Forgiving yourself is an opportunity to free you of pain and anger that has built up over time. Forgiveness moves you from focusing on a past hurt into the present. You may not forget the hurtful event, but you can move on with your life. This choice to forgive yourself may not be a one-time event and may take time to do, but over time you will find yourself living without the familiar pain you are used to carrying with you. Forgiving yourself may not be easy, but the alternative is choosing to live with the pain of bitterness and resentment toward yourself.
Failure to forgive ourselves can result in:
•Continually being hurt by unresolved pain, suffering and ways of acting that harm us
•Low self-esteem and low self-worth
• Being overly defensive or distant in relationships
• Unnecessary guilt and remorse that wear us down.
• Self-destructive behavior
Forgiving ourselves can have many benefits such as:
• Learning to love yourself in healthy ways and no longer beating yourself up for your mistakes
• Realizing we are human and all make mistakes
• Letting go of hurtful memories and painful events and developing an optimistic view for the future
•Realizing you have value and self-worth can open you up to loving others in new ways and demanding respect for yourself
Forgiving Another Person
Even in the closest of our relationships we can harbor unforgiveness. Taking some time to reflect on our relationship can help us identify and dislodge any unforgiveness that may be present. If pain and resentment are left unchecked in our relationship, and the healing power of forgiveness has not been made use of resentment, bitterness or a loss of hope could develop.
We often carry around misperceptions of what forgiveness is and these misperceptions impede our ability to forgive or be forgiven.
It is important to know what forgiveness is not:
• Forgiveness is not forgetting. We often will not forget a hurtful event, but we can still seek and grant forgiveness.
• Forgiveness is not having resolved all the painful feelings. Often the hurtful feelings will last. But we can still seek and grant forgiveness.
• Forgiveness is not absolving someone from the responsibility of what they have done. What they did was wrong; you are simply choosing to not let it negatively impact you (and your relationship) anymore.
• Forgiveness is not accepting being continually hurt. If you are in an abusive relationship or one in which you are regularly being hurt, then that pattern must change. You do not deserve to be hurt. This may require staying away from the offending person to protect yourself.
• Forgiveness does not mean the relationship is always back to where it was before. If the offense is minor, you might be able to go back to where you were. If the offense is serious, it may take time (even years) to rebuild trust in the relationship. Forgiveness is simply starting this healing process.
Parents Teaching Children to Forgive
Parents teach their children forgiveness in a variety of ways. While there are many ways to learn forgiveness, one of the most effective is for children to see their parents modeling forgiveness in their daily life. Children can also benefit from their parents instruction on forgiveness. Like most life lessons, teaching forgiveness to your child will be a continual process, but one that can bear great fruit.
Children, especially young children, are very impressionable. As you teach your child how to forgive it will be an on-going process. You may even have to give your child the words to say if they have not developed the vocabulary of forgiveness yet.
An example might look like:
Parent: “Johnny, you hit your sister and now she is hurt. You need to say “I’m sorry.’”
(Or if the child is older, “I feel bad that I hurt you and I am sorry for hitting you.”)
Johnny: “I’m sorry Sally.”
Parent: “Very good Johnny. Now give your sister a hug to let her know that you are sorry.”
Johnny hugs his sister.
Parent: “Now I want you to play nicely with your sister. If you get angry, use your words.
Hitting is not appropriate. Have fun.”
The parent gave her child the words and actions to do in step-by-step fashion. Children often can only remember one step at time. Following the words and actions of forgiveness, the parent set a new course of action for the child, one without violence. When your child responds to your request, be sure to reward his behavior by saying “Thank you” or “Good job” or hug them yourself. This process may have to be repeated over and over, but in time it can bear fruit.
As your children get older their lives will get more complex and nuanced and they will need an ever expanding capacity to forgive. They will need to learn problem-solving and conflict resolution skills as they get older, but the foundation that you have taught them as a child will help make this process go smoother. They will always need to see you role model these and other skills.
If you feel ill-equipped to teach your children forgiveness, take the time to go to your local library and get some books or tapes on forgiveness. Check your local community for parenting classes. These resources will be especially important if you did not receive these skills yourself as you were growing up. We all learn forgiveness in a variety of ways.