the cross. Even the High Priest and the other Jews with the High Priest. That does not guarantee they are in Heaven; maybe God affixed a punishment that keeps them out.

    This is more likely the case.

    You cannot go wrong doing right.

    One thing we have to be careful of is trying to put in our heart that which only God can put there.

    If you want love in your heart, ask God to put it there.

    Once He agrees to put love in your heart, do not hide it.

    I hope you don’t mind me answering your question.


    • No, I don’t mind you answering at all, and I take what you say into consideration. But we must keep in mind that when Jesus, from the cross, asked the Father to forgive all those crucifying him, he said it was because they knew not what they were doing. They were ignorant of the gravity of the sin they had committed. 
      Also, I tend to take seriously the words of Christ as he specifically addresses forgiving others in Luke 17:3-4: “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”It seems clear to me that Jesus’ formula for forgiveness requires repentance. God forgives US liberally on the condition that we repent and forgive others who repent liberally. I just don’t understand the concept of forgiving in such a way that God does not. 

      • Anonymous

         One thing we have to be careful of is trying to put in our heart that which only God can put there.

        If you want love in your heart, ask God to put it there.

        God writes straight with crooked lines.

        A Priest asked a woman that was seeing Christ to ask Him what the sins were that the Priest himself had confessed.

        The Priest knew she had truly spoken with Christ when she told him Christ said:

        “I forgot them”


        Then forget you have done so.

        Do you think that you are alone?

        How can you think so little of God?

        He surrounds you with the Holy Angels; you are a Mommy.

        Those Angels rejoice at the sound of your prayers.

        Give them a treat every now and again.

        Say an ejaculation like

        “Ave Maria purissima!”


  • Mimi


  • Kat this was a wonderful post. 

    I actually and struggling with unforgiving family members right now.  I really should have taken up drinking at the holidays…