Increased Quality of Life

The term quality of life refers to an overall positive sense of comfort, contentment, or happiness with one’s life as it is experienced right now. Quality of life encompasses one’s physical strength and health, one’s psychological adjustment to life’s challenges, the fulfillment of one’s purpose in life, and the amount of support that one senses from important others in one’s life. Forgiveness can increase benefits in all of these areas in people who take the time to work through the process.

In one rather dramatic example, Mary Hansen and I helped terminally ill cancer patients to forgive those who had hurt them in the short time of four weeks. This brief time period is unusual, but in this case, the people knew that they were dying, their energy was fading, and so they did the intensive work of forgiving those in the family toward whom they were still fuming. Some of the patients had held on to this unhealthy anger for decades.qol3

Upon forgiving those who had been very unfair to them, these courageous people reported that their overall quality of life, including how they were feeling physically, was significantly improved. They even reported that their purpose in life became clearer to them because they were leaving their families more settled, more at peace because of the forgiveness that they were offering as they were dying. We saw how their actual physical condition deteriorated over those four weeks while, at the same time, their overall well-being— their reported quality of life— kept increasing. Forgiveness helped these individuals to die well.

Robert

Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 5). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

The 5 Protections of Forgiving

We now see forgiveness as a protection in at least five ways. As we forgive, we are protecting:

(A) our own emotional health;

(B) the human dignity of the offender, not because of what happened but in spite of it;

(C) our relationship if the other wants to reconcile;

protection(D) other family members, friends, and colleagues who are protected from our resentment; and

(E) our communities from on-going anger that can pervade neighborhoods, separate people, and leave a blight that depresses economies.

After all, communities continually in contention do not receive tourist dollars, and governments often turn away, even if subtly, from such communities with high rates of violence. To forgive is to serve, to love, and to protect.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5565-5567). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5562-5565). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could Holocaustfind meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. SufferingYet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them
to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person, and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have Out-Of-Sufferingtheir well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.
Robert

Joy in the Journey

Forgiveness is hard work. I sometimes refer to it as “surgery of the heart.” No one looks forward to the process of surgery, but when people look beyond the procedure to what lies ahead once healing occurs, it is easier to bear.

The process of forgiveness includes bearing pain and finding meaning in suffering. It Pain-Joyrequires pain, emotional pain, as we look directly at another’s injustice and struggle to see him or her as a person, just as I-the-forgiver am a person.

The joy comes, I think, in triumphing through a challenging process and becoming stronger once the process is complete. You stand stronger because you have not let injustice defeat you.

Heart-ForgivenessYou stand stronger because you are now more capable of receiving the other back into your life, if he or she can be trusted. You may play a part in this person’s positively changed ways as you stand strong.

You stand stronger because you know you have a way of meeting the next injustice, and the next, and the next after that.

Having a new heart as a result of forgiving and becoming stronger and helping others get stronger is a cause for joy.

Robert

On Reversing Pessimism

When we are treated unjustly by others, we slowly can become more apathetic about everything. Consider this quotation from G.K. Chesterton on the matter:

“It matters very little whether a man isFlowers discontented in the name of pessimism or progress, if his discontent does in fact paralyse his power of appreciating what he has got.”

Forgiveness can reverse the apathy and the pessimism and increase our appreciation of situations and other people.

Robert

When Evil Seems to Be Having Its Way

Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.”      If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.

good-vs-evilForgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice.  When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.

Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice?  Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart?  We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.

Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness?  As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil.  By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.

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