Healing the Family Through Forgiveness

Healing the family through forgiveness

We often hear the adage “To err is human, to forgive divine.  There is truth to this saying because forgiveness can only come from a noble heart— a heart that is compassionate, loving, kind, understanding, and above all, humble.  Why? Because when we forgive, we forget ourselves and reach out to reconcile with the one who hurt us.

The people closest to us are the ones who hurt us the most.   Perhaps it is because the very essence of trust and protection is violated. The person or persons we thought would protect us and take care of us instead caused great pain.

But as we carry the hurt in our hearts, we forget to realise that sometimes, we get hurt for the wrong reason and in some instances, the person we thought have hurt us does not even know he has committed an offense.   This is especially true in families where family members expect too much from each other and/or where communication lines are not open and family members do not feel free to express their feelings.

Families are made up of people – with their own unique personalities, strengths and weaknesses.  No two people are alike and even twins have different characteristics and traits.  Thus, it is not surprising for family members to hurt each other (even on a daily basis) over simple and mundane things.

An author identified four levels of conflict and offense:

  • Level 1

It is also the simplest, involves everyday failure in relationships such as being late for dinner, not attending family celebrations, not helping with household chores.

  • Level 2

It involves negligence or deliberate acts that disrupt family relationships such as wilful violation of treasured family tradition.

The first two levels of conflict and offense are easier to forgive and would only require fair play and respect among siblings.  It is best for families to have open lines of communication so that family members can ventilate their feelings such that conflicts are easily settled. For all you know, your brother or sister does not even know that he or she said or did something hurtful and if you keep the hurt to yourself, any other actions, words or even facial expressions of that sibling of yours will have a negative and hurting effect on you.  It is best to be open and say that you’ve been hurt and why you were hurt. In that way your sibling will know and avoid repeating the act that hurt you.   Some families scream at each other when discussing issues, sounding like cats fighting but at the end of the day, they are able to expose their feelings, settle their differences, forgive and reconcile.

Families should also exercise a balanced give-and-take relationship so that no one will feel overburdened or abused by another, intentionally or not. An environment of give-and-take fosters the spirit of justice and equity in the family. This is true even in the distribution of work in the family.  A sibling who is overburdened with housework will be resentful and angry. He may feel, rightly or wrongly, that his parents favour his other sibling/s and that they love him less. This could unwittingly be the start of harbouring grudges that erode family relationships. But when there is   a balanced give-and-take relationship, an environment of trust and confidence is established and nurtured over the years, making it easier to forgive each other.  Parents should also take an active part in seeing to it that family members respect each other and that no one is over-burdened with responsibilities while the others are taking things easy.

  •  Level 3

It involves physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

  • Level 4

It does not involve a specific act, but social tolerance of gross neglect and abusive treatment.


Families and Forgiveness: Healing Wounds in the Intergenerational Family

Terry D. Hargrave, PhD, 1994

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