It might be worth our while to move beyond “I’m sorry” as the be-all and end-all goal of conflict resolution for children. To raise happier children, we should take steps that lead to a lot more “I forgive you’s.”
That’s one of the dramatic take-aways of a just-completed study by three researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In a sample of 275 nine- to 13-year-olds who completed self-reported and behavioral measures of forgiveness and various indicators of psychological well-being, the study found that forgiveness can help children maintain strong relationships and improve psychological well-being.
According to the authors, it’s long been known that peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life.
In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood. Children who are less forgiving have lower self-esteem, are more socially anxious, and are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors.
The study also emphasized the need for early childhood forgiveness education, particularly during stages in which friendships are most important, such as in early childhood when children start to untie their parental bonds and increasingly focus on relationships with peers. In late adolescence, when the emphasis shifts from friendships to partner relationships, or during adulthood, when individuals spend less time with their friends, the association between forgiving friends and well-being may be weaker.
Does Forgiveness Make Kids Happier?
⇒ An article in Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life
Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-being in Late Childhood ⇒ Access to the complete study
Why We Need Forgiveness Education. . .NOW
⇒ A blog post by Dr. Robert Enr
When you self-forgive you are struggling to love yourself when you are not feeling lovable because of your actions. You are offering to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense that you have inherent worth, despite your actions, that you are more than your actions, that you can and should honor yourself as a person even if you are imperfect, and that you did wrong and need to correct that wrong done to other people.
In self-forgiveness you never (as far as I have ever seen) offend yourself alone. You also offend others and so part of self-forgiveness is to deliberately engage in seeking forgiveness from those others and righting the wrongs (as best you can under the circumstances) that you did toward others. Thus, we have two differences between forgiving others and forgiving the self. In the latter, you seek forgiveness from those hurt by your actions and you strive for justice toward them.
You use the term “accept” or “bear” the pain of others’ injustices. Does this mean that we handle this ourselves or do we need help?
I think that help of some kind is always good if that help is wise and supportive. In other words, speaking with someone who cares about you can help with the carrying of the pain and the lifting of that pain. So, talking it out is a good thing as long as the other understands, cares, and does not pressure you to forgive.
I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.
Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.
Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.
Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.
Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little. As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.
We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.
Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.
Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them.
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.