To reconcile is to settle differences, to bring things into proper adjustment. Similar to reconciliation of a bank account, you are accounting for the debits and credits, assigning responsibility, and balancing the account. If you're $5 off, you try to find what is responsibile for the difference. Did you make an error in calculation? Was a debit card use not accounted for? Did the bank make an error? Reconciliation is the rational conclusion to the adjustment process.
Reconciliation between people involves a similar process. You are settling differences, deciding who holds responsibility, and making corrections. Reconciliation involves repairing, mending, and making peace.
Reconciliation in the case of sexual abuse
requires the perpetrator's
full ownership and responsibility regarding the abuse. It requires the presence of openness and honesty and the absence of denial, rationalization, and justification. No excuses, no blaming, no minimizing: full responsibility. It also requires a desire to make restitution for past harm done and a commitment to behavioral changes to insure no future offenses. In other words - a full 180 degree turn around!
True reconciliation is only possible when this process has occurred. After the offender has completed treatment
is fully aware of the consequences
to the victim, consequences
to the mother and to other family members, and has taken full responsibility for his actions is reconciliation possible. The goal of reconciliation is to reduce bitterness, anger, and resentment. Why is reconciliation important and how does it differ from reunification?
Reconciliation may be important so that family members can move forward in their lives. It does not mean that the family is put back together. It has to do with overcoming the negative thoughts and emotions that keep mothers, victims, and other family members stuck in the crisis and stuck in the pain.
Reconcilation and forgiveness are linked. Many scientific studies have demonstrated the benefits of forgiveness. The concept of forgiveness
may bring a reaction in readers. A common misconception about forgiveness is that it involves pardoning the wrong done by the offender or freeing him from guilt. Actually, forgiveness is a gift that the victim gives herself. She is freeing herself from the negative emotions and pain. Refusal to forgive harms you, not the offender. As long as you hold onto the offense, you are under its power and controlled by the negative feelings you hold towards the offender. You are not free.
What is forgiveness? Dr. Robert Enright (1994) is a national leader in conducting studies in forgiveness. He describes the following components of forgiveness:
- Someone has been hurt deeply and resents the person who hurt them.
- The person who has been hurt has a moral right to resentment but chooses to overcome it.
- This person decides to respond differently and chooses to react to the other person with compassion.
- The person who is demonstrating compassionate and kind response towards the offender is fully aware that they have no obligation to do so.
Refusing to forgive and holding onto feelings of anger and resentment result in negative health effects. Forgiveness has many positive benefits. These include:
- Forgiveness leads to better physical health. Refusing to forgive results in higher heart rates and higher blood pressure. Anger and hostility associated with unforgiveness is related to cardiovascular disease and chronic pain (Miller, Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996; Tennen and Affleck, 1990; Pettitt, 1987).
- People who forgive are able to release negative emotions, resulting in improved emotional health. This results in improved mental health, improved relationships, and increased self-esteem.
- In a study of incest survivors, Freedman & Enright (1996) found that those who were able to forgive their offenders had increased hope and decreased levels of depression and anxiety.
What forgiveness is not:
- It is not forgetting. People cannot forgive and forget.
- It does not mean that the pain disappears.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I frequently find myself thinking about the abuser and how much I would like to see him punished?
- Do I think about it so much that it takes energy away from other activities in my life?
- Am I consumed by feelings of bitterness, anger, rage, and revenge?
- Do I have frequent flashbacks about the event with thoughts of revenge?
- Do I see that my health is affected by how much I am consumed with the offense?
- Do I avoid forgiving because I think it lets the perpetrator off the hook and no longer responsible?
- Do I avoid forgiving because I think that, if I forgive, I am condoning what was done?
Reconciliation is a relational process. Reunification is a living arrangement. Reconciliation and peaceful relationship can occur without reunifying the family. Reconcilation involves forgiveness. Reunification involves restoring the family unit.