At C.R.E.A.T.E. Outcomes, we hear a lot of people saying that they are sorry, and we recognize that each person has a unique capacity to forgive. In addition, we have observed that the way someone communicates his or her apology can profoundly impact the forgiveness that is given in return. We are going to take the liberty to assume that forgiveness is a contributing factor to a peaceful community. In our work with families, we have found that having a better understanding of identify development can help us to navigate the complexities of requesting and offering forgiveness in relationships, so that we may be better equipped to help each other in moving forward from the conflict inevitable in our lives toward more peaceful solutions.
Making sense of childhood experiences and determining how those lessons learned long ago have contributed to the person we have become can help us better understand our capacity for forgiveness. Researcher, James Marcia, dedicated his life’s work to identifying patterns in the way people form their identities. He focused on the exploration process, the way we think, re-think, and then think some more about the person we want to be. The commitment process, which is the extent to which we follow our pursuits and dreams, is also an integral part of Marcia’s work. He delineates four “identity statuses:” identity-achieved, foreclosed, moratorium, and diffused. Simplifying the concept of identity formation by only focusing on Marcia’s research allows us to organize the endless amounts of variables that can impact identity formation. We are cognizant that no individual can be put into a category; however, for the purpose of this discussion, we will use these identity status labels to help us better understand how to bring true forgiveness and therefore more peace to all of our communities.
We are calling those people in the identify-achieved status category those who truly know how to say they are sorry. We don’t need to spend too much time on these high-functioning, motivated, conscientiousness, and personable individuals, because if this were the only type of person in your community, you would not need to read this!
Those who fall into the foreclosed identity status category, we refer to as the follow-the-rules person, who would usually prefer to model after someone else than forges their own path. People who tend to have an identity such as this may have a more difficult time when they are required to be flexible in their thinking and may tend to believe that external factors are controlling their life more than an identity-achieved person. This person may seem somewhat stubborn if they need to apologize (it’s my way or the highway)!
The moratorium identity status category describes the explorer and the seeker. These folks often feel a bit more anxious about the unknown and may feel confused or even skeptical at times. But this does not stop them from being open and genuinely curious in relationships and life. People in this identity status category are likely searching for meaning and harmony. Considering life’s endless possibilities, the people who tend to fall in this category may not be too sure of what to make of it all. Therefore, they may have difficulty knowing when and why it is time to apologize, but you’ll likely find them to be open to the conversation.
Marcia would describe people within the diffusion identity status category as uninterested and may appear as if they lack adult roles and values. This person can appear “go with the flow,” however may have trouble tuning into others and expressing themselves at times. The diffusion folks might need some extra guidance or explanation about why their actions have been hurtful.
People often move in and out of these different identity statuses while on their life journey. We hope that Marcia’s identity status categories have helped to inform your own reflection on identity development and potentially the identity development of those in your community. In turn, we hope this insight has shed light on why giving a genuine apology and/or truly forgiving someone is so much deeper than words.
We do not recommend forgiveness in all relationships, such as in relationship with an abusive person. The forgiveness of abuse seems to depend on the intention, impact, severity, and frequency of the abuse. In addition, forgiving abuse requires an extraordinary amount of ownership on the abuser’s part along with thoroughly processing the situation with the intention of some type of protective solution. Some types of abuse are unforgivable. The number one priority at C.R.E.A.T.E. Outcomes is the safety of those in our community.
Kroger, J. (2006). Identity Development During Adolescence. In G. R. Adams & M. D. Berzonsky (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence (pp. 205-226). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Photo Credit: Amy Treasure