With Thanksgiving upon us this month’s newsletter is about forgiveness. The holiday and the topic share the root verb “give” which means to grant or bestow or to make a present. Whether it be a letting go of feelings of anger or a recognition of thanks, both are growth inducing processes.
Best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.
In the January edition of this newsletter we wrote about the issue of “face” or image and how to rehabilitate face. Our face or image might be injured in a conflict. These may be relatively minor annoyances, slights and disappointments that are minor personal affronts and don’t necessarily call for forgiveness. They may be addressed by an apology or concession, for instance.
The reason it is important to discuss forgiveness in relation to conflict is to understand its role in the productive resolution and understanding of conflict. Many conflicts are cyclical and repetitive. In our June 2011 article about competitive conflict escalation and chilling effect the cycle of conflict continues and forgiveness doesn’t play a role. Forgiveness, like mediation, is a process. When there is no forgiveness the characteristics that brought the conflict to fruition, lack of communication, avoidance, discomfort are likely to continue.
These are situations that are highly problematic where the situation can reach crisis proportions. The rules of the relationship have been violated and there is significant emotional residue. Each type of relationship has different core relational rules. So the rules for how you treat a stranger are different than a spouse or a work colleague. For example, a rule of romantic relationships is that one doesn’t lie or deceive their partner. This rule of behavior may not apply to social acquaintances or strangers.
Emotional residue refers to the lingering emotional response to the memory of the particular transgression. In significant relational transgressions, like sexual harassment or adultery, there is usually an emotional residue. In conflict resolution, there must be an acknowledgement of this emotional component.
This is a cognitive process that consists of letting go of feelings of revenge and desires to retaliate. Forgiveness is an important mental process that should follow traumatic conflict. Ruth Abigail and Dudley Cahn in Managing Conflict Through Communication. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2011. Forgiveness is a process that starts with anger over a transgression and moves toward transforming the meaning of the event or changing the way we see the event in our lives. Reconciliation on the other hand, is a behavioral process in which we take actions to restore a relationship or create a new one following forgiveness. Reconciliation involves a series of actions and requires mutuality between the transgressor and the offended person.
Research into forgiveness indicates that it begins with anger over a transgression and moves toward transforming the meaning of the event or changing the ways we view the event in the context of our lives. While forgiveness is one person’s response toward another in a hurtful situation, reconciliation takes two people to renegotiate a new equilibrium after forgiveness. However, forgiveness does not obligate us to reconcile. Moreover, it does not release the other person for the consequences of his or her behavior or deny the anger. Whereas previously the incident took on major proportions , though forgiveness it recedes into the fabric of one’s life.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood because it is connected with our need to see justice done where a wrong has occurred. It is better to see forgiveness as a gift that the wronged gives the wrongdoer. It is better and healthier for us to forgive so we can act freely again, instead of acting out of pain or hanging onto anger.
Among the reasons cited by researchers for people failing to forgive are: fear of vulnerability, lack of apology from the transgressor, preference for the role of victim and lack of support for the forgiveness process.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.