Dr. Magryta: Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an unfortunately underutilized cure for heartache and pain. We all, at some point in life, will suffer from an intentional or unintentional wrong that leaves us wounded, angry and potentially vengeful.
These dangerous feelings will usually worsen our sense of self if we act upon them or hold them close. How many moviesand books show the lead character suffering from anger held too tightly?
An acute or, worse yet, chronic unremitting sense of anger and wounding engages our sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or flight mode to protect us from further harm. In an effort to save ourselves, we are likely to run away from the stressor or attempt to wall it off. Does this work? Rarely.
In a Daily Stoic Newsletter, the authors state: “The great C.S Lewis observed that we all find forgiveness to be a lovely idea…right up until we have someone to forgive. It’s true. Forgiveness is one of those virtues that’s easy to talk about, but incredibly hard to practice. Particularly when we are hurt, or when we have been seriously wronged. Yet, isn’t that sort of the point? Forgiveness wouldn’t be that impressive, it wouldn’t be that meaningful, if it came naturally. If it could be so easily tossed off.”
I have lived long enough to know that great things are not easily attained. Hard work and the act of giving away is the route to happiness and self esteem.
How do we teach our children to forgive, love and heal? Teach them to sit and meditate on the pain to release it? Tell them to “suck it up buttercup”? Do we show them that we — mom and dad — are never vulnerable? That we’re perfect? Or when someone cuts us off in traffic, do we cuss and verbally castigate them in front of our child?
Some years ago when crossing a street as a pedestrian, a woman in her car came whipping around the corner, nearly running me over. She yelled out the window at me for being in the road, then took off and parked in the distance. Little did she know that I was in a great mood that day, with nowhere to be.
I ran full speed in her direction and stood behind her car with my phone and took a picture of her license plate. She got out and yelled at me. I politely said that I needed the picture to report her behavior just in case this is a habit. If not, no biggie, she needed a paper trail based on what she did.
Speaking calmly, which further unnerved her, I said that I could have been a mother with children crossing the street.
Boom! Behavior shift. She was clearly a mother or a grandmother. It hit closer to home. She said, “I am so sorry,” “I am late for work” and “I don’t normally do this.”
For my part, I assured her that I was over it and was grateful that she saw the risk in her behavior. I never lost a moment of sleep or had any frustration that day. Forgiveness was key. You might say that there was little to forgive, and I would agree. However, every little forgiveness makes bigger forgiveness later easier to achieve.
So what is forgiveness? When looking for definitions, I found that psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness…. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. (Berkeley.edu)
The Bible is loaded with forgiveness ideology. Christ taught over and over again to turn the other cheek, treat others as you would like to be treated. Don’t we all want to be forgiven? I can guarantee you that my life would have been very different if my parents had not loved and forgiven my stupidity, as there was plenty of it.
I go out of my way to make sure that my children and my patients know that they are loved and forgiven.
Consequences still exist for poor quality behavior, but love and support are not taken away. This is the critical piece. To effectively change a behavior, a person must be able to recognize the problem, feel motivated to change, and have the support system in place to follow through.
Hate, anger and wounding never serve a person’s well being. These feelings just grow, fester and destroy.
Think of the recent movie, I Can Only Imagine (PG). The young man is in a nightmare family environment — emotional and physical abuse from those that should love and protect him. To trust after what he went through is so difficult. Yet faith, friends and his pain sublimed into music, and produced the ultimate forgiveness and release that not only healed the young man but also his abusive, broken father. This is forgiveness personified.
If you have not watched this movie, that is your homework for this week. Watch it and discuss it with your age-appropriate kids.
Other great movies on this theme are Good Will Hunting (R), Pay It Forward (PG13), 3) Invictus (PG13), 4) Wonder (PG), Dead Man Walking (R). This is a more difficult movie, not for the light hearted.
To forgive is to heal and live stronger tomorrow,
Dr. Chris Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at email@example.com