Anger is the proverbial two-edged sword. When we are emotionally vulnerable, one edge stands ready to protect us from additional hurt and harm, but the other edge can rob us of our joy and, over time, steal our health and vitality as well. The Spirit of Forgiveness offers us one way to deal with long-term anger.
Although issues related to forgiveness can affect one’s ability as a partner and a parent, I have found that children and teens also struggle with forgiveness.
Like a Suit of Armor
Like a knight’s suite of armor, anger does a good job of protecting us from additional hurt. It covers our delicate emotional flesh, but, if worn too long, the armor itself can hurt us. If we choose never to remove the armor, others will see us as strange and even difficult. And when the summer sun does its number on the armor, we will have a new problem: heat stroke.
At some point, the armor needs to come off, right?
Forgiveness, A Delicate Issue
Authentic forgiveness requires vulnerability, an emotional risk … without armor. One of the things that makes forgiveness difficult is the fact that, in order to truly forgive, one must make contact with what they are forgiving. That can be difficult, often causing forgiveness to stop before it even begins.
(This is precisely why insisting a child or teen forgive someone is so ineffective, even harmful. We cannot mandate matters of the heart, especially when the heart is packed in armor!)
Waiting to Forgive
Even when one is willing to forgive, what happens if it is never sought? Is one stuck at that point, just waiting to forgive? What happens if they can’t or won’t wait?
For ten years I was the consulting psychologist for a residential treatment facility for children and teens. They had been removed from their homes because of ongoing abuse and the emotional damage it created. These kids inspired me in their growth and in their willingness, over time, to step out of their armor. In the process, however, some of them attempted to forgive family members when that forgiveness had not been sought. For the most part, the results were quite predictable: Disaster.
The Spirit of Forgiveness
There is a way to help a youngster or an adult to get to the point of forgiveness even if it is never sought. I call it The Spirit of Forgiveness. It involves a “What if …” that can lead very closely to the same sort healing if a person is ready for it.
The Spirit of Forgiveness starts with a question:
You are right; it seems very unlikely that person will ever seek your forgiveness. But what if they DID ask you to forgive them, and you were absolutely convinced they were 100% sincere is doing so. Would you consider forgiving them then?
Almost to the youngster, kids initially would respond with something like, “I wouldn’t believe them!” “That would never happen!” or “They would never ask that!” At that point, my aim would be to coax them toward a “Yes” or “No.”
I understand. But what if someone you trust a lot, someone like your grandmother, were to tell you they were sincere in seeking your forgiveness, what would you do?
If the youngster elected to stay with their previous response or say they would NOT forgive that person, I would stop right there. They were not ready; they still needed their armor. They were neither right nor wrong; they just were not ready.
If, on the other hand, they were to say they would forgive that person under those circumstances, I would explain to them how very, very close that is to actual face-to-face forgiveness. The results often would be obvious in their eating and sleeping habits, behavior, relationships and school performance. I was privileged to observe youngsters use The Spirit of Forgiveness, a predetermined answer to a question that might never be asked, to make significant progress in their recovery.
Acceptance: An Alternative
I have communicated with individuals that felt even The Spirit of Forgiveness was too difficult for them to conceptualize in terms of their own experiences. In one way or another they all shared that they moved past the pain and hurt by reaching a point of acceptance and moving on from there.###
A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the author of The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child. He is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular radio-style podcast and blog supporting young people and their families. http://www.TheChangingBehaviorNetwork.com.