Forgiveness is only one part of a larger process of working through a painful event, trauma, or loss, and it generally comes at the tail end of that process, after a lot of work has been done. As I explained in the previous post, it’s a choice not an obligation. When our hurts have been many and encountered over a lifetime, it sometimes takes years to get to forgiveness. There are no rules. Each of us must come to the decision about whether or not to forgive for ourselves and in our own time–much to the dismay and worry of our friends and family.
Consider the reasons why you might choose to forgive someone who did you wrong. Forgiveness is usually accompanied by a lifting of depression and anxiety and an increase in physical health and well-being. Forgiveness also brings a lessening of suffering and offers a newfound peace that helps you go on with life.
What is forgiveness, exactly?
In the effort to define and describe forgiveness, researchers have differentiated between “decisional forgiveness” and “emotional forgiveness.” Decisional forgiveness is having the thought or intention to stop an unforgiving stance and to respond differently towards the person who hurt you. Emotional forgiveness is actually replacing negative unforgiving emotions with positive more empathic emotions.
Most of us start with the desire to forgive someone (the decision) and then go through the emotional work to finally let go. It’s a two part process. The first step is the decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The second step, once completed, brings newfound feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you. (Reminder: You can forgive the person while still condemning the act.)
What are the Steps to Forgiveness?
1. It helps to begin by recognizing the value of forgiveness and its importance in …
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” –Lewis Smede
We’ve all been hurt by others–some in small, but painful betrayals and others in ways almost too horrible to imagine. I’ve listened to stories from victims of physical and sexual violence, from children who were bullied and tormented by peers, from adults whose partners cheated on them, from families torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse. Should we forgive people even when they’re unwilling to acknowledge their wrongdoings, let alone take responsibility for them? And if so, why?
Yes. The reason that forgiveness is important is because it actually helps the victim recover and get on with life. In the past ten years, the focus on this topic has grown enormously. The research has been teaching us what the benefits are to an individual’s physical, emotional and psychological health. In 2010, an entire issue of the Journal of Mental Health Counseling was devoted to forgiveness in therapy, summarizing the findings of over 1000 published psychological research articles on the topic.
There are clear mental health benefits that come with the ability to pardon those who have hurt us. Perhaps most notably, the research shows that an improved ability to forgive results in decreased depression and anxiety.
Those who are able to forgive also have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant posttraumatic growth. This means being able to get on with your life after the crisis has passed.
We also know that forgiving helps people shed their negative affect about whatever happened whether it be fear, anger, hurt, or all of the above. In turn, the subsequent decrease in obsessing about the crime or betrayal facilitates better sleep. Don’t we all know how difficult it is to participate happily in life when our sleep is chronically poor…
Speaking of sleep and physical health, other researchers have …
The Mason family is like so many others that I have seen in counseling. They happen to have two boys–Sam who is fourteen, and Max who is seventeen-but I’ve heard the same story from families with girls. Both parents are particularly concerned about Sam whose grades have been spiraling downward at the same time as his attitude has gotten more irritable and negative. When I ask about both kids’ use of drugs and alcohol, the parents share that they know that Max occasionally drinks at weekend parties and that they found a pipe in Sam’s backpack. They took the pipe, questioned Sam and were relieved to hear that he was just smoking pot–not hard drugs–and only now and then.
I wish that I could say that I was relieved but instead I was alarmed that Sam, and perhaps Max too, was already a regular user of marijuana. In the past few weeks, new studies are adding to what we already know are the serious potential consequences of early marijuana use. What information should all parents have about the serious risks of all drug use in the early teen years? And what can parents do in the face of a national trend towards increased use of pot among teens?
♦ For years, national surveys have shown that marijuana is universally available now to young people who find it easier to buy than alcohol. The most common place to buy pot is at school, especially junior high and high schools, both public and private.
♦ The most recent national survey (the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that 8.9 percent of Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, found that 9 percent of teens (nearly 1.5 million) smoked marijuana heavily (at least 20 times) …
Although worries about sex, drugs, and school still top the list when I talk to parents of teenagers, the issue of screen time, video games and social media sites often have parents and teens in bitter battles. What’s a good parent to do?
According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American youth spends eight to ten hours a day on some form of media–often more than one at a time. The Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) was founded ten years ago as a collaborative effort of Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health to figure out just how this enormous change in the daily life of kids might be affecting them.
Michael Rich, MD, is a pediatrician whose focus is to study the effects of media on children’s health. He thinks of media the way other doctors think about nutrition, wanting to give parents research based tips on which media are empty calories versus full of nutrients. In order to do so, Rich and his team have examined more than 3400 studies on the impact of media. Not all the results are what you might expect.
For example, Rich and Bickham found that kids who watch TV with friends were often more likely to spend time also doing other kinds of activities with their peers. So quantity is not necessarily bad. On the other hand, kids who spend more time watching violent shows tended to be more isolated. The research does not indicate whether it is the chicken or the egg. In other words, do isolated kids watch more violent TV or does violence cause more isolation? No matter what, parents and therapists should be monitoring the content of kids media and encouraging social engagement of all kinds.
Media late at night can disrupt kids sleep, and too many kids (and adults) are already suffering from sleep deprivation. Neuroscientist Marcus Dworak looked at sleep patterns of boys aged 12 to 14. Researchers asked kids to alternate between watching action movies one night …