Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Forgiven

Remember this post about The Girl, her father and his big mistake--the post about how he breaks her heart? It seems like in this case, at least, time has healed (well, at least soothed) all wounds. The Girl finally buried the hatchet and let her father back in to her life.

And I encouraged her to do it. Yes, I think this does qualify me as *Certifiable*, but I have my reasons...

Since the incident her father tried many times to apologize, although his methods were coarse and fumbling, almost stereotypically blue-collar (I am sorry to resort to stereotypes here, but the guy really, really is Blue Collar). At first The Girl put him off, ignored his phone calls, and e-mailed him to leave her alone. She told anyone who asked she had no use for him, no reason to ever talk to him again.

But my daughter is strong, wise beyond her years. She insists on everyone dealing with her as an adult. So, after much inner deliberation and almost a phone call to a shrink to get my own head examined for deciding to do it, I laid it on the line for her--I told her she should consider forgiving her dad even though I know what her dad did was wrong, that she does not have to ever forget what he did or the pain it caused. That being said, I continued, I reminded her that what he did was out of ignorance, not malice. I reminded her that her dad, in his fumbling way, did try to apologize, did try to make it right. I felt he has learned from his mistake, and that he truly felt remorse for his gross mistreatment of her. Furthermore, I reminded her that her dad is new to being her dad, and he has the added burden of having his wife barking in his other ear, dragging out her whole bag of tricks, applying all kinds of pressure to make his relationship with The Girl miserable or, better yet, to destroy it altogether. Finally, I urged her to take the high road, be the adult that she wants everyone to accept her as, step up to the plate and give the guy a chance.

Of course, I will be monitoring his interactions with her closely--well, as closely as I can without too obviously prying or squelching her privacy.

My dilemma with this situation is that I do not want The Girl to be a doormat (Obviously!). However, I believe that holding on to anger and pain like that, not confronting it, keeping it bottled up inside you slowly eats you up, robs you of positive energy, spoils the sweetness of even unrelated moments.

Within the last fifteen years, much research has been done in the area of forgiveness. Surprisingly, the ability to forgive has a profound positive impact on a person's health and well-being. This website,forgivenessandhealth.org , provides a wealth of information on forgiveness including the health implications of holding on to anger:

Lack of forgiveness can create an avalanche of stress hormones.

* It increases production of cortisol and epinephrine, which leads
to changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
* It raises levels of catecholamine and CD8, which suppresses
the immune system thus increasing the risk of viral infection.
* Leads to the release of histamines, which can trigger severe
bronchoconstriction in people with asthma.

Chronic stress also...

* Alters insulin levels.
* Alters the acid concentration in the stomach.
* Causes plaque buildup in the arteries.
* Causes or intensifies aches and pains.
* Raises anxiety levels.
* Causes depression.
* Interferes with intimate and social relationships.
* Affects sleep and appetite.
* Affects job performance.


Many other researchers, doctors and therapists (like this guy , for example) on the web claim that holding on to anger is the source of much of the stress in our lives.

Stress, disease, and depression--those are seriously disturbing side effects to holding a grudge!

This website also highlights some interesting research about forgiveness (forgive my large block quote here, but this is very interesting stuff):


Recent brain research has demonstrated that excess cortisol levels impair your cognitive ability and damage cells in the memory centers of your brain.

Researchers have also looked at the actual physiological effects associated with granting forgiveness or harboring grudges.

A study of 13,000 men and women showed that anger-prone people were three times as likely to have heart attacks or bypass surgery as less-angry people.
The New Zealand Medical Journal published a letter from a clinician who did an analysis of 200 case histories that showed that 60% of chronic pain patients showed a strong element of a failure to forgive.

A seven-year study of 2,100 men showed that those who were better at diffusing anger had half as many strokes as those who were angrier. The results showed that "unforgiving thoughts prompted more aversive emotion and significantly higher [forehead muscle tension], skin conductance, heart rate, and blood pressure changes over baseline." These physiological changes persisted even after the participants stopped remembering the hurtful events.

On the other hand, forgiving thoughts were associated with a lower physiological stress response.

These findings might explain why unforgiveness may contribute to disease -- and why forgiveness may enhance health.

At The University of Tennessee, psychology professor Kathleen Lawler studied the effects of anger and hostility on the heart. After 25 years of study, she found the health dangers of anger and resentment so striking that she wondered what people could do to short-circuit the damage. So Dr. Lawler turned her attention to forgiveness.

After measuring adults (ages 28-70) for their baseline blood pressure, heart rate and forehead muscle tension, she asked each person to tell a story of betrayal. She also asked each one to fill out a questionnaire about physical and mental health. Everyone showed increased blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension as they recounted their story. But for those who had not forgiven their offenders, the increases were 25% higher than for those who had.

Nonforgivers were also more likely to report illnesses and symptoms -- such as colds, infections, fatigue, and headaches -- that had sent them to the doctor in the previous month. The non-forgivers also took 25% more medications than those who had forgiven.


Because of all of the research findings in favor of forgiveness, learning to forgive can:


* lower your blood pressure,
* improve immune system response,
* reduce anxiety and depression,
* improve your sleep,
* improve self-esteem and sense of empowerment,
* help you to have more rewarding relationships, both professionally and personally,
* reduce stress by releasing toxic emotions,
* reduce dysfu nctional patterns of behavior,
* increase energy for living and healing,
* improve relationships and social integration,
* increase peace of mind,
* aid peaceful death.


According to the research, forgiveness seems like the right thing to do--for purely selfish reasons!

Out of all the digging I have done, I found only one therapist who argues against forgiveness. She brings up some good points such as lamenting that our culture *demonizes* unforgivers while *idolizing* forgivers and treats forgiveness as a panacea to cure all ills. Also, she mentions there are several types of unforgivers who *share the capacity to forgive, but do not exercise it indiscriminately*. Fine, I buy that--everyone has the right to choose what is best, and if you don't want to forgive, who am I to judge? Of course, the crimes the perpetrators committed in some of the case studies include a woman who's brother's list of offences against her included shoving a screwdriver up her rectum and setting her on fire, so, yeah, I can see how people who have been through such trauma would choose not to forgive.

Regardless of whether forgiving or not forgiving is the healthier choice, regardless of researchers' opinions and evidence, what it boils down to is what is the right thing to do for yourself. I have been trying to teach my daughter that you can forgive, but you do not have to forget. And if someone is hurting you out of malice, or because that person is abusing drugs or alcohol or has some other type of illness, or if you think person will continue to hurt you--won't mend his or her ways after they have been forgiven, then it is perfectly acceptable to put that person in the past.

I have always believed that people are human, flawed, and will f*ck up at some point. We all do it. I guess what we have to determine is whether holding on to the anger is the best course of action? Or by letting the anger go do we learn how to love those frail, flawed humans in our lives better, more deeply. Can we then love ourselves more deeply without that huge, ugly mass of hate wrapped around our hearts?

For me, letting go of the hate, releasing the anger, moving on has been most therapeutic. I am in my thirties now, and I have endured some very grievous hurts. I have dealt some out in my time as well. Yet, I have forgiven those who have wronged me--purely for selfish reasons--because I can't stand to be carrying around all that rotten baggage. I don't like to have my persona clogged and weighted down with excessive negativity. To me, it is too cumbersom, too consuming, too painful, and therefore no way to live. So I forgive. I hold no grudges.

Here is where the Doormat issue comes in: I tell my daughter just because I have forgiven someone does not mean I necessarily reconcile with him or her. For me during the forgiveness process, I let the wrongdoer know how they have hurt me. I try to give the wrongdoer the benefit of the doubt. If that person is unable or unwilling to stop hurting me in that way, or if that person has really done the *Unforgivable*--a terrible, unmoral, completely unconscionable act, I will put that person out of my life. Maybe I am a sucker, but if a person is sincere in his or her apology, determined to no longer practice the unacceptable behavior, has learned from his or her mistake, then it seems wrong for so many reasons to hold a grudge.

I am glad, relieved, and a little nervous that The Girl forgave her father. I don't think it is practical to expect that he will never hurt her again. As I mentioned earlier, we are all human and prone to mistakes. But I do hope that he has sincerely learned from this experience and he will handle her heart with the care and respect it desreves. I really, really hope that he will not make me regret encouraging her to forgive (because that forgiveness well of mine does have a bottom). That took a lot from me. But I feel it is my responsibility to step up to the plate, be the adult, even when the costs are high.

2 Comments:

Blogger Suz said...

I DO remember that post - back when I first started reading your blog and felt so angry on the girl's behalf. I'm glad that her father has tried to apologize and more than glad that she's forgiven him.

10 September, 2006 10:00  
Anonymous wolfbaby said...

your a bigger woman then I am !!! I think what you did was right for all of you espcially the way you put it to the girl... I think the most important thing is that you were able to teach your daughter valuable coping skills and really important information taht will stay with her and help her later on in life!! Hope things work out and that he dosn't hurt her again.

10 September, 2006 12:30  

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