But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. –Matthew 5:39
A recent post reminded me of an experience I had my first couple years in graduate school. It was a difficult, painful experience that taught me a lot about anger, forgiveness, and what it means to be Christlike when another person is trying to manipulate you.
Without going into too many details, I had some difficulties with a roommate that turned quite painful. To make a long story short, she decided to resolve the situation on her own (without discussing things with me), and then demanded that I accept her decided course of action. While I don’t think she realized what she was doing, she attempted to emotionally manipulate me into accepting her proposed solution by telling me how awful of a roommate I was and how it was my fault we were in the situation in the first place.
I spent a large chunk of the 3-4 months the situation was at a head either on the phone crying or on my knees trying to understand what God would have me do. I wanted to be compassionate, because this roommate had been a friend and I knew she was extremely stressed by the situation, but at the same time, the roommate’s solution would solve things for her but make things much worse for me, and I didn’t feel right about ignoring my needs. The main thing I struggled with was the Savior’s command in Matthew 5:39 to “turn the other cheek”: that when someone wrongs us, we should respond with meekness, submission, and forgiveness, rather than anger or revenge. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what this really meant, and how this applied to my dilemma (admittedly, it was on my mind partially because the roommate was regularly asking me why I was refusing to act more Christlike, and I am pretty easily manipulated into feelings of guilt).
Eventually, after much prayer, I decided on a solution that was a compromise and wouldn’t give either my roommate or I everything each of us wanted: I acceded to some of her requests, but I also set conditions that took my own needs into account. To this day, I feel like this was the solution that God wanted me to pursue, and things were resolved, but because of the emotional fall-out from this situation, I was angry and upset for months, and I ended up switching wards. It took quite awhile for me to be able to forgive this person, but eventually, forgiveness came and I moved on with my life.
The lessons I learned:
*”Turning the other cheek” does not mean allowing others to take advantage of one’s kindness. Yes, it is best to not retaliate when others have wronged us, but it also doesn’t mean allowing oneself to be emotionally manipulated, abused, etc. Taking care of one’s own needs is important.
*If someone is manipulating you (even unintentionally), it is best to minimize contact with that person.
*Forgiveness is sometimes slow in coming, especially when others do not realize they have wronged you, or do not apologize for their wrongs. This is okay as long as we are searching for forgiveness.
*Anger is a natural response to being wronged. While we should not dwell on our anger, we shouldn’t ignore it either. It is important to work through anger with God’s help so that we can reach a place of forgiveness.
*Working through anger directed at a person with whom you cannot discuss this anger (see above comment re: emotionally manipulative people), often means sharing your experiences with others who are not involved. While it is important to not share one’s experience for the purposes of dwelling on bitterness or engaging in gossip as a form of retaliation, the empathy and understanding that can come from sharing can be healing.