Following on from our blog on compassion, we started asking questions about the nature of forgiveness and why it is so important to teach children to forgive. In a harsh world, where they are exposed to the not only the best but also the worst of humanity through third party experience as well as personal close up involvement, how is it even possible for them to start to forgive and what exactly does forgiveness mean.
The dictionary definition of forgiveness is the act of forgiving; state of being forgiven; ie the act of absolution, the act of remission, the act of granting pardon to a person, the act of ceasing to feel resentment against someone, the act of cancelling an indebtedness of liability (dictionary.com). But how that is possible in some instances and why it is important for our children requires a deeper investigation than the dictionary definition alone.
To understand the answers to these questions requires a fuller exploration of exactly forgiveness is beyond the dictionary definition. Wikipedia gives us a clue when it states that forgiveness is “renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger” and the Mayo Clinic online writes that “forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.” Forgiveness then is an active process of letting go and it is through this that we get a hint at the power, validity and necessity of forgiveness and why it is so critical to bring our children up to know the importance of forgiveness.
Critically, forgiveness is not a denial of the act that happened or in anyway a means of approving, accepting, dismissing or condoning what someone else did. It may also not be a means of forgetting but it is a means of moving on, empowerment, liberation and freedom for the person (or child) that processes the act of forgiving.
To hold onto grudges, the negative, angry and bitter feelings that come hand in hand with this, allows them a free reign, gnawing away at the emotions and heart of the person that remains unforgiving. Carrying this burden can add to feelings of depression and anxiety and take away from the joy that life has to offer otherwise. The continued venom felt by the initial act or person that hurt us initially continues to seep through our system destroying everything in its path without any chance of release or vanquish and to this end negative feelings can crowd out the positive that restore us emotionally and psychologically. Effectively we continue not only to be the victim of the original offence but also the victim of our own reaction.
To forgive then takes a choice to release ourselves from the feelings that bind us otherwise. Forgiveness essentially is about removing the power from the negative control centres in our life and freeing ourselves to live in harmony and that is why it is so important that we help children value forgiveness for what it truly is. It doesn’t necessarily need to involve the other person and it doesn’t mean that we will automatically forget the transgression, but what it does mean is that we personally can move onwards, a freer self.
How to help our children forgive takes a lifelong commitment to parenting with compassion. Helping children understand why someone may have behaved the way they did (particularly when it is your own child that is hurt as a consequence) is no easy task and sometimes it takes every ounce of perseverance to work this one through. Sometimes it helps to imagine what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes – how might we have reacted if we were them, what might we have done then, how might be have behaved. Other times it may be necessary to muster up memories of when we hurt someone else or how it felt to be forgiven for something we ourselves have done. Taking a view of the transgression from a different perspective may help. In some instances it may be a struggle and sometimes even approaching a third party for help may well be necessary albeit a spiritual leader, health professional, counsellor depending on how the child we are helping is affected. This is particularly true if you are trying to help a child who is a victim of crime for saliently advice from Psychology Today then points out the exception to the rule realising that in these cases empowerment may only come when the victim is empowered when they are given permission not to forgive.
We have therefore looked at why forgiveness is important and how forgiveness may come about but what it means to have forgiven is far reaching. As we have seen forgiveness is about empowerment, freedom and liberation. It isn’t about changing the person that hurt us but more so about realizing a change in us as a result of forgiving and can lead to healthier relationships, greater well-being emotionally and psychologically as well as impacting on our health in terms of lowering blood pressure, reducing stress anxiety and resentment, decreasing depression in some instances and even lowering the risk of substance abuse.
Forgiveness can therefore have far reaching consequences that impact positively for us and our children, bringing peace and helping us move forward with our lives.