Why is it that as we age we lose so much flexibility? I don’t just mean physical flexibility; I mean emotional flexibility. The older we get, the harder it becomes to bend and stretch and forgive. As teens go through their transitions and time of adolescence, they need to hang on to their ability to forgive, and adults need to rediscover it. Otherwise, both are left in the black-and-white world of one-strike-and-you’re-out.
The grinding and scraping and grating of adolescence require the healing balm of forgiveness in order to regain relational realignment. And you’re going to need to go first. It is imperative for you to model asking for, receiving, and giving forgiveness. I’m not sure, from a relational point of view, if there is anything more important for you to teach your teenager as an adult skill. Because we live messy lives, and we want to live those lives together with other people, forgiveness is a must.
How do you ask for forgiveness? When you clearly mess up, do you admit it? Do you try to pretend it didn’t happen by not saying anything? Do you try to even the scales by bringing up other issues? Do you try to buy forgiveness as a way to avoid asking for it? These are the sorts of lessons you’re teaching your children about forgiveness as you sit at home, as you walk along the road, as you lie down, and as you get up. They may not be the lessons you want to teach, but they’re the ones that are speaking out loud and clear to your teenager.
As adults, it can be difficult to admit when you have failed at something. It’s frustrating and we are very human. Do you sometimes just walk away after you’ve hurt someone, desperately deciding the other person will just have to let it slide and not bring it up? Or possibly you try to minimize how bad it was by revising what you meant or said in your mind.
If you haven’t been demonstrating to your teenager the positive power of forgiveness, you’ve been dropping the ball on one of the most fundamental spiritual concepts (with the first being love). If your child didn’t figure it out before hitting puberty, he or she is probably very clued in now about your shortcomings as a person and as a parent. They are, after all, on constant display. By this behavior, you have demonstrated the need for forgiveness but not how to accomplish it. That’s only part of the lesson.
By asking for someone’s forgiveness, you transfer power. That’s why I think it’s easier to say, “I’m sorry,” than it is to ask, “Can you forgive me?” When you ask, “Can you forgive me?” you have to listen and wait for the answer, which could be “not now” or even “no.”
When dealing with teens, it’s important for you to ask the question. They need to understand the power they have over a hurtful situation. They need to learn that what they think about what’s happening to them matters. They need to learn they have the last say. Having that last say gives the hurt person back the control he or she lost through the injury.
It is tempting to try to make excuses, to mitigate the injury when you’ve hurt another person. But it is so important that you avoid this temptation. Sometimes, your words or behaviors hurt someone else without conscious intent. It’s still important to understand the other perspective and express remorse over the unintended pain.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.
Once you have acknowledged the truth of your pain, you must decide to forgive. What if you understand all the pluses but still don’t feel like forgiving? The first step is to state your truth aloud, even if it’s only to yourself. Put into words how you are feeling and what has been done to you. Saying the words aloud is a way to let them go.
You might also try these written exercises to help in your journey of forgiveness.
- Draw what forgiveness looks like with crayons or markers, or paste in representative pictures from magazines. This may be hard. You have lived with anger for a long time. It is more familiar to you. You may need to remember how you felt when someone forgave you and what that forgiveness meant to you. Express how that feels in your drawing.
- After drawing a picture of forgiveness, write a letter to someone who may have hurt you. This is not an actual letter to send, but a way for you to verbalize in a safe way the forgiveness you need to extend. Instead of a “You hurt me because” letter, which emphasizes the action of the other person, write an “I forgive you because” letter, which will emphasize the control you are taking back for yourself. You are no longer the object of the action but the initiator of it.
Forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s a process. Someone bumps you in the elevator and says, “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Oh, that’s all right,” you say. You’ve forgiven that person. But on a subconscious level, you looked at that person and judged the reason why they bumped you and the manner in which they apologizes before you assured them, “Oh, that’s all right.” Even though the time from their bump to your acceptance of their apology was very short, your forgiveness was still a process that took into account a variety of factors, not the least of which was how you were feeling that day. If such a small event requires evaluation, think what the process must look like when applied to the incidents of abuse and pain in your past.
Start with prayer. Forgiveness is a tall order, and the power and strength needed to forgive are formidable. But remember that nothing is impossible with God. He is able to give you the ability to extend forgiveness. He is, in fact, an expert at forgiveness: he extends it to us all the time.
While I firmly believe that forgiveness is vital to a successful journey toward healing, don’t pile additional burdens onto yourself if you are unable to give instant forgiveness to yourself or to those who are responsible for your pain. This isn’t a bump on the elevator. The process of your forgiveness requires time, perspective, and patience.
No matter how hard you’ve tried to suppress your anger, it’s very near the surface. Any chink in your armor, and it comes exploding outward. Forgiveness is deeper down, harder to get to. You’ll have to dig for it, like any real treasure.
And while you are working toward this gem of forgiveness, place your wounded heart in God’s hands for safekeeping. Allow him to provide you comfort and safety. At the start of each day, deliberately turn to God and not to your behavior with food.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or disordered eating, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.
Evil, destructive people must be scrupulously avoided. Everyone else, including yourself, requires a lot of forgiveness. You cannot punish your abuser by withholding forgiveness. On the contrary, you can repudiate your abuser and supersede the abuse by intentionally choosing to live a different type of life, with positive responses.
Of all the ways we can respond to each other, you can choose love, mercy, and forgiveness. These will first enrich your life, then bless the lives of others.
Think about what forgiveness means to you:
- Does forgiveness mean letting someone off the hook?
- It has been said that forgiving is also forgetting. Do you believe that’s a good definition? Is so, why? It not, why not?
- Is it difficult for you to grant someone forgiveness if he or she doesn’t ask for it first?
- Do you think forgiveness involves an element of risk? If so, what is the risk?
- How many times should you be expected to forgive someone?
- Are there some people you should not be expected to forgive?
- Do you feel forgiven by God?
With negative, destructive examples in your past, it is imperative that you constantly align yourself with God’s overwhelmingly positive presence in your present and future. He will be your source of healing, forgiveness, and strength to rise above what was done to you by the sin of others.
Even more, it is his divine desire to heal your broken heart and rebuild your damaged spirit. Make your relationship with him the primary relationship in your life. Do this, and your ability to love yourself and others will multiply in the bounty of his love for you.
Please take some time to think about and answer the questions below. They aren’t necessarily meant to draw you into a conclusion, but are meant to stimulate thought:
- How would you describe your present relationship with God?
- Are you satisfied with your present relationship with God?
- Do you feel comfortable praying to God by yourself? When you pray to God, do you feel close to him?
- Do you pray because you want to talk to God or because you feel obligated to?
- Does the thought of prayer make you fearful, uncomfortable, awkward, or apprehensive?
- Do you spend time regularly reading God’s Word? Do you generally understand what you read?
- Do you read the bible out of a sense of obligation or duty?
- Have you ever felt God speak to you through what you read? If so, in what way?
- Are you a member of a faith community? If so, what do you gain from being a member?
- If you are not a member of a faith community, what reasons have you given for not joining?
As you consider your responses to these questions, here is a prayer from which to draw strength.
God, with your love to strengthen me, I can truly look at and understand how I have been hurt. Bind my wounds. Rebuild who you created me to be. Help me trust you. Help me to forgive myself and others.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
Forgiving someone is never easy. It does not happen overnight; it is a process. Often it requires getting over the faulty beliefs and practices taught to you by the very people you are trying to forgive.
Beware of the need to punish. In your anger, you may withhold the healing act of forgiveness as a way to punish or to retaliate against the person who hurt you.
Beware of the desire to continue focusing on yourself. Forgiveness allows for you to move on to a healthier focus in life, away from your self-consuming relationship with food and on to a healthy balance of focuses and interests.
Beware of the belief that you deserve to be hurt and miserable. You don’t; that’s your eating disorder talking to you. Forgiveness will bring you peace, healing, and relief.
Beware of pride. Your eating disorder or disordered eating patterns may have brought you a perverted sense of pride as a way to counteract the pain. Forgiveness, by lessening the pain, interfered with the maintenance of that pride.
If you were never provided with an example of love and forgiveness growing up in your immediate family, where can you find these examples? Try to remember the people who did give them to you as a child, maybe a grandparent or a family friend. Then, think back to how much you needed love growing up. Remember how you would have felt if you had received acceptance. As a forgiving adult, you can give those who wronged you the very things you were denied as a child.
If you have constructed the myth of a happy childhood, giving up that dream will be painful. You will have to discard your idea of the perfect mom and dad, or the image of an idyllic, loving family. Instead, you can establish a new relationship with your family, just as they are.
For some people, their pain and hurt are so deep inside of them that their ability to forgive is buried under layers of anger and resentment. If this description fits you, you will need to search outside of yourself for the strength to forgive. Again, you need to understand that forgiveness is something you can rarely accomplish immediately. You’ve lived with your pain for many years; allow yourself time to work through your need to forgive.
Your eating disorder is a response to your pain and anger. If you can understand what happened, get past the anger, and forgive the pain, the reason for your behavior will no longer exist. When the reason no longer exists, and the health-related complications of your behavior are addressed, true healing becomes a reality.
Once you are able to acknowledge the truth of your pain, you must look towards proactive forgiveness. You have to decide to forgive—not because you want to, not because it feels good, and not because it’s deserved, but because it is the healing thing for you to do. A conscious choice on your part to forgive can counteract your conscious decision to continue in the behaviors of your eating disorder or disordered eating. Your will is the same, but you are choosing to use it in a healthy, uplifting way.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 29 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.