Start your New Year with Three Kinds of Forgiveness

“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness” -Robert Muller

On Friday 20th December I watched an interview on the BBC of two ex-hostages that made me think about how I wanted to frame the upcoming New Year of 2009, and I wanted to share this with you.

Alan Johnston, a British journalist, had been kidnapped in Gaza and held four months. He was interviewing former hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, who was held for almost 7 years by the Columbian guerrillas. I was so moved by both of them and their story. I was struck by the deep kindness that emanated from the eyes of Alan Johnston and of the resilience and depth of character that I saw in Ingrid.

You can watch the video here and also read an article about her.

The part of the interview that I was most inspired by was Ingrid’s experience of learning to forgive her captors. Her face was so expressive when she talked of “forgiving yourself”. What she means by her own self-forgiveness is the pain she felt she caused to her family and shame over her perceived failures in her captivity. Toward the end of the videotape interview, Alan Johnston asked her if the experience in the jungle had changed her, and this is what she said:

Ingrid: “It was a mutation, not only a transformation.”

Alan: “It’s easier to be empathetic?”

Ingrid: “Oh, very. God, yes. You can understand everything and forgive everything. You can…”

Alan: “You’re forgiving your captors?”

Ingrid: “Oh, yes… But the real hard thing is to forgive yourself. Did you forgive yourself?”

Alan smiled and there was silence for a few seconds and then Ingrid laughed and said with happiness, “Yes you have. Yes you have. Oh, I’m so glad.” The interview then ended.


© Christine Peloquin, Inc. (Used with permission)

I think Ingrid Betancourt’s experience can show us as parents that there is such empowerment that comes with forgiveness. You need to break free in 2009 from being a hostage to your own guilt and shame. I often hear about the guilt that parents have from issues like: giving birth to a child with autism, needing to medicate their child who has ADHD, indulging their child out of guilt, or reacting in anger and even rage at a child who is provocative. A parent who has a child with ADHD told me that she repeats an internal mantra during difficult moments, and it goes like this: “We are all doing our best here, this here is the best we can all do, at this moment in time.

“Here’s the important thing to understand: it’s not ‘Can kids change?’ that is the question, it’s how they change that matters.”

Russell Barkley, who is one of the world’s top authorities on ADHD, has written a book called Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents (2000). He writes about how to practice forgiveness in three ways. The first way at the end of the day is to take a moment to reflect and forgive your child for his or her transgressions. Let go of the anger, resentment, and disappointment from your child’s misconduct. Remember that your child cannot always control what he or she does, and deserves to be forgiven. Your child can still be held accountable and you can let go of any bitterness or anger.

The second way is to forgive others who misunderstand and misjudge your child and you. Those who might have thought your child was just lazy, stupid, or morally defective instead of understanding that your child has a neuro-developmental disorder. This could be the nasty stares of others when your child has a meltdown in the grocery store, or a school system that has no idea how difficult it is for your child with dyslexia to function in the classroom.

Thirdly, and the most important way, is to forgive yourself. You have to really practice forgiving yourself for mistakes you made in the management of your kids. Here you can let go of shame and guilt that might accompany this kind of self-devaluation.

Self-forgiveness is not just some quick superficial fix that one gives lip-service to. It actually takes time, reflection and thoughtfulness. As a parent you can forgive yourself for actually doing the best you could do, knowing what you knew at that time. We have all made significant mistakes in our parenting methods. When parents are on the road to healthy self-esteem and self-forgiveness, there is an attitude which will heal the guilt of the blunders committed. None of us can change the past but we can live with integrity in the present moment, taking one step at a time.

The best way to practice getting good at this is to do what Russ Barkley suggested; reflect on those three ways of forgiving at the end of every day. Write down all the things that you have forgiven your child, forgiven others, and mostly forgiven yourself for doing that day. What a gift to give yourself. You will feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders, both metaphorically and literally (as negative feelings can be a hazard to your health).

Lastly, commit to an on-going consistency in your efforts at self-nurturing and healthy role-modelling for your children.

This is where the mutation that goes beyond transformation takes place.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share about forgiveness.

Happy New Year to you and your loved ones. I look forward to connecting with you next Monday!

© 2009 Dr. Angel Adams. All Rights Reserved.


Barkley, Russell A. (2000) Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents (Revised Edition), Guilford, New York.

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