Toward Serving the Homeless and Imprisoned with Forgiveness Therapy

Recent estimates in 2016 place the number of people without homes in the United States on any given night at 553,700 and worldwide at over 100 million based on the 2005 global survey done by the United Nations Human Rights (Homeless World Cup Foundation, 2019). Recent estimates from the International Center for Prison Studies (London, England) place the number of people who are imprisoned in the United States at approximately 2.2 million and worldwide at approximately 10.35 million (Walmsley, 2015), with recidivism rates in the United States being 57% after one year (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010) and 77% after five years (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).

Such statistics show that traditional forms of rehabilitation are not working.

We recommend that researchers and mental health professionals begin to place more emphasis on adverse childhood experiences for people who are without homes or are imprisoned. Current mental health issues, possibly caused by these, might be more deeply ameliorated through Forgiveness Therapy.  

Forgiveness Therapy focuses the client’s attention, not on current symptoms or behaviors, but instead asks the client to begin viewing offending other people with a much wider perspective than defining those offenders primarily by their hurtful behavior.  The attempt to be good to those who are not good to the client has the paradoxical consequence of reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in the client. 

Through Forgiveness Therapy applied to people without homes and those imprisoned, clinicians will have a new, empirically-verified approach for reducing the resentment that might keep people in a homeless situation and in a cycle of recidivism.

The vital next step is to begin randomized experimental and control group clinical trials of Forgiveness Therapy for people who are without homes and for those who are imprisoned when they: a) have adverse childhood experiences; b) currently are unforgiving of those who perpetrated the trauma; and c) currently are clinically compromised with excessive anger, anxiety, and/or depression.

This is an excerpt from an article recently accepted for publication:

Trauma and Healing in the Under‐Served Populations of Homelessness and Corrections: Forgiveness Therapy as an Added Component to Intervention by Mary Jacqueline Song, Lifan Yu, & Robert D. Enright (in press). Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.

Additional References:

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: The Importance of Admitting and Expressing One’s Painful Emotions in Everyday Life and When Forgiving

A Guest Blog by
Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses the importance of helping teens become comfortable with “uncomfortable emotions,” specifically the importance of helping them accept these feelings as well as express them in this time of great uncertainty and sadness. Written by psychologist Lisa Damour, the article notes that our typical style of helping teens cope with negative emotions is to either downplay such emotions, be cheerleaders to help teens stay positive, and/or encourage them to focus on being as productive as possible. Unfortunately, these methods are not always helpful and can teach teens to bury, ignore, or numb their uncomfortable feelings.  

When I read Damour’s article, I couldn’t help but think of how similar the ideas of “admitting to and bearing the unpleasant feelings” are to the first phase in Dr. Robert Enright’s 20-unit Process Model of forgiveness, The Uncovering Phase. This phase focuses on uncovering negative feelings and thoughts related to one’s hurt and then dealing with the resulting feelings, such as anger, in a healthy way.  

As with psychological health, there are misconceptions of forgiveness and what is involved when forgiving. One of the greatest misconceptions has to do with the role of anger and other negative emotions in the forgiveness process.  Most people incorrectly assume that anger has no role when forgiving. (Freedman & Chang, 2010). This is not true, as recognizing, admitting to and expressing anger is one of the most important processes in the model (Enright, 2001). We cannot forgive until we admit to our anger and deal with it in a healthy way. Anger and sadness are normal and natural emotions when times are tough and after being deeply, personally and unfairly injured by another.

However, it is sometimes easier to deny, suppress, or ignore our pain and uncomfortable emotions, than actually deal with them.  Dealing with our anger and other uncomfortable emotions means recognizing and admitting to them. Doing this takes courage and strength, especially in a society that often encourages sweeping these feelings under the rug. Admitting to these feelings allows us to express and move beyond them, rather than get stuck in them or hold them in until we explode, which can happen if we don’t deal with our anger and other uncomfortable feelings (Enright, 2001).

Teaching and helping teens to pay attention to their feelings and express them in a healthy way means giving them permission to feel sad, anxious, and insecure, when appropriate. We are currently experiencing a very difficult and scary period and validating teens for all their emotions, both positive and negative, is an important step in the development of good psychological health, just as it is an important step in the forgiveness process.

When people experience interpersonal hurts, validating them for their anger and other painful feelings allows them to ultimately move beyond them to consider the decision to forgive. Damour discusses how one’s emotional strength and resilience becomes greater as a result of dealing with difficult experiences and feelings. Coping with emotional pain in a healthy way, after experiencing a deep hurt, also helps individuals face future interpersonal injuries with more strength, as they are building their forgiveness muscle each time they forgive (Enright 2001).

Normalizing, as well as validating painful and uncomfortable feelings by teens and especially by those who have experienced deep hurt, will help them admit to and express these emotions. Doing so will increase their psychological health and confidence in dealing with future painful emotions and experiences. It will also help individuals who are working on the process of forgiveness to make progress in their journey.

According to Damour, helping teenagers understand that psychological health includes both positive and negative feelings will give them a freedom that they may not have experienced before in their emotional development. Forgiveness also leads to a feeling of freedom, as one works through and moves beyond their anger and other negative emotions. 

Helping teens and those who have been hurt recognize and express their painful feelings, will not only show them that they can bear those uncomfortable feelings, but will give them a sense of hope for the future whether they are facing the darkest of times or the darkest of emotions.

References
Damour, L. (2020). Helping Teens Make Room for Uncomfortable Emotions, New York, Times, May 17. 

Enright, R. D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice: A step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Freedman, S. & Chang, W. C. (2010). An analysis of a sample of the general population’s understanding of forgiveness: Implications for mental health counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 32 (1): 5–34.


SuzanneFreedman11-1-2020-Edited

About Dr. Suzanne Freedman: A professor of human development at the University of Northern Iowa, Dr. Freedman earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Delaware and both her Masters Degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied under and conducted research with Dr. Robert Enright. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal with Incest Survivors.

Dr. Freedman’s areas of expertise include the psychology of interpersonal forgiveness, forgiveness education and intervention, moral development, incest and sexual abuse, eating disorders, and early adolescent development. She has presented at numerous national and international conferences on the psychology of interpersonal forgiveness and forgiveness education. At the University of Northern Iowa, she teaches a variety of development courses including the Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness. Dr. Freedman can be reached at freedman@uni.edu


More Forgiveness Commentary from Dr. Freedman:


Are You a Person of Worth?

Who are you?

In Chapter 6 of the book, The Forgiving Life, Inez said,

“I am a person who has been emotionally wounded; who has stood up to injustice; who is a person worthy of respect and mercy; and who is special, unique, and irreplaceable and therefore cannot be and must not be shunned, disrespected, or thrown away.”

Heart - agape love.

At the very core of your being, do you believe this about yourself? Are you a person of worth? Why or why not? Do you have to earn your worth or is it inherent in you—unearned, absolute, and unconditional? Are you a person who loves, even if imperfectly?

Even if you have a long way to go in developing agape love, you are on your way when you forgive others. As you love them (as best you can under the circumstances), please continue to see yourself more and more accurately—as someone who is capable of giving and receiving love and therefore someone who can do much good in this world.


You are a person of great worth.


There are more chapters for you to write with the help of others as you continue “My Unfolding Love Story.”  Forgiveness is not finished with you yet.  How will you lead your life from this point forward?  It is your choice.  When that story is finally written, what will the final chapters say about you? 

The beauty of this story is that you are one of the contributing authors.  You do not write it alone, of course, but with the help of those who encourage you, instruct and guide you, and even those who hurt you.  You are never alone when it comes to your love story.   It does not matter one little bit how the story was turning out before you embraced the virtue of forgiveness.  What matters now is how you finish that story, how you start to live your life from this point forward.

Enright, Robert D. The Forgiving Life (APA LifeTools, 2012). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Know and Practice Bearing the Pain

When you suffer from another’s injustice, if you quietly endure that suffering, you are giving a gift to those around you by not passing on anger, frustration, or even hatred to them. Too often, people tend to displace their own frustrations and angers onto unsuspecting others. These others, then, end up inheriting the original person’s internal wounds because this person refused to bear the pain him- or herself.

I am not saying here that it is good to shoulder psychological depression or unhealthy anger by being silent and keeping it all in. On the contrary, here is the point: What happened to you is now a reality. It did happen and you cannot change that. You have inherited a certain amount of pain from another person. What will you now do with that pain? Will you try to toss it onto someone else in the hope that it somehow leaves you? Or, will you accept that this hurtful event in fact happened and you will not now pass the pain down the line to others? Consider taking this perspective in bearing the pain:

“If I can shoulder this pain now, I will not be passing it on to other people, even innocent people who never had anything at all to do with the original offense. My anger could be transferred to innocent people and they, in turn, could pass on this anger to someone else, who passes it to someone else, and down the generations my anger goes. Do I want that? Do I want my anger to live on as it is transferred for many years to come? I can prevent this from happening as I decide, today, to bear the pain that came my way.

I will not call what happened to me ‘good.’  It was not. But I will do my best to shoulder it, and, paradoxically, that pain is likely to start lifting from my shoulders as I accept it now. This pain is not forever and my bearing the pain may help reduce it faster.”

Reminder: As you bear the pain of what happened to you, you may be protecting others and future generations from your anger.

Robert

Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health), excerpt from Chapter 6. W. W. Norton & Company.

The Common Good of Communities and the Need for Forgiveness: A View from Classical Greek Philosophy

A community is a single, whole entity, with a common purpose, made up of persons, each of whom is a single, whole entity (Maritain, 1994).  A community is not simply the sum total of the individuals in the community (a nominalist view).  Think of a symphonic community of musicians. There is a harmony of persons performing different activities and with different talents in the orchestra.  The group transcends any given part of the group (Wild, 1948).  A symphony orchestra is more than the violin section only.  Communities differ in their norms, beliefs, and actions (what Aristotle calls accidents).

Aristotelian realist philosophy states that communities have a common good (Aristotle, 1999/340 B.C.).  A common good is defined by Plato (2015/330 B.C.) in The Republic as persons growing in the Cardinal Virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and temperance with these emphasized within the group. These four virtues, in Plato’s view, are not generated by opinion or feelings, but they naturally apply to all persons and all communities. These are understood by reason and chosen by the free will of each person.  In other words, the Cardinal Virtues are not forced upon us.

Let us, then, define these Cardinal Virtues: 1) Justice is offering one’s best to others and the community.  Kreeft (1992, p. 60) describes Platonic justice through the poetic image of music: one strives to be in harmony with others as all cooperate and play a beautiful societal tune. This is the central virtue according to Plato in The Republic.
2) Courage
is going ahead despite fear so that one can do one’s best even when it is difficult to do so.  3) Wisdom is knowing the right response at the right time without having a rule-book nearby.  4) Temperance is balance, avoiding too much or too little in all we do, including practicing the virtues, in pleasure seeking, and work.  In Book IV of his Republic, Plato (2015/330 B.C.) defends the view that all four of these Cardinal Virtues, together, help to mature individuals and to have a well-functioning community in which the greater good then benefits all. 

 As Wild (1948, p. 185) clarifies, the goal of the common good is human perfection for all in the community.  The common good of the community, which includes the good of each person, is considered higher than the individual good.  In other words, individuals can be in service to one another for the good of the other person and the good of the group. 

Now, and importantly for how forgiveness fits into the common good of the community, when people are treated unjustly by others, anger can ensue, which can develop into irritability (Stringaris, Vidal-Ribas, Brotman, & Leibenluft, 2017) and even to hatred.  Forgiving those who are unjust, then, can first reduce the anger, which in turn can reduce the desire for excessive recompense (in the case of justice), and the desire for reckless bravado (in the case of courage).  Without hatred, temperance can be restored, and the clear, rational thinking of wisdom can once again be present. If the common good is to be just, to work in harmony with others, then forgiveness can keep justice in balance, by first reducing toxic anger, and thus preserving the central Cardinal Virtue (justice) in communities. If this is true, then forgiveness needs to play a central part in the common good of communities.

If this is true, then forgiveness needs to be fostered in individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and places of worship……now.

Robert


  • Aristotle. (1999/340 B.C.). Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kreeft, P. (1992). Back to virtue. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  • Maritan, J. (1994). The person and the common good. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Plato, translated by B. Jowett (2015/approximately 330 BC). The complete works of Plato/ the republic. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics.
  • Stringaris, A., Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., & Leibenluft, E. (2017). Practitioner review: Definition, recognition, and treatment challenges of irritability in young people. Journal of Child Psychology, 59, 721-739.
  • Wild, J. (1948). Introduction to realistic philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.

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

WORTH-LESS OR WORTH-MORE?

“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. Over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, ‘I, too, am worthless. ’After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Even later, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worth-less.”

Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 1.

Robert

Take the Long Perspective When It Is Difficult to Forgive

Think about one time in your childhood when you had what seemed to be a serious disagreement with a friend. At the time, did it seem like this breach would last forever? Did it? How long did it take to either reconcile or to find a new friend? Time has a way of changing our circumstances. This is not to advocate a kind of passive approach to life here—such as, “Oh, I’ll just wait it out and not bother to exert any effort.” That is not the point. The point is to take a long perspective so that you can see beyond the next hill to a place that is more settled and the pain is not so great. You already saw in your childhood that conflicts end. And the consequences of those conflicts (feeling sad or angry) also end. Why should that same process of change not also apply now? Try to see your circumstance, as realistically as you can, one month from now. Try to see your circumstance six months from now. Try to see yourself two years from now. Will you be the same person? Will you respond to injustices in the exact same way as you did three months ago? Probably not. You will likely be able to meet challenges with greater strength and wisdom as you continue on the forgiveness journey.

Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Humility as the Set-Aside Complement to Forgiving

On our Facebook page for the International Forgiveness Institute, I have posted in the past this idea: “Humility and forgiveness seem to be a team. It takes time to develop both.”

The point is to show that if we are to forgive well, we have to set aside our pride, our sense of self-righteousness, and realize that the one(s) who hurt us share a common humanity with us.  We all have inherent or built-in worth.  When we are humble, following Aristotle’s analysis of all moral virtues, we do not move toward the extremes of seeing ourselves as moral worms or as better than others because we are engaging in the practice of such an exalted virtue as humility.

Recently, I made a new friend, Kari Konkola, who holds a doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He specializes in the history of religion.  As I discussed my interest in forgiveness, he responded that it would be hard to forgive if excessive pride is getting in the way.  With a dominance of pride, self-righteous anger can push away the motivation to forgive.

Dr. Konkola further instructed me that humility, as a complement to forgiveness, was a central moral virtue in the Medieval period.  The point during these Middle Ages was to realize that each of us is no better than others precisely because we all fall short of moral perfection.  He went on to say that there has been a trend since the Medieval period in which humility as a valued moral virtue is in decline.  He sees humility as the ignored moral virtue in the modern West.

So, with this challenge in mind, that humility is in decline, I decided to do a little psychological experiment. I wrote an essay centered on humility on the Psychology Today website, where I have been blogging since September, 2017.  I posted the essay entitled, “Humility: What Can It Do for You” on April 27, 2020.  That was over three weeks ago and the number of views for this essay as of this writing on May 20 is 477.  In contrast, I posted an essay on the nine purposes of forgiveness less than a week ago and already the number of views is 2,027.  It is typical to see between 5,000 and 10,000 views for some of these essays focused on forgiveness, and yet the one on humility is languishing, as Dr. Konkola may have predicted.

Humility seems to be the set-aside moral virtue.  If so, then how can people forgive deeply if humility does not accompany the forgiving?  How will people even gravitate toward forgiving if pride blocks all consideration of forgiving?

What has happened in the West that has led to either a disinterest in humility or even an aversion to it?  Who had it right, those in the Medieval period or the modern West?  I’m not sure of the precise answers here, but I am convinced that we somehow have managed to de-value an important moral virtue, one that might need to team with forgiveness if forgiving others is to be achieved well.

Robert

Fragile People on a Fragile Planet: A Reflection on the Coronavirus, COVID-19, Challenge

As I write this, the world is shut down.  People are at home. I just talked by email with a student in Iran.  He referred to what is happening as “chaos.”  I have communicated with a professor in Israel and much of that country is now having the people work from home.  I was going to present a series of lectures in Southeast Asia, but the people are prohibited from gathering in an auditorium.  The doors to my own office building at the university in the United States now are locked.

The coronavirus has altered everyday life……all across the globe.

So many are wondering: How did this happen?  When will this end?  Will there be a mutated resurgence of this virus, as happened with the flu pandemic of 1918-1919?  Will people continue to die?  Will the economy die?

Prior to this pandemic, people were gathering, going about their lives, thinking that all they have to do to get the next cheeseburger is drive or walk to the nearest fast-food chain and there it will be.  Now I hear that gun sales are skyrocketing and it is difficult to buy ammunition because people are awaiting food shortages and so others may break into their homes looking for sustenance.

The world is fragile, more fragile than we had thought.  In reflecting on this, I think the collective ideas in so many areas of the world were centered on a logical fallacy that I will call modern-protection-through-science.  Here is what I mean:  As we look back on some of the pandemics throughout history, we see them occurring in the pre-scientific, pre-technological age.  For example, consider:

  • The Plague of Justinian which occurred between 541 and 542 AD. The claim is that about 100 million people died in China, parts of Africa, and Europe.
  • The Leprosy pandemic of the 11th century spread throughout Europe.
  • The Black Plague emerged between 1346 and 1351. An estimated 50 – 200 million people perished, wiping out about 60% of the European population.

    The Black Plague, also known as The Black Death, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. An outbreak of Bubonic Plague ravaged Europe, Africa, and             Asia causing the deaths of an estimated               50 -200 million people.
  • The First Cholera Pandemic of 1817 started in Russia, killing 100 million people, and spread to Great Britain, Spain, India, Africa, Asia, and the United States.

We now know through science that leprosy is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics.  Cholera, we know through science, is treated with rehydration and electrolytes.  We are protected for the most part because of scientific knowledge.  Yet, I wonder……have people become so reliant on science that they overdo it, thinking that pandemics are tragedies of the past and could never, ever visit us now?

It is this kind of thinking that I am calling the modern-protection-through-science logical fallacy.  We go about our business as if the world is a rock-steady, protected place and we are the ones in control. If anything, this new pandemic, which continues to intensify as I write this, may be sufficient to teach us that, indeed, this planet is fragile, perhaps more fragile than we had thought.  “Chaos” as the student from Iran put it in the email to me, is now present and throughout the world.

I further wonder if this modern-protection-through-science fallacy has led to yet another fallacy which is this: the-all-people-are-fine fallacy. If we break an arm, science and technology have a way of mending it.  Yet, what about the broken heart?  Does science have a cure-all for that?  Have we been walking around not seeing the inner wounds in others?  Have we ignored these wounds, thinking that all is fine and even if someone is not doing so well emotionally, well then, at least we have the science of medicines to assist.  Perhaps, as is the case with Mother Earth, we might begin to see that people are fragile.  People can break; people might be walking around with big wounds in them and they need more than science to aid them.  Maybe they need real human contact, love, forgiving and being forgiven to be healed and to then aid others in their healing.

The COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, might be our teacher: The world is more fragile than we thought. People are more fragile than we thought.  Our scientific age does not offer protection, at least in the short-term, from mutated viruses.  Our scientific age does not offer protection from betrayals, insensitivities and insults, and bullying from others..…that can break our heart. Yet, our knowing this just might motivate many of us to see with new eyes, as the late Lewis Smedes used to put it, and to see how precious each person is.

Science itself will not lead the way to this conclusion of how delicate and worthwhile each person is, but perhaps the pain caused by the most recent pandemic might lead the way to such a conclusion.

Robert