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Forgiveness

Air Date: 11/16/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net. All parents lose it from time to time. So do their children. And sometimes those disagreements are about the silliest things: who left the lid off the jelly, who failed to turn off the bathroom light, why the shoes got picked up but the socks didn't. Unfortunately, because so many families are feeling stressed and overwhelmed these days, small arguments sometimes escalate into large, loud ones. The anger and in some families, the silence can last for days. Often, conflict is simply swept under the rug; we just pick up and move on without ever really resolving our problems. Which may be why, in some families, the same fights keep happening over and over and over again.Researchers in interpersonal neurobiology which is the technical term for the growing field of research about how the brain influences relationships call this process "rupture and repair." If you think about it, you may be able to think of times when you argued with someone you love and discovered that when you worked out your differences and found solutions to your problems, your relationships actually seemed closer afterwards. And in fact, ruptures can lead to stronger relationships when the repair work is done well. The more we study mental health, parenting, and successful family life, the more we recognize that connection is what truly matters. When we are securely attached to those we love when the connection is strong it is easier to live, work, and learn together. When the connection is frayed or broken, however, life together becomes much more difficult and even the simplest tasks and problems feel overwhelming.Brene Brown, a researcher in Houston, Texas, has found that shame and fear cause significant damage to connection. Unfortunately, shame and fear are common parenting tools in far too many families. The less connected a child feels to a parent, the less cooperative that child is likely to be, and the more confrontational his or her behavior becomes. As Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline, puts it, "Where did we get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?"No one gets along perfectly all the time; disagreement is inevitable. But pain and loss of connection aren't, and in fact, they do far more damage than good. When you argue with someone you love, what are the steps to repairing your relationship?Well, first you need a bit of clear space in which to calm down. When we are angry, our prefrontal cortex literally disconnects, leaving us with emotional energy and physical reaction, but not much problem-solving ability or impulse control. When you know you're getting angry, the best thing you can do is to say so, call a time out, and take a moment to breathe. Once you're calm and can be respectful and thoughtful, you can return to resolving the problem.It's also important that adults be willing to own up to their own responsibility for arguments. I know parents who believe they're somehow demonstrating weakness if they say "I was wrong." Those same parents sometimes wonder why their kids won't admit to mistakes and mess-ups. If you've lost your temper, made a mistake, or reacted inappropriately, be willing to say so first. Remember, parents do most of their real teaching with actions, not words.And remember that you can (and often should) ask for forgiveness. I'm not talking about that flippant "sorry" that so often passes for real regret and apology. Sorry doesn't mean a thing unless action is taken to repair the damage. Some schools practice what is called "apology of action." "Sorry" just isn't enough: kids are invited to take an action that will help a hurt classmate do or feel better. Forgiveness is a term that is used more often in church than in family living rooms, but forgiveness is important. When you forgive someone, you don't forget the injury but you do choose to let go of it. I can't tell you how many husbands and wives, parents and kids come into my office still angry about something that happened months or even years before and still looking for ways to make someone feel bad about it.Repairing a relationship and rebuilding connection means choosing to look forward, to make things right and to solve problems when necessary. It means being willing to let go of wrongs, even when you deserve to be angry. It means forgiving our children, our partners and sometimes, even ourselves. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.