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

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.  Tell Your StoryYou 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.

We all have a storyThis 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

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 so 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 Good Old Daysthan 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 important 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

We Must Treat the Cause and Not Only the Symptoms of Bullying

Well-meaning people are making progress in confronting the student-bullying problem across the world…..and yet most of these professionals are not looking closely enough at the real problem to find the best solution.

Here is one example: An educator encourages the bullied students to find ways to calmly stand their ground when being bullied. This can be a way of diffusing the bullying behavior. It seems to work at least in the short-term, Bullied Boy at Wallbut the one bullying could start the mayhem all over again in the next week or two.

Here is a second example: A graduate student finished a masterful review of the bullying literature in the psychological sciences. She reported that a key research topic presently is to examine the coping strategies of those being bullied. Those who seek social support from friends and teachers cope better with the effects of bullying than do those victims who cry.

Help the victim, yes, but what about those who bully? How can we help them and what help do they need?

We suggest the untried—untried—theme that may seem counter-intuitive today, but will appear obvious to many in the future: Yes, help the victim, but also help the one who is bullying to get rid of his or her anger, which is fueling the bullying.

Inside those who bully. . .
Inside those who bully. . .

Those who bully have been victimized by others. Help them to reduce their resentment toward those who were the victimizers and the bullying behavior will melt away. Why? Because wanting to harm others comes out of a position of profound woundedness within. Angry people are wounded people and angry, wounded people are the ones who lash out at others, even when these “others” did nothing whatsoever to provoke the verbal or physical attack.

We point principals, teachers, and parents to our anti-bullying forgiveness program intended to melt that anger in the one who bullies…..so that victims are no longer victims…..because the one bullying has no need any more to throw his wounds onto others. Forgiveness heals those wounds.

Who is ready to give this a try?

Robert

Anti-Bullying and Forgiveness Education: What They Are Saying Now

Consider some views of those who bullied others in school and now look back as adults.

I Feel Cheated

“I feel cheated. When I was a teenager, I thought I was rough and tough and I took this out on weaker kids. Little did I know that I was the one who was weak because I had no control over my anger. I am sorry to say this, but I really did not receive any help for that anger when in school. The helping professionals of the day were way too concerned with what I was doing and they did not see my rage. Forgiveness education would have made everyone’s life better then—those I bullied, the teachers, the other kids….and me.” An anonymous adult looking back.

My Guilt Can Still Pop Up

“I have not been in a middle school classroom in three decades.  Yet, I can still look back and wince at what I did.  I Bullying Word Artonce had another student kiss the ground because….well….I just did not like him.  How I wish I had instruction in forgiveness education then. I was pretty angry because I had a parent with a big temper.  That got all over me and so my anger got all over other students.  Yes, I did victimize some and they did not deserve it.  I needed to confront my anger resulting from the home and never got the opportunity.  I am not blaming anyone but myself.  Yet, I do hope that educators wake up and start to help those who are angry now. Forgiveness education is one way out of anger’s trap.”  J.P.

The Anger Entered My Marriage

“I was one who bullied other classmates through ignoring and spreading lies about them. I have to admit that back then it made me popular with the other girls.  I should have stopped because each one of these little digs at others went into my own heart.  The bad news is that I brought that pent up anger into our marriage and it hurt my husband.  He had no idea what was going on and neither did I.  Having read some of your books on forgiveness and anger, I came to realize that my bullying was a displacement onto unsuspecting classmates and then onto my husband. Forgiveness education is so needed.  Otherwise the angers and disappointments are given to others.  Where does it stop?” A.N.

Robert Order Now 6

Editor’s Note: The International Forgiveness Institute has developed a new Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program for children in grades 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14).  Regularly priced at $50.00 for the electronic version, it is now available at our limited-time introductory price of $30.00.

 

Our Approach to Anti-Bullying


So many schools see bullying as a behavior in need of being stopped. We disagree.

We are not disagreeing because that first sentence here is wrong.  We are disagreeing because that first sentence is incomplete.

If our primary task is to stop bullying behavior, we fail to look moreGood Heart 6 deeply into the human heart. Those who bully have a story to tell and in the vast majority of cases, those who bully have been bullied….by someone…..at some time. And the angers are unseen and unattended by others. Those who bully usually suffer in silence and the more this happens, the more the rage inside builds, spilling over to innocent others who now are the recipients of that rage.

As we fail to understand this, and as we continue to try restraining the bullying behavior without seeing and acknowledging the wounds in those who bully, we fail to address the situation properly. Thus, there are attacks and wounds and cycles that seem never to end.

As we restrain bullying behavior, we have an obligation to see the wounds within those who bully…and to try to help them bind up those wounds through forgiving.Anti-Bullying Week 2

As we fail to see this, we are not stopping bullying. Instead, we are inadvertently allowing a wounded heart to become a resentful heart which becomes a heart that wants to hurt others….no matter how much we try to constrain this. We need forgiveness education for those who bully……now. In our Store section is an anti-bullying curriculum that provides this broader perspective on a world-wide problem. Take a look. Your actions in helping those who bully could save lives.

Robert

Adverse Impacts of Childhood Bullying Extend Into Adulthood

The negative impacts of childhood bullying are much more pervasive and long-lasting than researchers previously believed, according to a just-published study.

Those bullied in childhood had increased levels of psychological distress at ages 23 and 50, according to the British study that covered a 50-year timespan.  Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol dependence, and suicidality than their non-victimized peers nearly four decades after exposure. Additionally, childhood bullying victimization was associated with a lack of social relationships, economic hardship, and poor perceived quality of life at age 50.

While those impacts for adults were undocumented up until now, the study also confirms what researchers have long known—that childhood bullying can be devastating.

“Not only do victims of bullying have elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence,” the study reports, “they also show increased rates of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and psychotic symptoms. As a result, victimization by bullies is increasingly considered alongside maltreatment and neglect as a form of childhood abuse.” bullying Graph

The new study was published in the July 2014 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry:  Adult Health Outcomes of Childhood Bullying Victimization: Evidence From a Five-Decade Longitudinal British Birth Cohort. Data were from the British National Child Development Study, a 50-year prospective cohort of births in 1 week in 1958. The authors studied data from 7,771 participants whose parents reported bullying exposure at ages 7 and 11 years, and who participated in follow-up assessments between ages 23 and 50 years. Of the three well-respected researchers who completed the study, one is a Newton International Fellow while another is a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow.

“Like other forms of childhood abuse, bullying victimization has a pervasive effect on functioning and health outcomes up to midlife,” the study concludes. ”Our findings. . .emphasize the importance of gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the persistence and pervasiveness of the impact of childhood bullying. These risk mechanisms could become suitable targets for intervention programs designed to reverse the effects of early life adversity later in the life course.”

And at least one researcher is already addressing those risk mechanisms.

Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor, says his research and interventions may be the only ones in the world focusing on pent-up anger as the source of bullying. Dr. Enright, called “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine, has been researching forgiveness for more than 25 years, has created the International Forgiveness Institute to disseminate the results of his work, and has produced Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade that are being used around the world.

Now Dr. Enright has just released a new curriculum guide called “The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program: Reducing the Fury Within Those Forgiveness-Brothers-HugWho Bully.”This guide can be used by school counselors, social workers, and teachers. It is for students in grade 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14) and is intended for use with those who are showing bullying behavior.

“Bullying behavior does not occur in a vacuum, but can result from deep inner rage, not resulting from those who are bullied but often from others who have hurt them in family, school, or neighborhood,” Dr. Enright says. “The purpose of our guide is to help such students to forgive those who have deeply hurt them so they no longer take out their rage on others.”

Dennis Blang
Director
International Forgiveness Institute