Moral love encompasses civility and respect in its response and so is the most complete. Civility is the least demanding and also the least complete. I can be civil and rather detached from a person who has hurt me. I can even be civil without respecting the person. Even respect does not go far enough. I can respect a person who has injured me and, of course, this is a major step in the right direction. Yet, respect can be given from a distance, from a position that does not ask for my sacrifice. When I extend moral love to another, I not only must be civil and respectful, I must be more than that. I must encounter the other with the intent of helping for his or her sake, not my own sake. To morally love another who has hurt me is to enter into that person’s world with an intent to serve, even to suffer to make him or her a better person to the extent that the person will allow that. Moral love asks the most of me in forgiveness.
I never expected that one day I would be asked to give talks about forgiveness. Forgiveness was the farthest thing from my mind. How could I ever forgive someone who hurt me so much, someone who was supposed to love and adore me? After all, I was her child. By the time I was twelve, I made a pack with myself that I would never let anyone hurt me the way she did. I lived a life protecting my heart, keeping connections at a distance and sabotaging intimate relationships if they got too close. And where did I end up? Middle aged and single.
On the outside, I looked good. Had a successful career in a glamorous field and was acknowledged with prestigious awards along the way. My face, my projects, my stories were featured on the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and others. As I aged, I managed to keep my weight down, my figure looking not too far from college days and my face less wrinkled than many of my contemporaries.
I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Why are you not married?” or said “The man that gets you is a lucky person.”
Underneath this glossy package, I was seething with anger towards my mother. My accomplishments didn’t matter. From head to toe there wasn’t anything right about me. My hair was too frizzy, my butt too fat and my nose too big.
Growing up and well into adulthood in my mother’s eyes, I just couldn’t do anything right. And my brothers couldn’t do anything wrong.
Little did I know, the obstacles I faced in my childhood would end up being the biggest opportunity of my life. By facing those challenges, I figured out the secret to finding forgiveness and the power and freedom that gives you.
Growing up in my house was like growing up in enemy territory and you’re the only one who was captured. From the moment I was born, mom took ownership. She was at the helm controlling how I looked, spoke and behaved. Not always successfully as she wrote in a letter to me in college, “You are my product and you are destroying it.”
When my nose started growing so did her relentless campaign to get me to have a nose job. No, I never had a nose job.
My brothers were mom’s bouncers. The one closest to my age did not want me around as you can imagine he had been the youngest. And he let me know it on a regular basis – destroying my dolls and then trying to do the same with me. And my eldest brother did as he was told.
When mom wanted me out of her way, she had my brothers put me on top of the refrigerator where I could not get down.
There is one evening mom refers to today proudly as the night she pulled a Mommie Dearest on me. Remember the movie about how Joan Crawford was so abusive to her daughter Christina?
I was a teenager and out with my friends. I came home a bit later than she expected. When we pulled up to my house, my mother was standing on the street with a glass of water in one hand and the dog’s leash in the other hand. With my friends watching from the car and the head lights shining on us my mother threw the water in my face, and told me to walk the dog, she didn’t care if I got raped if I wasn’t already. That was just the beginning.
Never knowing what I would do that would trigger her rage on me, I lived in fear of my mother, in fear of her punishments, often humiliation.
The fear led me to being sick and I had headaches and dizzy spells. As soon I left home I never had headaches again.
When I hit middle age, I finally gave in to mom and agreed to visit plastic surgeons for consultations about my nose as long as I could have a camera crew with me. What resulted was a funny short film about mom’s relentless campaign to get me to have a nose job.
After the Q&A, people stood on line to compliment my nose, and then tell me their story. It wasn’t always about their nose. It was about criticisms they endured from their mother.
I saw how many people were hurting and knew I was not alone.
It didn’t matter if I was attaining success in my career, traveling the world, making friends internationally – underneath it all I was fuming and holding onto victimhood.
I had given my power away. I was still reacting to mom’s insults and criticism. And often would give it right back to her, having learned how to have a sharp tongue and knowing how to leave a lasting scar. I was not proud of my behavior and it was not making me happy.
I was emotionally and mentally trapped hanging onto the anger.
I knew I would have to change how I thought about my mother in order to heal myself.
I knew if I was going to find peace and happiness I would have to forgive her. I just didn’t know how.
Mom was now well into her 80s. I asked her if she would be willing to go on a journey with me to resolve our relationship in front of the cameras and she agreed. I knew I had a golden opportunity. In her mature years without the responsibility of taking care of children, my mom’s humor came out and she was not only willing but also happy to show herself to the world.
The result was my award winning feature documentary LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! It’s been released widely. Unforeseen, this deeply personal film has been transforming lives all over. Due to the humbling response, I have launched workshops and talks teaching forgiveness called NO MORE DRAMA WITH MAMA.
So how did I do it? How did I forgive my mother? There are three main steps.
The first step is toUNDERSTAND.
I knew I had to first understand my mother and to do so I would have to dig into her past. With cameras rolling, I started my investigation and learned about her pain, her father’s suicide attempts, the untimely death of her baby sister, and the financial hardships. And the childhood she never really had.
A big light bulb moment came when I played a psychological board game. I threw the dice and it landed. The facilitator asked to me to imagine my mother as a little girl. At that point, I knew about her childhood and saw a wounded little girl. Then she said imagine yourself as a little girl. I knew my pain and that I was a wounded little girl. Then she said now you both come together. Wow! She was no longer my mother. We were both wounded little girls.
The second step isREFRAME.
By learning about my mother’s pain, I was able to understand her and instead of seeing her as an abusive mother, I now reframed how I looked at her and saw her as a wounded child. And by doing that I changed my expectations of her.
The third step isFORGIVE.
When she said something critical, it bounced off of me, as I knew she was a little girl in pain herself. By reframing how I looked at my mother, I was able to actually feel compassion for her and forgive her. I rendered her abuse powerless over me. And as a result her insults were less often until they faded away. Why? Because they had no effect on me. I laughed them off or ignored them and at times gave her love in return.
What makes us so upset is when we have unfulfilled expectations. When your three year-old daughter looks up at you and says, Mommy or Daddy, I don’t love you anymore. What do you do? You bend down and pick her up and give her love because you know that is really what she is asking for. So when you mother tells you that you are fat, you will amount to nothing, imagine she is a child crying for love and respond accordingly.
I forgave my mother. I didn’t say I forgot. You never forget.
“If you don’t forgive and you hang on to the anger and resentment, it hurts you and affects all aspects of your life – your relationships and health.” – Gayle Kirschenbaum
While I was makingLOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! I reread my childhood diaries and relived the trauma. I ended up getting an autoimmune disease. It came out through my skin, and I developed a bad case of psoriasis on my hands that they were bleeding and I needed to wear vinyl gloves it was so painful. After trying various medical treatments and not getting lasting results I turned inside and realized I got myself sick due to the emotional stress and I will heal myself. I did so by changing my thoughts and getting rid of the anger and forgiving my mother and feeling love.
The biggest gift you can give yourself is the ability to forgive.
Forgiveness is emotional freedom. It unleashes the perpetrator from holding the noose around our neck, which we have allowed.
Once I learned the secret to forgiveness I was able to apply these steps to other people and used this method to also forgive my brothers. I know now when I am faced with a difficult person and situation how I can turn it around.
As I look at others who are acting unkindly, I reflect on myself and know when I am unkind to others, it is coming from fear, insecurity and anger. When we are feeling loved we are not reacting nasty to others.
With that said, by showing kindness, compassion and love to someone you can actually transform them.
Our BRAIN is the most powerful organ in our body. It is our thoughts that control our emotions and actions.
By changing my thoughts I was able to reframe how I saw my mother and forgive her.
Mom has become my closet friend. Today she is in her 90s. We have been traveling the world together for the last 10 years. We speak to each other daily by choice because we love to share and communicate.
To recap the three simple steps: 1. UNDERSTAND 2. REFRAME 3. FORGIVE
Think about your own life. Who hurt you so badly that you have not been able to forgive them? Remember you have the power to make the choice whether to forgive or not. We all have a story. Be the hero of your story not the victim.
Our theory starts with the premise that all people need to both give and receive love to be healthy and to have psychologically healthy families and communities. I am not alone in this view when we study the ancient literature, going back to the formation of the Hebrew nation, thousands of years ago, with the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. I am not alone when we turn to modern-day heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or Mother Teresa. Unconditionally loving others, despite their blemishes and faults, was at the heart of their message.
I am not alone in this view when we consult modern philosophy, in which Gene Outka has shown the centrality of love for morally good human interaction. I am not alone in this view of the primacy of love when we examine the earliest roots of psychology, going back over a century to the pioneering work of the psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, who made the famous statement that each person’s purpose is to work and to love if genuine mental health will result, a theme which continues to resonate with psychoanalysts in the 21st century. Contemporary social scientists such as Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon make the compelling biological case that love is at the central core of who we are as humans. I continue not to be alone in this view when I ask people of good common sense about what is of the utmost importance to them.
All people require love, both the giving and the receiving of love; this is not an option. Robert D. Enright
On this issue, people who use the method of religious faith to understand the world, some people who use the method of deductive logic and philosophical analysis, some people who use the method of psychoanalysis, and some people who use the method of modern biological and social science are in agreement—The essence of our humanity is to love and be loved.
Truth and Reconciliation is a profound process that takes longer, costs more, and is messier than one can imagine. Here is one story from the South African experience:
After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.
Unfathomable Cruelty and Indignity
I can’t fathom the source or the energy needed to fuel such cruelty. But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?
A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”
How is Justice to be done?
That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved; how does it look different from mere retribution and punishment? But the judge asked “how should justice be done for this man?” – not – “for this surviving woman.”
What would this wife & mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?
“I want three things,” the woman said confidently:
“I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial. My husband and son were my only family.”
Become My Son!?
“I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”
This is truly a breathtaking request. We can finish her sentence starting with “I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I . . .” – fill in the blank!
So I can get him to feel the crushing poverty I live with.
So I can have him feel the full void of my loss with no husband or son.
So I can have him feel every distrusting eye scrutinize him as the minority in our community.
But no; she finishes her request with “so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”How much love does she still have?
And I could not find if Mr. Van der Boek could possibly receive such love. Did he come out, as she asked, twice a month to spend the day with her for the sole purpose of receiving what ever love she may still possess?
“And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
“Past hurts can lead to a lack of trust which can block intimacy.”
Sometimes there is a pattern that one begins to see in oneself: A relationship starts and is filled with hope, only to end all too soon. If this happens to you, may I suggest 5 reasons why this might be the case and make some suggestions for breaking the pattern?
The first reason why relationships may fail is that we all bring in what we might call “excess baggage” from our family of origin. This includes both your partner and you. It may be a good idea, when the time is right, to gain insight into any hurtful patterns that either your partner or you have brought into the current relationship. For example, was it a norm to show a hot temper in the family? If so, this could be spilling over into your current relationship in that your partner (or you) never had such a norm which is offensive to the other. Solution: Try to see the norms that have formed early in your life, discuss those that are stressful to your partner or you, and make the necessary adjustments. Second, try practicing forgiveness toward family-of-origin members who have created some less-than-healthy norms for you (see Enright, 2012 for an approach to forgiving).
A second reasonis that we can bring in this “excess baggage” from past relationships that have failed. The particularly hazardous issue is damaged trust. If you have had a harsh breakup, or even a divorce, there is a tendency not to trust a new partner even if this person is good to you. On a 1-to-10 scale, what is your trust level in general toward any potential partner? If the scores are below 5, you may need to work on trust. Here is what you can do:
First, try to forgive the past partner(s) for damaging your trust.
Second, let trust now build up inch-by-inch in you as you forgive others from your past. Try to see the goodness in the new partner.
Third, bring out into the open your challenge with trust so that the new person can help you work this through. You may have to do all of this for your partner if there is a trust issue from the past.
A third aspect of “excess baggage” is low self-esteem or believing the lie that you are not worthy of a lasting relationship. This kind of low self-esteem can creep up on you until you are not even aware that your self-worth is low. On the 1-to-10 scale, how worthy do you think you are to have a happy, lasting relationship? Solution: Cognitively resist the big lie that you are not worthy. Second, forgive yourself if you have played a part in hurting past relationships because of either a lack of trust or low self-esteem.
A fourth point is this: Do not let yourself fall into the trap of defining yourself exclusively by the past. Solution: Be aware of who you really are as a person. As you bear the pains of the past through forgiving, then ask yourself: Who am I as I forgive? Am I stronger than I thought I was prior to forgiving? Am I more compassionate than I had realized? As you do these kinds of reflections, it is my hope that you realize this: I have a lot to offer a good partner who can benefit from my presence and support.
A fifth and final point is this: Try not to let your new partner fall into the trap of defining the self exclusively by the past. This person, too, may need the strength of forgiveness with the renewed view that “I, too, am a person of worth who has good things to offer you.”
Perhaps it is time for a new start in relationships. Some of the 5 points above may help move you in the right direction.
.Betrayal can be very painful and difficult to overcome. When the resentment builds, it is important not to let it have its way. Otherwise, it could live within you for a very long time, chipping away at your happiness, making you mistrustful of those who may be worth of trust, and spilling over to your loved ones. This is why betrayal is such a challenge, particularly the effects of such betrayal that can take the form of excessive anger, anxiety, and depression.
Here are six suggestions that may be helpful to you as you consider forgiving:
First, you need not have forgiveness wrapped up in a day or a week. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to consider forgiving.
Second, to experience some emotional relief in forgiving, you do not have to be a perfect forgiver. Even if you have some anger left over, as long as the anger is not dominating your life, you can experience considerable emotional relief. For example, in a study of incest survivors, all of the participants started the forgiveness therapy with very low scores on forgiving. After about 14 months of working on forgiveness, as the study ended, most of the participants were only at the mid-point of the forgiveness scale. In other words, they began to forgive, accomplished it to some degree, but certainly had not completely forgiven. Yet, their depression left and their self-esteem rose. Forgiving to a degree, but not perfectly, made all the difference in their emotional health (see Freedman and Enright, 1996).
Third, as you forgive, try to see the humanity in your boyfriend. Is he more than the cheating behavior? If so, in what ways? Does he possess what we call “inherent worth,” or unconditional value as a person, not because of what he did, but in spite of this? Do you share a common humanity with him in that both of you are special, unique, and irreplaceable because you are human? This is not done to excuse his behavior. Instead, it is a thought-exercise to see both his humanity and yours.
Fourth, are you willing to bear the pain of the cheating so that you do not pass it on to your brother or sister, to your classmates or co-workers, or even to your boyfriend himself? Bearing the pain shows you that you are strong, in fact, stronger than the cheating and its effects on you.
Fifth, as you forgive, bring justice alongside the forgiving. In other words, ask something of him. What is his view of fidelity? Does he need some counseling help to deal with a weakness of commitment? Does he show remorse and a willingness to change? If so, what is your evidence for this? You need not unconditionally trust him right away. Trust can be earned a little at a time, but be sure not to use this issue of “earned trust” as a weapon or punishment against him. Allow him to redeem himself as he shows you he can be trusted.
Sixth, and finally, know that there is a difference between forgiving and reconciling. If he does not deeply value you as a person, if his actions show self-centeredness, and if this seems like a pattern that he is not willing to change, then you can forgive and not reconcile. Forgiving in this case may not give you this relationship that you had desired, but it will free you of deep resentment and allow you to be ready for a more genuine relationship in which you are open to the true affection and care of another.
Forgiveness is hard work. It takes time because it occurs in the face of great pain. If you choose to try it, then forgiving is worth the effort to do the important rehabilitation of your heart. Posted inPsychology TodayMarch 18, 2018
Forgiveness within psychology is relatively new, having emerged as a research focus in the later 1980’s (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Over the next three decades, a host of studies have emerged within the mental health professions showing that Forgiveness Therapy is beneficial for the client, for the one who forgives (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade et al., 2014). We have to be careful with these findings primarily because a false conclusion could emerge: Forgiveness is only for, or primarily for, the one who forgives; it has little to do with the one forgiven. This, actually, does not seem to be the case. A reflection on what forgiveness accomplishes, its purpose or goal, suggests at least 8 purposes to forgiving.
What does it mean to forgive? Although there may be different behaviors across the wide variety of cultures to express forgiveness, in its universal essence, forgiveness can be defined as a moral virtue, centered on goodness, that occurs in the context of being treated unfairly by others. The one who then chooses to forgive deliberately tries to eliminate resentment and to offer goodness of some kind toward the offending person, whether this is kindness, respect, generosity, or even love.
The one who forgives does not automatically go back into a dangerous relationship. The forgiver can forgive and then not reconcile. The forgiver does not excuse the unfair behavior but offers goodness in the face of the unfairness. The forgiver should not think in “either/or” terms, either forgiving and abandoning a quest for justice, or seeking justice alone without forgiving. The two moral virtues of forgiveness and justice can and should be applied together.
With this understanding in place, here are at least 8 reasons to forgive. Which of these are in your conscious awareness when you offer this virtue to those who have wronged you? .
When I forgive, I do so:
1. to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.
2. to repair relationships as it helps me to see the other’s worth.
3. to grow in character because it can help me to become a better person.
4. to be of assistance, within reason, toward the one who acted unjustly. Forgiveness extends the hand of friendship even though the other may reject this. .
5. to help me to assist other family members to see that forgiveness is a path to peace. Forgiveness for peace, in other words, can be passed through the generations.
6. to motivate me to contribute to a better world as anger does not dominate.
7. to help me to more consistently live out my own philosophy of life or faith tradition if that worldview honors forgiveness.
8. to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to my offer of forgiving.
To forgive is to exercise goodness even toward those who are not good to you. Forgiveness is perhaps the most heroic of all of the moral virtues (such as justice, patience, and kindness, for example). I say it is heroic because which other moral virtue concerns the offer of goodness, through one’s own pain, toward the one who caused that pain? Do you see this—the heroic nature of forgiving—as you extend it to others?
Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004). Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
Enright, R. D., Santos, M., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989). The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95-110.
Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.