Dr. Barbetta, with the holidays approaching, I find myself getting anxious at the thought of seeing relatives who have said or done things that have been hurtful to me in the past. How can I deal with those people and make the most of the holiday season?
The holidays can be a stressful time financially, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Although reuniting with family members can be a wonderful time, it can also trigger negative feelings from the past, often from childhood. In the spirit of the holiday season, it may be the perfect time to think about forgiveness and how forgiveness could change this season for you. Research has shown that as one forgives, the positive emotions in the affective, cognitive, and behavioral areas of a personality increase in strength and the negative emotions such as anger, hatred, resentment, sadness, and contempt begin to decrease.
Within the field of psychology, the role of forgiveness is integrated in a variety of counseling contexts such as individual, couple, and family counseling. The healing and reconciliation process can help deal with painful experiences such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, extramarital affairs, and various types of distrust, discord, and conflict. Forgiveness involves an internal change of heart and that occurs at different rates of speed for different people. There are three signs which indicate that forgiveness has occurred. First, it is the ability to use anger constructively, second is an increase in genuine positive attitudes toward the person forgiven, and third is an ability to ask for forgiveness from others. Keep in mind that forgiveness is an internal, evolving process of someone who has been wronged and it is possible to forgive someone without that person ever becoming aware that they have been forgiven.