I am concerned about learning through observation. If children see parents arguing frequently, sometimes intensively, will these children, in the future, engage in bullying others in school or even be a contentious partner in adulthood?
This depends on what the child, who now is an adolescent or an adult, has learned from what was observed about the parents. It is possible that the person might gain wisdom from the parents’ fighting and realize that such a pattern is not healthy. Thus, the person may deliberately commit to not following the parents’ behavior. In contrast, if the person does not reflect on the potentially destructive pattern, then, yes, the person may grow up to show bullying behaviors in school and to repeat the pattern of a conflictual relationship with a partner. In other words, insight along with a commitment to not imitate the conflictual behavior might spare the person from repeating the parents’ behavioral pattern.
I am trying to forgive, but at times I have these feelings of revenge. Is this part of the forgiveness process or am I doing something wrong?
Feelings of revenge can be part of the preliminary process before a person commits to forgiveness. In other words, the process of forgiveness allows for a period of anger. At the same time, you do not want to act on revenge-feelings, but instead realize that revenge-seeking can harm both you (because of harsh emotions that can lead to anxiety or depression) and the other person. So, feelings of revenge are not part of the forgiveness process itself but can be present prior to the decision to forgive. Forgiving can go a long way in eliminating feelings of revenge.
Consider one person’s meaning in a dramatic case of grave suffering. Eva Mozes Kor was one of the Jewish twins on whom Josef Mengele did his evil experiments in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. In the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Mrs. Kor tells her story of survival and ultimate forgiveness of this notorious doctor, also known as the “Angel of Death.”
In describing her imprisonment as a child at Auschwitz, she said, “It is a place that I lived between life and death.” Soon after her imprisonment in the concentration camp, young Eva was injected with a lethal drug, so powerful that Mengele pronounced, after examining her, that she had only 2 weeks to live. “I refused to die,” was her response.
Her meaning in what she was suffering in the immediate short run was to prove Mengele wrong and thus to do anything that she possibly could to survive. Her second meaning in her suffering was to survive for the sake of her twin sister, Miriam. She knew that if she, Eva, died, Mengele immediately would kill Miriam with an injection to the heart and then do a comparative autopsy on the two sisters. “I spoiled the experiment,” was her understated conclusion. A third meaning in her suffering, a longer but still short-term goal, was to endure it so that she could be reunited with Miriam. A long-term goal from her suffering ultimately was to forgive this man who had no concern whatsoever for her life or the lives of those he condemned to the gas chamber. She willed her own survival against great odds, and she made it.
In this case, fiendish power met a fierce will to survive. Upon forgiving Mengele, she saw great meaning in what she had suffered. She has addressed many student groups, showing them a better way than carrying resentment through life. She opened a holocaust museum in a small town in the United States. And she realizes that her suffering and subsequent forgiveness both have a meaning in challenging others to consider forgiving people for whatever injustices they are enduring.
Her ultimate message is that forgiveness is stronger than Nazi power. And it has helped her to thrive.
» Excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, R. Enright. Norton publishers.
Read more about Eva Mozes Kor and her forgiveness work with Dr. Robert Enright:
- Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness
- Nothing Good Ever Comes from Anger
- In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor
I have tried cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapies and they do not work in a deep way for me. In other words, I can change my thinking about the situation, try not to see it as a catastrophe, but still I have unsettled emotions inside that need healing. Can forgiveness aid the recovery of more positive emotions and, if so, how does this occur?
Yes, you could include forgiveness in your therapeutic work. In contrast to the therapies in which you have engaged, forgiveness goes beyond the examination of your symptoms in the context of the injustice(s) against you. Forgiveness therapy goes to the root cause of the continued emotional upset by having you do the work of focusing on the one who hurt you, trying to see this person as someone who possesses inherent worth. As you see the other’s worth, this can enhance a sense of empathy and compassion toward the other and this has the paradoxical effect of lowering the temperature of your anger. So, adding forgiveness to your program likely will be beneficial for you. I wish you the very best in your healing journey.
Even though I forgive people, I still can get angry when I think back to the person and the situation. It seems to me that I have not forgiven. What do you think?
When we forgive, all of the anger does not necessarily leave us. We still can have residual feelings that include anger, sadness, and disappointment. If these emotions are not frequent and intense, and if you have gone through the forgiveness process and are wishing the other well (even if you cannot reconcile), then I think you are forgiving. This does not mean that there is no more work to do. When the negative emotions surface, consider going through the forgiveness process again. It likely will be quicker and take away, once again, some of the negative emotions.