Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships: Part 3 – Lessons of a foster parent and a look at religious teachings

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships: Lessons from a Foster home.

I remember the first time the undersized 4-year-old fell asleep. Her red hair was roughly cut, and her dirty cloths stuck to her body. She had just arrived and within minutes had fallen asleep beside me on the couch. She was just one of many foster children to stay in our home, but for some reason this one especially touched my heart. Her sporadic breathing made me wonder what tormented thoughts played in her head.

To be honest, she was just one of many children thrown into foster homes around the world. Each and every one has some sad and terrible story to tell. However, sometimes the abuse, neglect and often tortuous treatment of children is difficult to comprehend.  Yet when parents are torn apart by addiction, emotional instability and mental deficiency the abuse of their children is justifiable (at least in their own minds).

However I often wonder why its the foster parents who get a bum rap, especially in movies and media.  Quite often the people taking in these abused children are portrayed as worse monsters than the parents who lost their kids in the first place.

I can personally testify that this is not a true representation. Over the years I have met numerous foster parents, and the vast majority of these people take in children out of a true nurturing and caring spirit.  It seems some people have preconceived notions that a huge amount of money is funneled into the hands of foster parents.  The reality is the emotional, mental and physical toll of taking care of abused children is hardly worth the monetary advantage of running a foster home.

In reality its not the foster parents, children or social workers which are to blame.  The blame lays squarely on the abusive parents, manipulative family members, and the entire bureaucratic child welfare system in general.   Out of the dozens of children and workers we dealt with, I can only remember a few social workers and one child who actually didn’t belong in the system. When it comes to the parents, we only had one who actually attempted to deal with their abusive ways and successfully reunited with their children.

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships – Heartbreak to Deliverance

Nearly all of the children we received came from a heart breaking upbringing. They arrived with absolutely nothing, except ragged dirt stained cloths, lice in their hair, and a history of broken hearts and broken lives.   All, but one, had been horribly abused either physically, sexually, mentally, and/or emotionally.

The toughest thing about working with these foster children was helping them deal with the abuse they had received, and making them feel loved – without any strings attached.  It was amazing how resilient these children could be, and how a stable home was often the key to their ability to adjust.

Out of the  30-odd children we worked with there were basically 3  results.

  • Some, after years of progress, would be whisked away and placed with a relative who suddenly wanted them even though they rejected original placement (this rarely worked out, and the children would end up back in the system).
  • Some would never adapt and would use their past as an excuse for continuing the destructive behavior they learned from their upbringing.
  • Some would adapt and deal with the issues they faced and become stable and mature adults.

Children are highly susceptible to accepting blame for their parent’s behavior, especially when parents or other authority figures are abusive.  One of the determining factors in their ability to recover was directly relational to their ability to forgive. This did not include only forgiving those who abused them, but being able to forgive themselves.

Now I realize the above examples come from the extreme end of human existence, but it does show how deeply we can be affected by our upbringing.

Like we stated in the beginning of this series, we can never live life to the fullest, or find true peace and joy, until we learn to forgive others from past and current offenses.

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships – You can’t argue with every religion

When it comes to the importance of forgiveness one just has to look to the religions of the world. Below is a list of direct quotes about forgiveness from various religions found in Wikipedia, and are placed in alphabetical order.

Buddhism:  In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being.   Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma. Instead, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of thoughts that leave a wholesome effect. \”In contemplating the law of karma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing meta and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all.

Catholicism:  In Roman Catholic Churches, it is customary to make formal confession of sins individually in the presence of a priest, and to obtain absolution as a formal expression by the church of God’s forgiveness. Catholic doctrine maintains that the Catholic Church is the original and true Church and is infallible when it definitively teaches a doctrine of faith or morals

Christianity:  The Christian (Protestant) Denominations teach that God\’s forgiveness is received through personal repentance and belief in Jesus Christ in conjunction with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The basic tenet is a believer receives forgiveness more directly through a sincere expression of repentance to God, and by believing in and following Jesus Christ.

Hinduism :  The concept of performing atonement from one\’s wrongdoing (Prayaschitta — Sanskrit: Penance), and asking for forgiveness is very much a part of the practice of Hinduism. Prayashitta is related to the law of Karma. Karma is a sum of all that an individual has done, is doing and will do. The effects of those deeds and these deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one’s own life, and the pain in others.

Islam:  Islam teaches that God (Allah in Arabic) is ‘the most forgiving’, and is the original source of all forgiveness. Forgiveness often requires the repentance of those being forgiven. Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one’s fellow-man. In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.

Judaism:  In Judaism, if a person harms one, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is religiously required to grant forgiveness: “It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit. . . forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel.” (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10).

Notice that each of these religions has included forgiveness as one of their key doctrinal points, and command that its followers adhere to the act of forgiveness. If you look at Christianity you will notice that forgiveness is so important that Jesus had to die on the cross for people’s sins. This makes forgiveness about as important as one can get. If forgiveness were so important in every religion than we would be fools to overlook it.

 Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships – Forgive and Forget, easier said than done.

There is a saying that goes, “we need to forgive and forget”. It’s so popular you have probably even used it before yourself. I agree that the first part is extremely important, and we all have the ability to forgive. However the second part is not so easy, especially when the hurt runs deep. When it comes to deep hurts and violent acts, forgetting is nearly impossible. I found a very interesting theory called “the flashbulb memory” which helps support this point.

A flashbulb memory is a memory that was laid down in great detail during a personally significant event, often a shocking event of national or international importance. These memories are perceived to have a “photographic” quality. The term was coined by Brown and Kulik (1977), who found highly emotional memories (e.g. hearing bad news) were often vividly recalled, even some time after the event.

For example, a great many people can remember where they were when they heard of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 or the assassination of U.S president John F. Kennedy, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., or musician John Lennon. Some biologists believe that the hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stressful incidents, cooperate with adrenalin to cause the formation of flashbulb memories by the brain, functioning to help remembering things to avoid in the future. Another theory proposes flashbulb memory is an artifact of synaptic plasticity tagging whereby memory of unimportant events share or \’steal\’ some of the strengthening synaptic tag of the important event.” Above quotes taken from Wikipedia.

One of the significant points of the flashbulb memory is the “photographic quality” of these memories. The point of these memories being ingrained in our minds, like a photograph is ingrained on the paper, can be most pertinent when these memories begin to be a constant reminder of these events. If we continue to dwell on, and walk in these hurts, its like having photographs of negative experiences hung all over the walls of our house.

Every morning and evening, as we walk through our house we are reminded day in and day out of these past transgressions. We can try to imagine they are not there, try to ignore them, or pretend they never happened, but if we don’t deal with them we will be haunted by these memories thorough out our lives.

So dealing with these memories through forgiveness can be the first step to use them for our benefit.

After we have dealt with these flashbulb memories, we can begin to use them to help us avoid similar situations in the future.  We can all benefit from being firm believers in avoiding past mistakes, and learning from our past experiences. As the saying goes, “if we don’t learn from past mistakes we are doomed to make them over and over again.”

On the last part in this series we will look at forgiveness we will look at practical tips on how to build a life of forgiveness.

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships: Part 1

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships: Part 2

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships:  Part 3

Forgiveness, Key to Strong Relationships: Part 4