Forgiveness Therapy: Moving from a State of Anger and Victimization to a State of Courage and Grace

When I started working at a domestic violence shelter for women and children just over three years ago, forgiveness was the last thing on my mind. My formal education focused on teaching “coping skills” so that clients with mental illness could learn to survive in a cruel and dangerous world. If learning how to cope didn’t do enough to reduce their symptoms, I was taught to rationalize their lack of success as just being part of the mental illness and to refer them for a medication evaluation. Methods that promoted healing were simply left out.

I held a personal belief that forgiveness was the way to heal from domestic-violencetrauma, but my employer didn’t offer it. Instead, we focused on domestic violence education and coping skills as a means to survival. But, this did nothing to promote healing from the very wounds that we told our clients put them at risk for abuse. So, the cycle of violence continued and we functioned more like a revolving door than a place of recovery.

When I realized that our programs were not providing what we promised, I wanted to do more. I wanted to do more than help my clients survive because even though they learned how to survive, they didn’t learn how to stop the abuse. After several months of trying to figure out what I could do with women who may or may not be in shelter for more than a few months, I recalled what I had learned from Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute and proposed his forgiveness therapy method as a way to resolve feelings like anger, shame and guilt.

It was a risk to even suggest that victims of domestic violence could love-one-anotherforgive their abusers. But, I was able to convince my supervisor that learning the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation had the potential to reduce violence against women. So, after receiving permission, I designed a 10-week group based on the Enright Forgiveness Process.

After only a few weeks, I noticed a major change in the women. Instead of being irritable and short-tempered, they were kind and compassionate to one another and we had fewer reported problems in shelter living. While I anticipated healing, I certainly didn’t expect my job to be easier or for it to happen so quickly. I thought I was teaching them how to forgive their abusers, which they did. But, something bigger was happening. They were learning how to love each other and to experience joy in their suffering. That’s when everything that I had learned from Dr. Enright made sense and I was given a new purpose.

forgivenessimagesI have been using forgiveness therapy now for more than three years. I continue to use it more than any other method because I have witnessed real healing from trauma and mental illness. I’ve found that there is more pain in forgiveness, but it doesn’t last as long and the forgiver is stronger because of it if they persevere. Forgiveness moves the person from a state of anger and victimization to a state of courage and grace. And when the person chooses to love instead of hate the person who hurt them, they discover that all that is left is love. The Enright Forgiveness Process teaches people how to love and healing is the result.

Personally, I can’t think of a better outcome. I hope that my experience with forgiveness therapy will inspire other mental health professionals to complete the continuing education course from the International Forgiveness Institute. While forgiveness only requires the person who was hurt to forgive, they shouldn’t have to do it alone.


franciscan-forgiveness-center2

carly-elms
Carly Elms, M.Ed., LMSW, CRC

Carly Elms is a family therapist at the Franciscan Forgiveness Center in Independence, Missouri where she offers forgiveness therapy to individuals, couples, families, and religious communities throughout the Kansas City metro area and Northwest Missouri. Along with her Masters in Clinical Social Work (MSW), she has a Masters of Education in Educational & Counseling Psychology (M.Ed.). She is a U.S. Air Force veteran. Carly successfully completed “Helping Clients Forgive,” the International Forgiveness Institute’s online Continuing Education Course, with one of the highest scores ever recorded. 

Read more about Carly Elms at CatholicTherapists.com.

What Is Forgiveness Therapy?

Forgiveness therapy is a way for both client and therapist to examine those situations in which the client was or is treated unfairly for the express purpose of helping the person to understand the offender; to forgiveness-therapylearn to slowly let go of anger with this person; and, over time, to make a moral response of goodness toward the offender or offenders. This process may require many months or even years.

Forgiveness therapy does not ignore the client and his or her needs. On the contrary, the paradox is that as the client or patient takes the light ofdo-no-harm2 scrutiny off of self and places it in a moral way on the offenders in his or her life, it is the client who is healed. As readers will see, our emphasis on a “moral” response is vital for understanding forgiveness therapy. There is nothing novel about forgiveness therapy if it reduces simply to “moving on” or “adjusting.” There is much that is novel about it when the therapist challenges the client to “have compassion” and “do no harm” regarding a person with whom he or she is angry and frustrated.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 164-171). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Criticisms of Forgiveness: Forgiving as Producing Hypersensitivity to Hurt

Both Downie (1965), a philosopher, and Droll (1985), a psychologist, raised the challenging possibility that someone who practices forgiveness may become overly sensitive to slights and minor hurts. As a forgiver hypersenstivity3begins to scrutinize injustices, he or she may begin to falsely see these at every turn. Yet, those who genuinely forgive try to see exactly what happened in the original offense. If anything, true forgiving would seem to correct hypersensitivity as the forgiver strives for an accurate understanding of offender and offense.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5107-5110). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

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 Pill of Heartstreated 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

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

Some Advice on the 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness

Please keep in mind that this is not some kind of neat-and-tidy process through which you will be progressing in a steplike fashion. Heart Maze 3Forgiveness is not that predictable. You may find yourself going back to parts of the process you thought you had conquered long ago. For example, you may be near the end of the process and discover that you still harbor considerable anger toward the person (anger comes near the beginning of the entire forgiveness process). You then may cycle back to the beginning, do some work on your anger , and jump back to the end of the process. Be ready to go backward and forward in the forgiveness process, depending on your particular needs with a particular person whom you are currently forgiving. 

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 834-839). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition. 

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 Meditatewhat 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