Rage Reduction Through Forgiveness Education

By Dr. Robert Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons 

After massacres in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, in which 29 people died, President Donald Trump made a  number of sensible recommendations to address violence and mass murders in the United States. He has been criticized for not calling for stricter gun controls but his words went to the heart of this crisis of hatred and violence:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet, and stop mass murders before they start. . . We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people.” (Read the Full Text Here.)

Below are our proposals for aspects of a comprehensive federal plan consistent with the President’s ideas. They are based on our combined 70 years of experience in research, education, and clinical work in uncovering and initiating treatment protocols in schools and in mental health treatment for excessive anger (or what psychiatrists call “irritability”).

Anger-reduction programs. The mental health field needs to develop protocols to identify individuals at risk for severe irritability and violent impulses. Next, empirically-verified treatment plans should be initiated for reducing intense anger and rage. Programs like this are rare in the mental health field.

A Secret Service report published last month, Mass Attacks in Public Spaces,” found that 67 percent of the suspects displayed symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance. In 93 percent, the suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications.

The mental health field needs to recognize that the training and ongoing education of health professionals has not been strong regarding the identification and treatment of irritability and violent impulses. So it is no surprise that the mass murderers of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Lakeland, and Columbine had not been treated for their anger. We need training programs. They could be part of required Continuing Education credits for state licensure for psychiatrists, psychologists, and the other physicians who prescribe roughly 80 percent of psychiatric medications.

Our book, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, can be one such training tool for mental health professionals. Forgiveness has been empirically verified to reduce unhealthy anger.

A Newtown, CT, memorial following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

Education in schools. Education programs in schools could uncover and teach youth how to resolve intense anger and desires for revenge that lead to a sense of pleasure in expressing violent acts against others. Dr. Enright has worked to establish scientifically-supported  programs for reducing anger in youth through forgiveness education curricula (from pre-kindergarten through grade 12). These educational guides have been sought by educators in over 30 countries. Dr Enright’s books, Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, and 8 Keys to Forgiveness, can be used as anger-reduction tools with older high school students, college students, and adults.

Teach respect for persons. A key development for forgiveness education is a new perspective on humanity: all have inherent worth, even those who act unfairly. In other words, these programs not only reduce anger, and thus eliminate a major motivation to hurt others, but also engender a sense of respect for persons.

This combination of reduced irritability and a new perception of the worth of all could go a long way in reducing rage and thus in reducing mass shootings.

Regulate violent video games. Violent video-gaming and media violence have played a role in the behavior of mass murders. A continual exposure to gaming that denigrates others in a virtual environment is a sure way of damaging respect for persons. Such “games” have courageously been identified by the President as factors in the epidemic of violence. Rather than teaching the importance of mastering anger without hurting others (character education), some games support the expression of rage and violence.

We need Federal laws. Youth are not allowed into movie theaters for X-rated fare. This should be the case with video games, which should be lawfully kept from youth when judged to have content that demonstrates and even encourages excessive anger. Parents should teach their children how to resolve their anger without harming others and should prohibit violent games in their homes. Violent games must have a warning that they could promote uncontrollable anger.

What about the guns? The President has identified essential issues that need to be addressed on the federal level to end the epidemic of massacres by individuals with severe, largely unrecognized and untreated, psychological problems.

While it is essential to try to keep guns out of the hands of those prone to act on their hatred, more important is the establishment of new anger control programs which will make for a safer America.


Robert Enright, Ph.D., is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Board Member of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.
Rick Fitzgibbons, MD, is a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, PA. They are joint recipients of the 2019 Expanded Reason Award, presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.


This blog originally appeared on the MercatorNet.com website on August 14, 2019.

How to Like Yourself After a Series of Failed Relationships

Training the mind to see one’s own inherent worth can  go a long way in recovery.

So often, I see that people, who have done their best in a failed  relationship,  fall in self-esteem. The person might have tried hard, wanted to maintain the connection, and yet it did not work out.  Despite the best of intentions, the one left behind ends up not liking……..oneself. 

You would think it would be the other way around. The one who walked away or behaved badly should be on the receiving end of the dislike. Yet, it is so often toward the self that the negativism is most deeply directed.

I have six suggestions for you as a way of resurrecting a positive self-image after relationships fail:

First, take the courageous inventory of your part in the breakup. If you were behaving in destructive ways, admit this, know what is destructive about your behavior and take steps to change. You even can begin to forgive yourself for your own part in the break-up.

Second, if you did not contribute to the relationship’s demise, own that thought. We are used to hearing that it takes two to ruin a relationship, but that just is not the case. Sometimes one person can independently destroy what the other has tried to build. If you did not contribute to the destruction of the relationship, start to admit this to yourself. You were not perfect in the relationship because no one is. Yet, imperfection itself is not necessarily a cause for the actual destruction of a partnership.

Third, if you tried your best, then realize that you are not to blame for another’s difficulties or weaknesses. The other is free to make misfortunate decisions, even if these decisions hurt both of you.

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs
Fourth, try to practice toward yourself the idea of inherent worth. You have value, inestimable value, as a person because you are special, unique, and irreplaceable in this world. This worth is unconditional, not earned as some kind of reward for good behavior.

A strictly biological perspective can show you this. For example, you have unique DNA so that when your time in this world is through, there never will be another person exactly like you on this earth……ever. You are…..special…..unique…..and irreplaceable. People with certain religious viewpoints can go beyond the biological to the transcendent and say, “God loves me” or “I am made in the image and likeness of God.” In other words, you are…..special……unique……and irreplaceable.

Fifth, begin to practice this idea that you have inherent or built-in worth. You can do this by extending this knowledge to others first and then to you. For example, as you pass people on the street, you can think: “This person has built-in worth that cannot be earned. That person over there may have weaknesses, but this does not detract from having worth. I, too, share this in common with them. I, too, have inherent worth.”

Sixth and finally, once you have strengthened the idea that you are a person of inherent worth, then apply that knowledge to yourself in the context of the past relationship(s): Despite the fact that this failed, I have worth. I am not defined by the success or failure of a relationship. I am more than that relationship. I will continue to be special, unique, and irreplaceable regardless of that outcome.

Be aware that you want to keep such thoughts in balance so that you do not degenerate into narcissism.  The point of growing in the knowledge of inherent worth is not to puff yourself up relative to others.  In fact, a clear understanding of inherent worth should be a guard against narcissism. Why? It is because the idea of inherent worth levels the playing field of life. If we all have inherent worth, then all of us have value, even if some make more money or have more talent or whatever separates us. We are united in this: We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.


                          “We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.”                                                                                                    Robert Enright


As one more caution, avoid using the thought of inherent worth to perpetuate nonsense. For example, suppose you have a gambling habit that seriously depletes the family’s funds. You do not then want to proclaim your inherent worth to yourself so that you can continue the nonsense. Yes, we all may have inherent worth, but we all are imperfect and need to work on our character flaws as we retain that sense of worth.

We are more than our actions. We are more than others’ rejection  of us. We possess a worth that is unconditional. No one can take that away from us, even those who walk away from a relationship that could have been great for both of you. Hold out the hope that the next person also sees inherent worth in those with whom there is a committed relationship. One of the best ways to have a stable ongoing relationship, it seems to me, is to find a like-minded person who understands the importance of inherent worth and sees this very clearly in the self and in you.

Robert

This blog was originally posted on the Psychology Today website on Nov. 8, 2018.

Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies.

If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it.  If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you.  Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone.  If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth.  One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us.  If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue.  It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.

We need forgiveness education……now.

Robert

We All Have Inherent Worth, but Not All Want to See This

Let us imagine a scenario that is not as uncommon as some might think. Let us suppose that you have cultivated in your mind that all people have inherent (built-in) worth. You see all people as special, unique, and irreplaceable. For some of you, your view is that all are brilliant colorsmade in the image and likeness of God.

Now let us further suppose that a person, let us say your boss, sees none of this. He sees you as inferior to him and lets you know that. You want to leave the job, but do not have the opportunity to do so yet.

A common error these days is to think that your thoughts carry a lot power in that, if you keep thinking that all have inherent worth and if you keep treating the boss with respect, then he eventually will come around to your way of thinking. He, too, will say and believe that all people have inherent worth, including you.

Yes, this could happen. Your patient forgiving might—might—turn the boss around so that he finally sees his errors of thought and behavior. Yet, this may not happen. He may stay entrenched in his thoughts and behaviors toward you so that, no matter what you do, he sees you and treats you as his inferior.

Do you then abandon your own view of inherent worth of all? Is it a dangerous thought (that all have inherent worth, including the boss) that keeps you oppressed by that boss? Absolutely not. It is not your thoughts that keep you oppressed. It is his thoughts, workplacehis actions that are the problem.

So, then, even if you cling to the notion that all have inherent worth, is not this thought itself worthless because, well, it is getting you nowhere? The boss is not changing.

Within you, it is not your continued thoughts of inherent worth that need changing, but instead you need to unite this thought with the quest for fairness, for justice, for what is right. You sometimes have to fight for your rights. If you do so with the knowledge that the boss—yes, even the boss—has inherent worth, then perhaps your quest for justice will be done with perseverance, respect, and a positive resolution.

And even if there is not a positive resolution with the boss, you can make plans to leave and do so as soon as possible. And as you leave with the thought that all have inherent worth, you can leave knowing that you, too, possess such worth. With a forgiving spirit, you will be preserving your health, as well as your self-respect.

Long live the idea that all people have inherent worth.

Robert

See Farther with the Eyes of Justice AND Forgiveness

To forgive is to see farther than justice alone allows you to see.
Justice
When you seek justice, you ask, “What has this person done and what consequences should happen to him or her?”

When you seek forgiveness and justice together, you first ask, “Who is this person as a person?” and then you ask what the consequences should be.

Robert

Generalizing from the Particular to the Universal

You know how it goes.  You go into a department store and have an unpleasant encounter with the person at checkout…..and you never go back there again.  The particular incident has given you a bad feeling for the entire organization.

You break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and, at least for a while, you think that no one really can be trusted.  This one relationship makes you mistrustful of such relationships in general.

Generalization.  It can help us when the generalization is true and can distort reality for us when false.  For example, when we touch poison ivy in one woods, it is wise to avoid it in the next….and the next.  The effects of poison ivy generalize regardless of which plant we touch.  On the other hand, one boyfriend’s bad behavior does not predict another person’s behavior.  In this case, generalization closes down our mind and heart when there is no need for this.

When you are hurt by someone, you have to be careful not to generalize this to many, most, or all others.  Not everyone is out to hurt you.  Such generalization can form the unhealthy foundation for a world view that is pessimistic and inaccurate.  Has this happened to you?

If so, it is time to fight back against this.  Try saying the following to yourself as a way to break the habit of a false view of others:

I have been wounded by another person. For today, I will not let his/her wounds make me a bitter person who thinks negatively about people in general. I will overcome any tendency toward this by seeing others as having special worth, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this.  We are all on this planet together; we are all wounded.  Not all are out to wound me.

Robert

Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies. If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it.  If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you.  Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal wTrue Loveith you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone.  If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth.  One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us.  If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue.  It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.  We need forgiveness education……now.

Robert