A Quarter-Century of Forgiveness Research. . .

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI – Upon Dr. Robert Enright’s recent return from Israel where he organized and conducted the first-ever, two-day Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, he was interviewed by reporter McKenna Oxenden for a lengthy article that appeared in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel. Here’s a snippet from the article:

Researching, analyzing and coaching forgiveness was considered radical; the idea was met with resistance, even anger. But Enright forged ahead, and is now considered a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness, which claims thousands of researchers worldwide.

Enright’s work is in the spotlight more than ever because he focuses on issues that seem to have taken center stage in our culture: bullying and gender-based violence; poverty and trauma, particularly among children; entire groups that feel marginalized or mistreated.

He’s trying to turn around the perception that forgiveness is somehow equated with weakness, and get people to see it as a virtue — an active virtue — like compassion or patience. He’s also trying to show that in the long run, it’s a better answer than: I will never forgive; I will fight and overpower.

Read the entire article: Is there a better response to injustice? Pioneering UW professor teaches forgiveness

“The Forgiveness Trailblazer” Kicks off Theology Retreat Series on August 19

Robert Enright, Ph.D. Dubbed “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time Magazine, will lead an inspiring retreat next month titled “Forgiveness and the Journey of Healing.”
Dr. Robert Enright

Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ; July 19, 2017, by Christine Aromando – How can forgiveness lead us to healing and transformation? Why is it important to forgive, even when we find it impossible? Some would say there is no one more qualified to speak on this topic than Robert Enright, Ph.D. Dubbed “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time Magazine, Enright will lead an inspiring retreat next month titled “Forgiveness and the Journey of Healing.” The event will take place on Saturday, August 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Paul Inside the Walls Catholic Evangelization Center in Madison, New Jersey. The registration fee is $15, which includes a continental breakfast. Pre-registration is required; to register, please contact Theresa Miller at (973) 761-9575 or theresa.miller@shu.edu.
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Enright’s retreat will explore the psychology of forgiveness and the journey that one is called to take in order to achieve healing and transformation. He teaches that giving the gift of forgiveness allows healing to become possible for everyone involved, emphasizing that it is important to forgive even if we feel the person who has offended us is not worthy of that forgiveness. He also teaches that peace results from forgiving others, and this peace is necessary for our true healing and transformation.
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This retreat is the first of seven that will be held monthly through February as part of a series titled “70×7: Faith, Family and Forgiveness, Part IV,” sponsored by Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. Since the School concluded its last series on forgiveness in December 2016, having offered nearly 30 presentations on the topic over the past few years, the School continues to receive requests for similar presentations. “There is such a hunger for forgiveness, a deep desire for reconciliation and healing,” says Associate Dean Dianne Traflet, J.D., S.T.D. “We thus are highly motivated to continue this work and offer a new series that will help those who are wounded and struggling with forgiveness to journey even deeper into the mystery and power of God’s mercy.”

Robert Enright is the cofounder of the International Forgiveness Institute and an educational psychologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The pioneer of the scientific study of forgiveness, he is the author or editor of seven books and over 100 publications centered on social development and the psychology of forgiveness. His most recent book is 8 Keys to Forgiveness.

Founded in 1861, Immaculate Conception Seminary is a House of Formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood and the School of Theology of Seton Hall University. As a House of Formation, the Seminary offers men preparing for the priesthood the personal, academic, ministerial and spiritual formation essential for their conversion to Jesus Christ and for their commitment to a life of service to the Church.

As a School of Theology, the Seminary provides a theological and philosophical foundation for men and women pursuing undergraduate studies, a theological foundation and a pastoral and spiritual formation for men and women preparing for ministries among the people of God, a theological foundation for men and women desiring to pursue doctoral studies, and varied opportunities for continuing theological education.

Read More: “The Forgiveness Trailblazer” Kicks off Theology Retreat Series in August

What Is Self-Forgiveness?

When you self-forgive you are struggling to love yourself when you are not feeling lovable because of your actions.  You are offering to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense that you have inherent worth, despite your actions, that you are more than your actions, that you can and should honor yourself as a person even if you are imperfect, and that you did wrong and need to correct that wrong done to other people
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In self-forgiveness you never (as far as I have ever seen) offend yourself alone.  You also offend others and so part of self-forgiveness is to deliberately engage in seeking forgiveness from those others and righting the wrongs (as best you can under the circumstances) that you did toward others. Thus, we have two differences between forgiving others and forgiving the self.  In the latter, you seek forgiveness from those hurt by your actions and you strive for justice toward them.
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Robert

The Therapeutic Power of Forgiveness

This article first appeared on July 6, 2017, in The Delta Discovery, a Native-owned and operated weekly publication of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska . It was written by Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel, Alaska.


Question: I was sexually abused as a child. I don’t think I can ever forgive the man who abused me. My husband berates me because he says I don’t give him enough affection. He says I am angry. I think he’s angry. My world is falling apart. Is there any hope for me?

There is hope, and the hope is in something called forgiveness. That may sound more theological than psychological, but it is a topic of research in psychology that has been studied for more than thirty-five years by Dr. Robert Enright and the Human Development Study Group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Results from many peer-reviewed studies indicate that Forgiveness Therapy is more efficacious than alternative therapies in addressing issues related to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Also, injuries and injustices that have occurred in marital relationships can be addressed through the same process, using the same model.

Before you stop reading this article and write forgiveness off as quackery, let me explain; Forgiveness Therapy is significantly more than simply saying, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness Therapy entails four phases: UncoveringDecisionWork, and Deepening. I will attempt to provide an overview of each phase, but I must caution, it is not a matter of step 1, 2, 3, 4, and then you are well. Therapy takes time, it is hard work and often painful, but worthwhile.

Instead of using the word “Abuse” as the precipitating event, I am choosing to use words like “Injury,” or “Injustice,” which may broaden the usefulness of the model. Also, for ease in reading, I am using the term client as the one in therapy who experienced an injury or injustice.

During the Uncovering Phase, the client gains insight into whether and how the injustice experienced has compromised his or her life. As a result of the trauma, the injured person may have begun to rely on unhealthy defense mechanisms to cope. During the Uncovering Phase, it is necessary to discover and examine those psychological defenses and the issues involved in the client’s current cognitive and emotional state. The goal will be to confront and release the anger, rather than harboring it.

When appropriate, the client may need to admit shame that was experienced as a result of the injustice. At some point, the client will likely become aware of his or her depleted state of emotional energy and the time spent mentally rehearsing the injustice. It is possible that because of the trauma, the client may feel the world is unsafe, and therefore, be unable to trust anyone. During this phase the client may discover that even though he or she was hurt, it doesn’t mean that everyone is untrustworthy.

Moving on to the Decision phase, the client recognizes that old strategies have not worked. During this phase, the client considers forgiveness as an option, and makes a decision to commit to forgiving on the basis of this newly acquired understanding. Again, I emphasize that this is not a matter of casually saying, “I forgive you,” and sweeping the injustice under the rug. Forgiveness becomes a conscious choice from a position of empowerment.

During the Work phase the client gains a mental understanding of the offender. In other words, the wrongdoer is viewed in context. For example, maybe the perpetrator was also a victim. This can result in a positive change in affect toward the offender, toward self, and about the relationship. Because of being able to view the event in context, it may be possible to experience empathy and compassion toward the offender. The client eventually reaches a point of accepting and bearing the pain of the offense. At that point the moral gift of forgiveness can be given to the offender. That does not mean that contact has to be made with the offender. In some instances, the offender may no longer be living, or it may not be in the best interest of anyone to make the contact. But forgiveness can be offered as a gift.

Finally, during the Deepening phase, the client discovers meaning in the suffering, feels more connected with others, experiences decreased negative affect, and may experience a renewed purpose in life. During this phase, the client comes to accept that he or she also has needed forgiveness from others in the past. The person gains insight that he or she is not the only one who has experienced similar pain or suffering. Also, there may come a realization that a new purpose in life may develop as a result of the injury. During this phase, a reduction in negative affect and an increase in positive affect toward the offender may occur. If this happens the client is likely to experience an awareness of an internal emotional release.

Unfortunately, there is not an organized Forgiveness Therapy group in Bethel. But, I would encourage anyone who has an interest in this topic to purchase one of Dr. Enright’s books on the topic. I would suggest beginning with Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, and can be purchased at most bookstores or at Amazon.com.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel, Alaska. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to realnews@deltadiscovery.com. You can also access the Ask Dr. Forgiveness feature on this website with your forgiveness-related questions.

On Bearing the Pain

One of the paradoxes of forgiveness is that as we give mercy to those who showed no mercy to us, we are doing moral good. Another paradox is this: As we bear the pain of the injustice, that pain does not crush us but instead strengthens us and helps us to heal emotionally.

When we bear the pain of what happened to us, we are not absorbing depression or anger or anxiety. Instead we realize that we have been treated unfairly—-it did happen. We do not run from that and we do not try to hurriedly cast off the emotional pain that is now ours. We quietly live with that pain so that we do not toss it back to the one who hurt us (because we are having mercy on that person). We live with that pain so that we do not displace the anger onto others who were not even part of the injustice (our children or co-workers, for example).

When we bear the pain we begin to see that we are strong, stronger actually than the offense and original pain. We can stand with the pain and in so doing become conduits of good for others.

Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.

Robert

 

Forgiveness as Order

I was reflecting on all of the disorder within schools during 2015 and 2016.  It has been reported that there were 35 shootings at schools in the United States in this two-year period.  Think about that for a moment. The context of the shootings centers on innocent children, adolescents, and young adults (at universities) who are unarmed and innocent.

Such disorder.

How many family break-ups were there in 2015-16 or acts of bullying that cut deeply into the very being of those bullied?

Such disorder.

Forgiveness is a profound response to disorder.  What do you think?  Do you think any of those school shootings would have happened if the ones responsible for the mayhem had practiced forgiveness and rightly ordered their emotions from rage to calm?

What do you think?  Do you think all of the family break-ups would have happened if both sides of the conflict practiced forgiveness?  And perhaps the forgiveness needed to be toward people from years before because our left-over anger from childhood can follow us into adulthood and strike the innocent.

Forgiveness likely could have averted some of those break-ups if forgiveness toward each other in the present and toward parents from the past had been practiced.  Forgiveness could have restored order……..and prevented disorder.

The same theme applies to bullying.  If those who bully could only forgive those who have abused them, would the bullying continue or would the behavior become more orderly, more civil?

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for restoring order within an injured self, within relationships, and within and between communities. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for preventing disorder.

What do you think?  Do you think that forgiveness could save our planet from destruction by enraged people with the weaponry to destroy?Forgiveness is about order, protection, wholeness, and love.

It is time for individuals and communities to see this and to have the courage to bring forgiveness into the light….to restore and then enhance order while it destroys disorder.

Robert

The Risk of Throwing It All Over the Cliff……..and Then Learning How to Fly

1984. The Orwellian year of change, but in the novel by the same name it was a year of forced conformity, the chaining of ideas to the Big Brother agenda. It was the worst of times in the mind of George Orwell.

In my own case, 1984 was a time of finally breaking free of conformity, unlocking the chains of imprisoned ideas and learning for the first time how to fly. I am an academic and academics live and die by ideas, ones that they research and publish and try to spread to others.

I had a sabbatical in that fated year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where my ideas centered on moral development, which was centered on how youth     become fair, which was centered on two thinkers, Jean Piaget of Switzerland and Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard. Like sheep, the rest of us fell into line behind these thinkers’ ideas and we bleated out the same old story: there are stages of development in how youth think about justice and the more complex their thinking, the better off the youth are. And when I studied the progression of ideas on this theme during my 1984 sabbatical I faced a frightening reality: We are all recycling the same old story decade after decade after decade…..from 1932 to the present. 1984. Yes, I was horrified that I was about to spend the rest of my career in the pasture of old ideas, following shepherds who had brilliant original ideas. Yet, why should I keep going to that same pasture again and again…….and again?

I decided to get out of the line and flee that pasture. I threw over the academic cliff all of my writing and research on these two luminaries’ ideas…….and I never have gone back, over 30 years now, to read even one of my journal articles on youths’ justice-thinking that helped me receive both grants and tenure. I did not go back because the ideas were choking the life out of me. Why live in the shadow of luminaries when their ideas already have been brought to pasture so often by so many?

So, here I was in a publish-or-perish university without an idea……and academics live and die by ideas. So, I asked myself this question: What in the area of moral development might impact — — — truly impact on a deep level — — every person on the planet? Well, I thought, everyone who has ever lived and in the future will live on this planet must confront the opposite of Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s life-callings: injustice. How do people respond to injustice so that they can emotionally heal from the effect of cruel, undeserved injustice? Forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. If people can learn to forgive, perhaps this could aid people in casting off resentment and unhealthy anger and discouragement. Yes, forgiveness is worth studying even though it seems so….so… unreasonable, being good to those who are not good to you.

Yet, when I went to the library and asked the librarian to do a literature search (there were no Google searches back then) for all studies in all of the social sciences focused expressly on people forgiving other people, she came back with a blank piece of paper. Sorry, but there are no such studies on the planet. A friend of mine, at the same time, did such a search in the library at a Kansas university and he, too, was met with a blank sheet. No published studies on forgiving existed.

I decided to start a think-tank at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin asking these questions: What does it mean to forgive others? What is the pathway that people typically walk when they decide to forgive? What outcomes can we measure when people choose to forgive? The Friday Forgiveness Seminar was born in the spring semester of 1985 (and continues to this day) and consisted of a wide range of cultures and faiths and no-faiths, people from Saudi Arabia, Greece, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States…….Muslims, Jewish, Christian, agnostics, and the religiously indifferent. We all sat around a table every Friday, discussed the questions, did the research, and found very good things in that research. When people forgive, even when hurt gravely such as by incest or emotional abuse, there is a tendency for the forgivers to reduce in anger and anxiety and even in depression. They get their lives back.

Nonetheless, academia is not so forgiving as to forgive me for stepping out of the sheep line and thinking independently. Academia talks the talk of academic freedom, but offers its support only within the parameters of what is considered acceptable at that point in time in that cultural context. I now like to say that academia, if we are not careful, grooms us for the sheep’s meadow where we can live out our lives under the careful watch of the academic shepherds who will tell us what is and what is not an acceptable thought. And the study of forgiveness in 1985 was not one of those ideas.

A firestorm erupted about our studying forgiving. It is unacceptable, I was told. It is too soft an idea for hard-headed academia, I was told. You are ruining your career and so you will ruin the career of your unsuspecting graduate students. Desist! Desist with your ideas! 1984.

I did not listen, nor did my brave graduate students, so many of whom now are in solid and tenured academic positions…….because the original nay-sayers were wrong. As soon as we started to publish work on Forgiveness Therapy, showing the reduction of depression, and even its elimination in people who had suffered for years, many academics began to change their ideas about our ideas. The American Psychological Association played a large part in this turn around, as the Editor of APA Books, Mary Lynn Skutley, took her own risk by publishing one of my books, Helping Clients Forgive with the psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, then another and then another. 5 books in all at APA and this helped to put the social scientific study of forgiving on the map of acceptability.

We were able to fly with our ideas, but only after not accepting the chains in the pasture of the sheep. And I will never go back to that pasture.                          

The risks continue. My colleagues and I have given talks in war-torn areas, areas where governmental overseers warn us not to go. Yet, the ideas beckon. We are planning the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for July 12 and 13, 2017 because, well, Jerusalem is a very hurting city and so it is a symbol of the need for forgiving, so off we go.

Within the past month, the Rotary Club of New York has taken the risk with us. We now have created the joint Declaration for Peace and Community Renewal, centered on bringing forgiveness education to as many war-torn communities across the world as we can over the next 24 years. That Declaration is on the Rotary Club of New York’s website as I write this. We are planning a conference on forgiveness education at the United Nations. We are taking a risk together.

Risk. Without it, my ideas die in the academic pasture. With it, I fly because forgiveness flies…..into broken hearts, into broken families, into broken communities. APA and Rotary are risk-takers. We have flown and are flying together……and the world is better off. Taking that risk has allowed many researchers to fly with us and has allowed hurting people to cast off the chains of resentment in their own hearts. Risk can save lives.

This blog first appeared on Thrive Global, June 15, 2017.
Go to the profile of Robert Enright

Robert Enright

Professor of Educational Psychology, UW-Madison, licensed psychologist, and IFI board member was the first to research forgiveness in the social sciences.