What is the difference between letting go of your anger and forgiving a person?

When we forgive, we tend to let go of most or sometimes all of our anger. When we let go of our anger we do not necessarily forgive. For example, we can let go of anger and dismiss a person as unworthy of our respect or love. Forgiveness, on the other hand, strives to respect and love those who have hurt us. Forgiveness never condemns a person for an unjust act. At the same time, forgiveness does acknowledge unjust acts as wrong.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

It seems to me that forgiveness is a good thing when someone has been really unfair to me. Yet, anger is a natural part of reacting to injustice. So, to forgive, does a person have to suppress anger? If so, then forgiveness seems like it is psychologically unhealthy.

When people forgive, the goal is to reduce or even eliminate the anger, not to suppress it. When we enter a forgiveness process, we look first at the anger, which is a way of acknowledging that anger, not suppressing it. Thus, when we forgive we do not suppress anger. Forgiveness, then, is not unhealthy in that it suppresses anger.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

Football, Family and Forgiveness. . .

Profootballtalk.com, New York, NY The Atlanta Falcons chose former University of Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison in the fifth round of this year’s National Football League (NFL) draft. Ollison is no stranger to news headlines not only because of his all-star performance at Pitt and his entry into the NFL, but also because of his personal story of forgiveness.

Qadree Ollison, left, and his late brother Rome Harris at the opening game of Pitt’s 2017 season. It was the last time Ollison saw his brother, who was fatally shot Oct. 14, 2017. (Photo by Wayne Ollison)

On Oct.14, 2017, a Saturday when Ollison was playing in a football game at Pitt, his 35-year-old brother Lerowne “Rome” Harris was shot and killed outside a gas station in Niagara Falls, NY. Police soon arrested Denzel Lewis for the murder based on security camera footage that clearly showed Lewis shooting Harris three times.

Lewis later pleaded guilty and at his sentencing hearing last August he was shocked, as was the entire courtroom, to learn that Ollison forgave him for killing his brother. Since he was unable to personally attend the hearing, Ollison wrote a letter that was read aloud at the hearing by his father:

“When I heard what happened, I was devastated like most would be when they hear that their brother’s life was taken. During that time, though, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate for whoever had did it.

Every single life is precious, no matter what they’ve done. I truly believe that. I truly believe that God hand-crafted and molded each one of us and gave us this life. We are all his children. We are all sons, and we are all daughters….

Now here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not. I choose not to. I don’t hate you, Denzel. I hate what you did, most certainly. But I still think your life is just as precious as the next person’s. No life means more than another’s. None of us are perfect.

I can’t hate one of God’s children. I truly hope and pray that you get better from this. I hope that this time is what you need and what makes you love and not hate.”

Qadree Ollison became the 14th Pitt running back to reach the 2,000-yard milestone in his career. (University of Pittsburgh Athletics)

At Canisius High School in Buffalo, NY, a Catholic college-preparatory school, Ollison set school records for rushing yards (4,117) and touchdowns (57) during his football career there. He was a two-time Class AA all-state selection and shared Buffalo News Player of the Year honors with teammate Ryan Hunter (now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs) after Canisius went undefeated and won the state championship his junior year.

Regarded as the top running back prospect in the state as a senior, Ollison had 14 Division I college scholarship offers when he committed to Pitt. After redshirting his first season, Ollison continued his success as soon as he hit the field for the Panthers. Coming in for an injured starter, Ollison, ran for 207 yards on 16 carries (all in the second half), a record for a Pitt freshman in a season opener.

Ollison was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and became the fifth Pitt freshman to achieve a 1,000-yard season. In an effort to pay tribute to his brother, Ollison switched to a No. 30 jersey for his final year of eligibility at Pitt. No. 30 was the number Harris used to wear as a youth football player. Ollison gained 1,213 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 194 carries in that jersey.

Yet perhaps even more impressive than Ollison’s ability as a 6-foot-1, 232-pound  running back, now at the professional level, is his willingness to make forgiveness a priority.


Following a May 8, 2019 news article about Ollison’s act of forgiveness on the website Profootballtalk.com, an NBC Sports affiliate, a reader identified only as “mjtn” commented:

“Having forgiveness in one’s heart instead of hatred is a rare and highly admirable occurrence. The world would clearly be a better place if we could all live in such a way. This young man is wise beyond his years and already a role model. I thank him for showing the rest of us that it can be done.”


When I forgive, do I have to trust the other person, or are these different?

When a person forgives, he or she may or may not trust the other. It depends on the situation. For example, suppose your partner is a compulsive gambler who has squandered the family fortune. This is an offense for which you can forgive him or her. Yet, you can and should withhold trust in this one area of gambling until he or she proves trustworthy. Trust has to be earned by demonstrations and this can take time. The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation, which includes trust. Just to be clear, you can reconcile with a person and trust him or her in most things, with the understanding that work will be done in the one area that hurts the relationship.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

My brother owes me some money. Recently, he came to me asking if I would forgive him, with the understanding that he no longer would owe me the money. Something does not seem right about this. Am I supposed to cancel the debt when I forgive?

Your brother is confusing forgiveness with legal pardon. To pardon is to cancel a debt that is rightly owed. To forgive, in contrast, is to try as best you can to offer goodness toward your brother. Both are merciful, but they are not the same. You can forgive and not offer legal pardon (cancel the debt).

You can forgive (offer goodness) and at the same time present him with the I.O.U. And if you forgive him first, you are likely to present that slip to him with graciousness and gentleness rather than with anger.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I find that whenever I forgive someone, it is never really over. What I mean is I can wake up weeks later and I am angry all over again. This is getting discouraging. What can I do to be rid of the anger so it does not return?

This is actually a more common question than you might imagine. Anger is uncomfortable for us and when it is intense, it can be unhealthy for us. Something to keep in mind is this: As you continually forgive, I mean truly persist, then the anger will diminish. It will move to a more healthy level. A key is for you to be in control of your anger rather than the anger to be in control of you. The emotion of anger may be with you for a long time, but the emotion of unhealthy anger will not be. For now, let us make this the goal—not to be entirely rid of the anger but to persist in forgiving until the anger is manageable. When anger comes to visit unexpectedly a week or a month from now, be prepared to forgive again. The more we practice forgiveness, the more quickly we actually forgive. So, please be encouraged.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I suffer from chronic anxiety. Will this alter how I go through the forgiveness process relative to those who are not suffering in this way?

Sometimes our anxiety comes from not feeling safe. Sometimes our not feeling safe emerges when others treat us unfairly. In other words, you may be expecting poor treatment from others now, even those who usually are fair. A first step may be to think of one person who may have hurt you and at whom you still harbor resentment. You can forgive through the exact same pathway as described, for example, in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. With anger lessened, anxiety can diminish. Of course, this will vary for each person. We have to be gentle with ourselves as we learn to forgive, to give up anger, and to know with some confidence that we can meet the next interpersonal challenge with forgiveness, helping us to meet these challenges with less anxiety than in the past.

To learn more, read Forgiveness Is a Choice.