Friday, August 1, 2008

Family Feuds and the Work of Forgiveness

By: Connie Saindon, MA

People forgive in a variety of ways, from efforts that seem like two steps forward and one step back or all at once. How do you salvage the family and restore trust when issues of wrong doing, abuse, kidnapping, alcoholism, and so on have occurred?

Fuels for family feuds occur when there has been a violation of justice or fairness. Fairness of the give-and-take balance in relationships develops trust between people. Trustworthiness builds assurances that ones' needs will be met without manipulation or threats of retaliation. Hurts in families can last for years and even be passed on down through generations cutting both wide and deep. Perhaps you too are familiar with the "I haven't talked to my sister since I left home at 18." "No one invites Uncle Joe after he ran Dad's business into the ground 23 years ago."

Murray Bowen, M.D. coined the term "multi-generational transmission process" to describe how families pass on legacies from one generation to another. This famous saying describes the same idea: "The sins of the father are visited upon his sons." (Of course we know legacies are passed on down to daughters and from mothers too.) Individuals and families have been wounded by past events that range from mild to severe. Family members lack trust and feel a destructive sense of entitlement ("You owe me!"). " Not until she apologizes will I consider forgiving her." "Not until he admits what he did will I be OK, again." Feelings of both guilt and blame are clues to the need for forgiveness work.

One can either Exonerate or Forgive:

Exonerating work doesn't require contact with the family member (s). Three aspects of exonerating are:

1. The damaged person seeks to lift the load off of the longterm pain.

2. To do this the person needs to first identify what they must do to protect themselves from further hurt by this person. Also, they need to expand their understanding of the circumstances of the victimizer (their limitations, intent, personal and family history). Deeper understanding and possibly empathy of what their life was like at the time of the offense will be gained.

3. Exonerating a victimizer enables the victim to stop the damage from continuing to affect their lives so much. This frees up the victim to deal with healing some of the accumulated guilt and shame. It does not require further involvement between the victim and victimizer.

Forgiveness work involves resolving a relationship after damage has occurred and restoring the mutual respect balance. This involves some risk as the person can be hurt again. Forgiveness work involves setting realistic goals and making plans to build and test trustworthiness. The overt act of forgiving involves the victim allowing the victimizer to directly address the past damage and hurt. They accomplish the work of forgiveness through:

  1. Agreement
  2. Acknowledgment
  3. Apology

Past hurts and old wounds can restrict one's life in numerous ways. Exonerating can help free family members up from unnecessary burdens of past baggage. Forgiveness work can help families get fresh starts building trust with a balance.

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1 comment:

john said...

To forgive is not an easy thing at all. Yet there's a lot of good to it.