As the holidays approach, we are reminded of the value of traditions when we gather together. Unfortunately, spending the holidays with family isn’t always easy. There are times in life when people may feel emotionally blocked from experiencing or finding joy with their families. Past conflicts may linger; selfish actions without regard for others can cause emotional pain. When family members can’t find their way to forgiveness, it causes relationship strain and prevents genuine closeness.
Unresolved conflict can increase stress levels, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and anger. Understandably, not all conflicts may be immediately resolvable. In certain circumstances, relationships may even be better served by periods of separation, especially when the conflict is in result of abusive or destructive behavior (such as physical or emotional abuse and addiction). Important steps in the forgiveness process include:
- Releasing our minds and hearts from all past hurts and failures, be they our own or those of others.
- Overcoming anger and feelings of resentment or a desire to punish or seek revenge against someone who has hurt us.
- Changing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they relate to someone we believe has offended us or our loved ones.
Through genuine forgiveness, bad feelings and judgment toward others are reduced, not necessarily because they “deserve” it, but because we willingly view that person with compassion, goodwill, and love.
- Purposefully restoring peace and contentment that can be a part of every family.
- Letting go of the emotions that deplete your mental and emotional energy, thus making energy available in other areas of your life.
Forgiveness is thus a gift you give yourself and your greater family. Our human spirit has the need for social connection. Although some conflicts may need serious commitments for reconciliation, others may be resolved through small acts of loving kindness.
Ways to demonstrate thoughtfulness include:
- Showing attention to the successes or needs of someone.
- Acknowledging your interest in their lives.
- Communicating face-to-face or via thoughtful cards or emails. Thoughtful acts help to increase positive emotions and decrease social isolation among family members.
Remember that even if you believe you are only partially responsible for a conflict, apologies make a huge positive impact toward conflict resolution. Most people who have given forgiveness speak of the joy they experienced from the release of the emotional burdens they had been carrying.
Achieving forgiveness in your heart enriches your life and your capacity for meaningful family relationships. Whether you are able to communicate such forgiveness and achieve mutual reconciliation with others depends also on their availability and openness.
There has been evidence for the benefit of “letting go” and forgiving the acts of those no longer in our lives, living or deceased. Tapping into your faith and your psyche may be aided by consulting someone in ministry or a mental health professional. All of our relationships are positively aided through our own release of ill emotions. The resilient human spirit is strengthened by acts of kindness and forgiveness.
Dr. Paul Tobin is a health services psychologist and active member of the American Psychological Association and the Oklahoma Psychological Association. He works with children and adults within the offices of Paul Tobin, Ph.D., PC and Ann Benjamin, M.Ed., Inc.