Many adults carry childhood hurts, pain, shame, inadequacy or doubts about their lovability and worth due to their parents’ treatment, words, attitudes or behaviors. How can adults free themselves from the bonds of these memories, forgive their parents, restore their relationship and find their personal ease and comfort?
People are physiologically and psychologically programmed to avoid physical or emotional threats in order to survive and thrive. Thus, Forgiving, defined as “the inclination to overlook offenses; be compassionate” is a very counter-intuitive action when one feels wounded.
Parents yield a great influence upon their children. They gave them life, cared for them and did the best they could to facilitate their children healthy maturation. Yet, most parents have also erred at times, inappropriately scolded or punished their youngsters or occasionally acted harshly. Some parents have been the victims of generational inappropriate child-rearing practices, which they automatically emulated, while others allowed their life stresses to occasionally impair their judgment.
With the exception of severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, ongoing physical or verbal cruelty, all of which disqualify parents from the right to raise their children, most good parents may, on occasion, inflict harsh punishment, may be impatient, use unkind language or deliver needless verbal reprimand that is wounding to the child and often leaves both the child and the parent ashamed and horrified.
These incidents are unacceptable and hard to forget. Yet, in adulthood, forgiving the rare transgression of one’s parent can lead to healthier self-view and improved family relationship.
There are great benefits to the forgiver as well as the forgiven. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
Being able as an adult to look at your childhood from a forgiving perspective can enrich you greatly. Having greater compassion for your parent’s life circumstances in childhood and adulthood and his/her emotional life strains may allow you to become more compassionate, loving and forgiving.
Maya Angelou said, “You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’ ” Mahatma Gandhi told us, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Will yourself to understand that a good relationship with your parents is a gift to them and to you as well. Harboring uneasy feelings about your parent/s is hazardous to your health and may only cement the painful images in your mind to your and your children’s detriment.
If your parent is deceased, forgive your parent as well. Lewis B. Smede, the late Professor of theology and ethics said: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”