by Elaine Stone
It has begun: 2010. We have once again crossed the threshold of another year; 2009 has passed, and a year of prospects and speculation lies ahead. Collective experiences of the past year travel on, changing lives in ways never imagined. What travels forward is a choice. Each of us can choose whether the past year's events are carried with a healthy perspective or will ruminate into sadness, bitterness or resentment. Experiences either enhance or become burdens of baggage. The choice is personal and individual. Parents' responses to life situations teach children to assimilate life in a positive manner or to carry resentment, anger, etc. In large part, at the core of these responses, is the subject of forgiveness. Have parents learned the value of freeing themselves by forgiving others or do they accumulate ever-increasing burdens by not forgiving?
Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Minn., in her article on forgiveness, discusses how forgiveness can lead down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. She says, "When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness and even hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. When we're unforgiving, it's we who pay the price over and over. We may bring our anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the wrong that we can't enjoy the present" (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131, accessed Nov. 2009). Pidermann goes on to define forgiveness, "In general, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness is the act of untying yourself from thoughts and feelings that bind you to the offense committed against you. This can reduce the power these feelings otherwise have over you, so that you can live a freer and happier life in the present."
Psychiatrist Richard P. Fitzgibbons conducted research studies at the University of Wisconsin and in Philadelphia which demonstrated that children can be taught a proven process for dealing with their anger safely and effectively. The process relies on teaching children the habit of forgiveness. Dr. Fitzgibbons says, "Our research and clinical studies demonstrate that forgiveness can diminish angry feelings, hostile behaviors, and aggressive, obsessive thoughts. Forgiveness can also enhance students' confidence and reduce the sadness and anxiety regularly associated with excessive anger" (http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/education/ed0250.html, accessed Nov. 2009). He points out that "forgiveness is not being a doormat or acting in a weak manner, and it does not limit healthy assertiveness. It does not mean tolerating and enabling abusive people to express their anger. Nor does forgiveness mean trusting or reconciling with those who are abusive, insensitive, or unmotivated to change their unacceptable behavior." Forgiveness is an inward emotion of the heart toward someone who has offended. It is not an acceptance of behavior; it is a letting go of pain and frustration caused by another so that the forgiver's emotional health is not jeopardized or bound to a situation in the past.
There is no simple three-step program for teaching children the art of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that requires resolve, decisive actions and intention. Children will learn best when the process of learning is started early and is modeled by parents. Begin by showing children sympathy when they are hurt. Allow them to vent their feelings and affirm their hurt feelings. Showing children sympathy helps them learn to do the same for others. After the child has vented, review the facts of the situation. Discuss both sides of the issue, perhaps unveiling another point of view. Some hurts are justified and others are simply misunderstandings. Try to help the child differentiate between intentional and unintentional wounding. The other child may be innocent in hurting his feelings; he may have assessed the situation incorrectly.
Next, remind the child of a time he hurt someone's feelings. Learning that all people are fallible and capable of hurting someone is a lesson well-learned. Facing humanity's imperfections will go a long way in bringing healing and actually preventing hurts from so easily occurring. Relating to how the child who hurt him feels will more likely incline the child to forgiving.
The next step is to encourage the hurt child to speak with the child who hurt him. Teaching early communication, even on small issues, builds an arsenal of strength in children's future relationships. Every relationship a child ever has will contain disagreement. Teaching him early to deal with these situations prevents future hurts that happen unintentionally. Children need to understand that people have opposing views. Even in childhood they can begin to recognize that acceptance and loving people does not depend on total agreement. Disagreement over a behavior or idea does not have to jeopardize a relationship.
Forgiving someone does not mean the hurt will go away. Children need to understand that forgiving gets rid of the anger and frustration, but it does not make one forget. It will soothe the pain and eventually bring healing to the forgiver, but it does not wipe out memory. It does mean one decides it is no longer important to hang onto the actions and allow them to continue to produce pain by reliving and retelling it over and over. Some pains are big enough to serve as lifelong reminders of caution, warning not to go there, pursue something, or blindly trust because it will probably produce pain. The memory can be beneficial as long as it is a forgiven memory, no longer producing hurt and pain. Allow children to be hurt and upset for a while, until they are ready to forgive. Explain that holding onto the hurt feelings will only make them unhappy in the end, and forgiving will release their hurt feelings and make them healthier.
Molly Carter, in her article "How to Teach Your Child to Forgive," suggests discussing religion or science. She says, "If you are a religious family, you may want to incorporate Bible lessons or topics covered in Sunday school in this discussion. No matter your faith, or whoever you consider your maker, forgiveness is divine. If you are not religious, you can incorporate the positive effects of your body and mind through science when you forgive (see side bar)" (http://www.ehow.com/how_2147300_teach-child-forgive.html, accessed Nov. 2009).
Above all, be patient with children as they learn the process of forgiveness. Encourage children toward a forgiving spirit, teaching them the healthy behavior of forgiveness. The Positive Way website explains, "Forgiveness is a creative act that changes us from prisoners of the past to liberated people at peace with our memories. It is not forgetfulness, but it involves accepting the promise that the future can be more than dwelling on memories of past injury. There is no future in the past. You can never live in the present and create a new and exciting future for yourself if you always stay stuck in the past. It is truly impossible to start new and to make clear, healthy, life-giving choices until we have let go of past hurts, confusion and resentments. Old wounds have drawing power and pull our attention to them over and over, taking energy and hope from us, preventing us from starting again. For this reason it is so important to spend time understanding the true nature of forgiveness, and what it really entails" (http://www.positive-way.com/, accessed Nov. 2009).
Have a Happy New Year!
What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Researchers have recently become interested in studying the effects of being unforgiving and being forgiving. Evidence is mounting that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stress reduction
- Less hostility
- Better anger-management skills
- Lower heart rate
- Lower risk of alcohol abuse or substance abuse
- Fewer depression symptoms
- Fewer anxiety symptoms
- Reduction in chronic pain
- More friendships
- Healthier relationships
- Greater religious or spiritual well-being
- Improved psychological well-being
(http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131, accessed Nov. 2009)
Questions Regarding Forgiveness
What If I don't feel like forgiving?
Whether I committed the sin or someone else committed it against me is not as important to my eventual freedom as is ejecting it from its inappropriate place in the spotlight on my spiritual landscape. Whoever did it-if it is obsessing me-I am the one who must act to change things. As fascinated as we cannot help but be with the question, "Who started it?" the more urgent and more useful question is, "Who can end it?" The first is a question about the past, and we cannot change the past. But the second is about the present and the future, and these are things we can affect by our own agency.
Why forgive when no one asks to be forgiven?
We forgive to be free, to be liberated from the destructive power of anger and hatred.
(Mark W. Muesse, http://www.explorefaith.org/lifeissues/why_forgive/the_prodigal_son.php, accessed Nov. 2009)
What good is forgiveness when the damage can never be mended?
Forgiveness is a way to unburden oneself from the constant pressure of rewriting the past. It's a gesture towards the future. Not for the future as a future in time, but for what the French call avenir, to open the way for what is to come, for the unexpected.
(Nora Gallagher, http://www.explorefaith.org/lifeissues/why_forgive/forgiving_the_unforgivable.php, accessed Nov. 2009)