A New Approach to School Bullying: Eliminate Their Anger

“Introducing Forgiveness Counseling to the Schools”

If you do an electronic search for anti-bullying programs, you will see three prominent approaches, the 3 P’s:

  • Peer mediation
  • Persistent norms. (This is a “no-bully zone;” we do not tolerate bullying in this school)
  • Punishment.
The rarely-tried approach, one backed by social scientific research, is to eliminate the anger in those doing the bullying (Gambaro, Enright, Baskin, & Klatt, 2008; Park, Enright, Essex, Zahn-Waxler, & Klatt, 2013). Those who are angry tend to displace that anger onto others, who then may displace it onto others, who may pass on the anger once again…and on it goes.

What makes people so angry that they:

          a) retain the anger for a long time, sometimes years;
          b) find no solution to that anger; and,
          c) give the never-say-die anger to others?

We find that unfair treatment from other people is the source of so much anger in this world (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). Anger as a source of inner disruption in the form of anxiety, low-self esteem, and pessimism all too often goes unrecognized. After all, if a person with high anxiety comes to a mental health professional, it is natural to focus on the presenting symptom. Yet, our research and the clinical work connected to it suggest that toxic anger, the kind that is deep and long-lasting, often is at the heart of many psychological symptoms for those who have a history of being treated unfairly.

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Forgiveness therapy, as an empirically-verified treatment, reduces and even eliminates the toxic anger (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). This is a paradoxical psychotherapy. As the client discussed the unfair behaviors coming from others, the treatment focus shifts from the client’s symptoms to an exploration of who the offending person is, what emotional wounds this person has, the vulnerabilities and doubts and fears that person brought to the painful interactions with the client.

As the client realizes that to forgive is not to excuse or forget or abandon the quest for justice or necessarily even reconcile with the other, then forgiveness therapy can proceed without distortion of what, exactly, it means to forgive. To forgive is to offer goodness to those who have not been good to the client. It is the offering of a virtue that has been around for thousands of years across many philosophies and religions and worldviews. To forgive offers the client a way to eliminate resentment by offering goodness…and it works (see, for example, Lin, Mack, Enright, Krahn, & Baskin, 2004). 

When a student in school begins to aggress onto others, those who use the lens of forgiveness therapy start to ask these questions:

  • Does the one showing the bullying behavior seem to be particularly angry?
  • What is the source of this anger?  Might it be unfair treatment from others in the past, perhaps at home or in school or in the peer group?
  • Might this student be in pain, which emerged from the injustice, and might that pain now have turned to a toxic anger?
  • Might this student be willing to examine who perpetrated the injustice and the subsequent hurt and ask, “Can I forgive this person (or persons) for what they did to me?”

School counselors now have a resource for taking this kind of therapy directly to those who bully (Enright, 2012). Rather than focus on the symptoms of aggression, disobedience to school expectations, or even the student’s own anger, the treatment shifts: Who hurt you? Is this person hurting and vulnerable and confused? Do you know what forgiveness is and is not? Would you be interested in trying to forgive the one who caused you so much pain? This kind of therapy can take up to 12 or more weeks, but that is the blink-of-an-eye relative to anger that can last for years.

As the student’s pain subsides by seeing the inherent worth in the one who was cruel and by fostering compassion toward that person (not because of what was done but instead because of whom the other is as a person), so too does the anger within the one who bullies start to fade, and this takes away the incentive to bully.  The focus is not on the symptoms exclusively any more, nor is it on only creating school norms (which are all too easily ignored by those who bully when they are nurturing a rage inside).

To reduce bullying, we need to see the anger inside those who bully and have a plan to reduce it. Forgiveness therapy, as empirically shown, already has done its job. Now it is time to transport such therapy from the clinician’s office into the school setting for the good of those who bully and for the good of those who are the unwitting recipients of their pain.

Posted in Psychology Today December 17, 2016


References:

Why Our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program Matters

“Bullying will not be tolerated in this school.”

“You are entering a no bullying zone.”

Consciousness raising is good precisely because it challenges each of us to be our best self, to do good for others.

Yet, sometimes some students are so emotionally wounded that their anger overwhelms the attempt at consciousness raising.  The students   are so very wounded that they cannot listen well.  Some are so wounded that they refuse to listen.  Even others are so mortally wounded that they find a certain pleasure in inflicting pain on others.  It is when it gets to that point—others’ pain equals pleasure for the one inflicting it—that we have a stubborn problem on our hands.  No signs, no consciousness raising, no rally in the gym, no pressure to be good is going to work…..because the gravely wounded student is now beyond listening.

Yet, we have found a hidden way to reverse the trend in those who are so hurting that they derive pain from hurting others.  It is this:  Ask the hurting students, those labeled so often as bullies, to tell their story of pain, their story of how others have abused them.

You will see this as the rule rather than the exception:

Those who inflict pain over and over have stories of abuse toward them that would make you weep.  In fact, we have seen the weeping come from the one who has bullied others, the one who has inflicted serious pain onto others. He wept because, as he put it, “No one ever asked me for my story before.”  His story was one of cruel child abuse from an alcoholic father who bruised him until he bled.  And no one ever asked him about this.  And so he struck out at others.  Once he told his story, he began to forgive his father and his pain lessened and thus his need to inflict pain on others slowly melted away.

This is what our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program does.  It aids counselors and teachers in bringing out the stories in the pain-inflictors so that their own pain dramatically decreases.  As this happens, through forgiveness, bullying behavior is rendered powerless……because in examining their own hurt they finally realize how much hurt they have inflicted…..and with their own emotional pain gone, they have no desire to live life like this any more.

Come, take our anti-bullying curriculum and save the life of at least one child and help prevent inflicted pain on countless others.

Robert

 

This Is Our 400th Blog Post…..So It Better Be a Good One

400…….since February, 2011…..six years and counting.

Over that time, here are 7 impressions which I have formed about the world of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness is not one more light entertainment in a world that is constantly screaming at you for attention.  In today’s frenetic world of marketing, unless there is a ton of adrenaline released by the recipient in response to any new marketing strategy, then that recipient might turn away.  This new attention-getting device—-increase adrenaline of the hearer—-will not work with forgiveness.  Why?  Because forgiveness takes place in the context of the wounded heart.  throbbing-heartWounded people usually do not seek the adrenaline high but instead the quiet encouragement and love that will help them to heal.  Forgiveness is at odds with the whirlwind, adrenaline-pumping world.
  • Related to point 1, we are easily distracted by the next “big thing.”  The early 21st century is not a time of quiet persistence, but instead a time of flinging oneself from one interesting idea to another.  A steady diet of one food is boring……..and so people come into the forgiveness arena, only to leave way too soon to follow the call of something new and shiny and exciting.  Forgiveness is at odds with the shiny as it is more at home with the strong will, the daily persistence in offering compassion to those who have had no compassion on the forgiver.
  • Forgiveness is a hard sell in contemporary education because,Back to school - set of school doodle illustrationsquite frankly, too many school systems have way too many requirements, sometimes taught too superficially just to get it all in, and so when an innovation such as forgiveness comes calling, there is not room for this innovation…….which can change lives.
  • Forgiveness can help each of us to leave a legacy of love rather than a legacy of anger and bitterness in this world.  Few realize this and so when they die, their anger lives on.  Being aware of this can reverse a family tradition of bitterness.
  • Anti-bullying programs need forgiveness therapy and it is very much off the radar of too many educators.  Anti-bullying Bullying2programs too often focus on bullying behavior (let us punish bullying; let us set up norms against bullying behaviors; let us try to discourage bullying; let us ask peers to help stop the bullying).  Yet, conspicuously missing is a focus on the broken heart of those who bully.  Give them a chance to forgive those who have broken their hearts and their motivation to bully melts away.
  • Still, too often people mistake forgiveness for what it is not.  To forgive is to move on from a hurtful situation, some say.    You can move on with indifference or even annoyance in one’s heart.  To forgive is to be more deliberately active in trying to be good to those who are not good to you.
  • In the final analysis, helping students learn how to forgive maystudent-forgiveness be one of the most important new developments on the planet.  We need to awaken a world that is still a bit too sleepy to understand this.  We sleep through this idea to the detriment of our young people…….who may grow up not knowing how to deal with cruelty……and that is not in their best interest.

LONG LIVE FORGIVENESS!

Robert

And So He Is No Longer on This Earth

Bullying213-years old. Bullied in school. He hanged himself in the attic of his home. He left a note. Despair. Fury. The bullies tortured. The teachers did not understand.

And so we have yet another tragedy.

There is a solution to all of this, you know. I suppose I should be getting weary of saying this, but when I think of this dear boy, somehow the weariness does not materialize and so I will say it again:

When we help our children to forgive, we are providing a protection against fury, the kind of fury that attacks unrelentingly and then seeks its next victim. Forgiveness is a cure for fury. Forgiveness is a protection against a false despair that nothing can be done–an illusion that there is no way out. Forgiveness does not allow the illusion its day. 

To be sure that I am not misunderstood: I am not blaming the innocent for this death. I am not blaming parents or the child himself or the teachers or even those who bullied.  The intent of those who bullied (don’t you think?) was not to have a classmate no more on the earth.

We need forgiveness education as a way to help childrenHands navigate through others’ pain that gets all over the innocent. Forgiveness is an inoculation against this kind of pain that jumps from host to host seeking to create misery. We know pain exists, we know forgiveness is a protection on the innocent from the others’ pain, and we have ways of teaching forgiveness to others.

So, then, what is holding back the “yes” from educators to bring forgiveness into the classroom and into the hearts of students?

Robert

The Good Old School Days

OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do Good Old Days2so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.

I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.

So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an Good Old Days3important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?

My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive him or her for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?

Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.

Robert

What We Recommend on Forgiveness Education for Bullying

Being bullied can be torturous. We need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if those who are bullied could forgive, then their well-being may be protected.

The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:

1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, Bullying Word Artdepression, or even self-hatred. We were talking with a student from Korea and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.

2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, then their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.

Robert

A Day Discussing Forgiveness in a Maximum Security Prison

In late August, my colleague, Gayle Reed, and I visited a maximun security prison to discuss forgiveness. The point was not to focus on those in prison seeking forgiveness for their crimes, but instead to help each of them to begin forgiving those who have abused them prior to their serious crimes. Many of these men have been deeply abused by others, but this becomes invisible as the focus is on their crimes and rehabilitating them for those actions.

Yet, this next point seems so little understood: Those who perpetrate crime so often have an anger, a hatred, a fury within because of the HatePrison-Loveinjustices they have suffered, often long before they lash out at others. If it will diminish, this kind of fury within needs major surgery of the heart. All the rehabilitation in the world, if it only focuses on their bad behavior, will do nothing to cleanse the heart of fury. Only forgiveness therapy will do that—and this idea of “only forgiveness therapy” came from one of the counselors at the prison, who supervised a forgiveness group for 6 months.

The day at the institution was special for us as we saw the men’s hearts melt at the realization (over 6 months of forgiveness therapy) that they have been deeply hurt by others, not only perpetrators of hurt onto others. They gained the insight that their own anger, rage, and fury built up to such an extent that it came roaring out onto others. As one man said, “Forgiveness is the enemy of hatred.”

Another man had this remarkable insight that anger, which is displaced onto unsuspecting other people, leads to the victim possibly passing that anger to another person, who may pass it on yet again. At some point, he reasoned, someone has to stop the passing on of anger and forgiving can do that job. He said this: “When another is in pain, they are on the hook.  Then they put you on the hook. hen you put others on the hook.” He was clearly seeing that his anger was passed to his victim(s).

After our meeting with the men who took part in the 6-month CellWindowforgiveness group, several of the men came up privately to me. Each one had tears in his eyes and whispered that he needs to forgive himself now. They are having a hard time living with themselves.  The remorse was genuine and the pain real.

After 30 years of studying forgiveness and seeing the scientific results of a significant reduction in anger by those who forgive, I am confident that as the people in prison (both men and women) learn to forgive, their anger within the institution may diminish, making their prison home safer for everyone, including the officers and all who attend to them.

This is a new idea for corrections. May it be a standard idea within a decade.

Robert