Self-forgiveness can be more difficult than forgiving other people because we tend to be harder on ourselves than on others. So, I would recommend that you first approach your son with the idea of forgiving someone who has hurt him. Let him get used to the idea of offering goodness toward at least one other person. Then try it again with yet another person. Once he sees that he can offer goodness toward others who have hurt him, then ask him to consider offering this same goodness to himself: unconditionally and compassionately. If he sees the need then to seek forgiveness from those he has disappointed, he could do that.
When you teach children about inherent worth, a key is for you not to expect perfection in the children’s understanding. The point is to introduce the idea that all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable even if they differ in intelligence, athletic ability, or any other trait that is less important than personhood itself. Children are capable of grasping that we are all human and therefore are all special.
Being bullied can be torturous. We need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if those who are bullied could forgive, then their well-being may be protected.
The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:
1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, depression, or even self-hatred. We were talking with a student from Korea and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.
2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, then their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.
The late Lewis Smedes, in his 1984 book, Forgive and Forget, gave wise counsel on this point. When you wish the person well, then you have begun to forgive. You may not have love in your heart, you may have some anger left over, and you may not want to reconcile (if the other’s behavior is harmful to you). Wishing the other well shows a softened heart and a growing compassion for the person.
There are many ways to give a gift to a person. For example, in the circumstance in which the offender avoids you, still you can donate in his or her name to a charity. If this is a family member, you can say something nice about that person to other family members. If you are a person of faith, you might consider saying a prayer for this person’s protection in life. All of these examples avoid direct contact with a person who is considered dangerous.
When we are treated unjustly by others, we slowly can become more apathetic about everything. Consider this quotation from G.K. Chesterton on the matter:
Forgiveness can reverse the apathy and the pessimism and increase our appreciation of situations and other people.
It is not anger per se that can be so damaging to a person, but the kind of anger that is deep and abiding for many months and years. This kind of anger can put one on alert so that the body does not rest. Muscle tightness, headaches, raised blood pressure, and fatigue can all lead to a changed life-style and a change in mood and emotions. When one feels constantly challenged, one can begin to feel unsafe and so anxiety can emerge. The physical challenges can lead to a loss of hope which can lead to depression. The good news is that forgiveness therapy can reduce the toxic anger so that it is no longer injurious to the person.
I am sitting here in a workshop far from my home in the United States. All of the participants are in small groups discussing themes of forgiveness for the self, for home, and for school. The place will remain anonymous to keep the information here private.
I just recently had a meeting in a school and the principal was unsettled about three recent suicides by young men just out of high school. They attended school in that very area of the city where this principal works.
“The community is rocking from this,” the principal said. “It is taking us time to adjust and the helping professionals are being kept quite busy with those who are mourning the loss.”
It is important that we not stand in judgement of the three men who took their lives. And so the point of this essay is not to judge the act of suicide or to judge the young men. Instead, the point is to ask a central question: What was in each of their hearts as they decided that this life is not worth living? What misfortunes or even injustices came to visit them so that their hearts were broken? Could the pain in their hearts have been healed?
I write with a sense of urgency because, where I currently am in the world, the suicide rate is high for young men such as these. Too many of the young men in this community are thinking and feeling that this life is not worth it. There is too much pain, too much alienation.
My urgency centers on this: There is a cure for hopelessness borne out of alienation and unjust treatment and that cure is forgiveness. Forgiveness can cure a shattered heart. Forgiveness can cure a sense of hopelessness and a sense that life holds no meaning or purpose.
Forgiveness can reduce resentment and give a person the meaning that life can be about loving….even when others are not loving you. Forgiveness can give a person purpose as he or she strives to put more love into the world today than there was yesterday. A person who is alienated and broken, if introduced to forgiveness, can begin to reduce pain and to love more……and to see that life, indeed, is worth living.
I am perplexed by this question: What if each of these three hurting young men had sound forgiveness education in their elementary and high school education?
Would they not only be alive today but also be alive with hope and love and purpose?
We need forgiveness education…………..now.
There are many emotions that can emerge when a person is treated unfairly: sadness, shock, and anger are three of the central ones. In our book, Forgiveness Therapy, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons and I make the case that deep and abiding anger is the central emotion that can put a person at-risk for psychological challenges such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In other words, even though there are several or even many emotions one can experience following injustice, deep anger in the form of resentment can be dangerous to one’s psychological and physical health if this continues for a long time. Forgiveness therapy can cure the resentment.
If you are ready to seek forgiveness from others, and are willing to give them time to forgive on their terms without pressure to forgive, then yes, I think this will aid your forgiving others. As you ask for forgiveness, you might become more sympathetic to what an injuring person goes through. Yes, he or she was unfair, but the person may be hurting inside and truly need to be forgiven……and be very thankful to be forgiven. You are not a monster when you are unjust. After you seek forgiveness, you may realize, in now forgiving, that those who hurt you are not monsters either. They need mercy, as you need mercy when you hurt others.