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.