Why You Might Have Low Self-Esteem and How to Cure That

“Believing the lie that you are less than you are must be seen and resisted.”

Too often when I work with people in Forgiveness Therapy, I see a familiar pattern.  First, the person has been treated badly by others.  If this has been severe or has occurred over a long period of time, then theInternational Forgiveness Institute, Inc. person begins slowly to incorporate the other’s views into the self.  Eventually, this can become so entrenched inside of people that this lie about who they are becomes part of their identityOnce it is part of their identity, then it is hard to change.  In fact, people can become resistant to change because, after all, this is their identity.  It is who they think they are.  They would rather have a broken identity than to set out on a course of change that is unknown and scary.  Staying with brokenness is easier sometimes than confronting the anxiety of transformation.

And yet, that change is possible and welcomed when the new view of self is more wholesome, more true.  It is worth the initial anxiety to be free of the broken identity which could last for the rest of a person’s life.

Here is how to get started in transforming your self-esteem after you have been treated badly by others:

1)  Stand with courage in the truth: “I was wronged.”  If none of this is your fault, say that to yourself: “This is not my doing.  I did not bring this on myself.”

2)  Stand further in the truth: “Even though this person may have a bad view of me, I refuse to share that view of myself with this person.”  Resist the lie.

3)  As you stand in the truth, be aware of your strength in doing so: “I am enduring what I did not deserve.  I am stronger than I thought.”

4)  Commit to doing no harm to the one who harmed you.  As you do that, reflect on who you are: “I am someone who can endure pain and not return pain to the other.”

5)  Finally, conclude in the truth: “I will not be defined by the injustices against me.  I am more than this. I am someone who endures pain and is a conduit for good to others.”

Who are you now?

Posted in Psychology Today May 09, 2017


 

Forgiveness: 3 Misconceptions

When I began 30 years ago to apply social scientific methods to the ancient moral virtue of forgiveness, my students and I ran into a rather large problem.  People were afraid to forgive.  When we probed this fear, we began to realize a common theme across the fearful.  They equated forgiving with automatically and dutifully going back into abusive situations.  “My spouse denigrates me.  If I forgive, then I go back for more……but I do not want to go back for more.  Thus, I will not forgive.”

It took us a while, but eventually we saw that to forgive is not the same as to reconcile.  Forgiveness, as with justice and patience and kindness, is a virtue, originating inside people as an insight (I can be good to those who are not good to me) and as a feeling of  empathy and compassion for the offending other, not because of the offense but in spite of it.  Forgiving behaviors flow from the insight and compassion.

Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a behavioral negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust.  You can forgive and not trust a person in their weak areas (you do not lend money to the compulsive gambler even though you can try to be good to the person in other ways as a sign of forgiving).  You can forgive and not reconcile at all if the other remains abusive.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.  This insight opened the door for social scientific work on forgiveness for us because to forgive is not to create unsafe situations for the forgiver.

We now turn to two, what I call, Modern Misconceptions, the latest critiques of forgiveness, particularly Forgiveness Therapy, a new form of psychotherapy which emerged from the research journey begun three decades ago (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).  These Modern Misconceptions are quite different from the early misconception because they target forgiveness itself—not fear—and are highly critical of this potentially life-changing virtue, even if practiced well and with patience.

Modern Misconception 1 goes something like this:  You who advocate for Forgiveness Therapy or Forgiveness Education with students (Enright, Rhody, Litts, & Klatt, 2014) ask way too much of forgivers.  You ask them to bear the burden of their own healing and that is not fair.  They already have been hurt so why ask them now to struggle after forgiveness?

Two burdens are theirs: the original offense and now Forgiveness Therapy.  Yet, as with the equating of forgiveness with reconciliation, this Modern Misconception has an error embedded within it.  It is not at all an added and unnecessary burden to help a person, whose heart is broken, to forgive.

Take a physical analogy to make the point clear.  Suppose James pushes Jeremy to the ground, dislocating his shoulder.  Is it unwise now to ask Jeremy to enter into a rehabilitation process to repair the shoulder?  Is it an added burden we should never ask because he is hurting?  It would seem that the unfairness lies, not in the encouraging of medical treatment, but the reverse—discouraging it because it will be rigorous and painful.

Is it not the same with Forgiveness Therapy for those who choose it?  The heart is broken, yes, because of the original unfairness.  If the person chooses rehab of the heart—Forgiveness Therapy—isn’t this repair good even though rigorous and painful?  The Modern Misconception might keep people from rehab of the heart and so it needs to be challenged.

 Worldwide Land Disputesfrom" from Enterprise Land Surveying website
Modern Misconception 2 has emerged from my giving 13 invited forgiveness talks in an area of the world plagued by a land dispute that is disrupting individual, family, community, and political peace.  The misconception unfolds this way:  You say that forgiveness is good, but how will it get my land back?  It will not get my land back.  Therefore, forgiveness is weak and ineffective.  I will have nothing to do with it.

My response is to give a multiple choice question to the skeptic.  Which of these two would you rather have:

  1. You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you also live with a deep anger that disrupts your inner life and the life of those around you; or,
  2. You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you are free of the deep anger that disrupts you, your loved ones, and your community?

Which do you choose?  In every case across the 13 lectures, the skeptic ends up choosing answer (B), living without the debilitating  resentment.  It is at that point that the person is willing to explore the subtleties of forgiveness without dismissing it.  Such exploration could, in the long run, save lives from psychological devastation.  The error in Modern Misconception 2 occurs when the person focuses exclusively on the original problem (land dispute) without even realizing that a second, just as serious, problem has emerged because of the land dispute—resentment entrenched in the heart.  Forgiveness can cure this second problem while not being able to solve the original problem.  Without seeing this, the person rejects forgiveness as weak.

Misconceptions…..they can drive a person away from forgiveness or become a stimulus for more thoroughly exploring what forgiveness has to offer.  Left unexplored, the Modern Misconceptions could leave some people without a path of healing that could have been theirs……if only they had explored more deeply.

Posted in Psychology Today February 18, 2017


References:

  • Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015).  Forgiveness therapy.  Washington, DC: APA Books.
  • Enright, R.D. , Rhody, M., Litts, B., & Klatt. J.S. (2014). Piloting forgiveness education in a divided community: Comparing electronic pen-pal and journaling activities across two groups of youth. Journal of Moral Education, 43, 1-17.

How Does Forgiveness Differ from Ghandi’s Nonviolent Resistance?

I heard a talk recently in which– it was stated that Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent resistance to injustice is equivalent to forgiving.  The point is that forgiveness is not passive but stands up to evil in a merciful way.  While there are some convergences between nonviolent resistance and forgiveness, I think that they are in essence different.  Here are at least three ways in which they are not the same:

First, Ghandi’s approach, as well the approach of others who followed, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., is centered on a quest for justice.  They want an unfair situation changed.  Thus, nonviolent resistance in its essence is a justice strategy, as is the call for negotiation, dialogue, arms limitation, and other approaches of seeking fairness.

In contrast, forgiveness in its essence is a moral virtue centered in mercy and love.  The primary goal of forgiveness is not the seeking of fairness, but instead to unconditionally love another or others, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this.  To be fair to forgiveness, it is not the case that forgiveness abandons the quest for justice.  Instead, people can and should bring justice alongside forgiving.  When they do so, we must be clear that the offer of forgiving is different from the request for a fair solution.

Second, when a person or group practices nonviolent resistance, forgiveness likely would aid this strategy because it quells resentment which could spill over to hatred and actions of hatred which would destroy the nonviolent strategy.  Forgiveness in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one.  Justice-seeking is the primary issue.  In contrast, justice-seeking is an aid to forgiving so that the forgiver does not become weak or even abused by others’ continual injustices. Justice in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one.  Unconditional love toward an offending person is the primary issue.

Third, while the virtue of love may be at the center of non-violent resistance, and certainly was the case for Martin Luther King, Jr. as seen in his soaring volume, Strength to Love, it need not be at the center for all who practice the nonviolence.  Perseverance might be the center for some, justice-seeking no matter what the consequence may be at the center for others, while loving one’s enemy may take center-stage for others.  The action itself (nonviolence) and keeping one’s eye on the goal (social change) can lead to different virtues dominating a given person’s thinking and acting.  In contrast, the virtue of love is always at the center of forgiving even if the forgiver never reaches this depth of understanding and practicing forgiving.

Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share the following in common:

First, each is unconditional in that, no matter what the other does to thwart the practice, the forgiver and the nonviolent resister stand firm in their decision to either forgive or resist.  The others’ blows to the head did not deter Gandhi.  The other’s refusal to apologize or make restitution does not deter the forgiver, who may or may not reconcile depending on the degree of unfairness and the extent of any abuse.  The forgiver stands unconditionally in the offer of goodness toward those who are not being good to the forgiver.

Second, both have moral virtue at their center.

Third, each can effect social change as the one forgiven, for example, now sees the injustice, feels remorse, repents, and changes.  Nonviolent resistance historically has been shown to effect such change as the consciences of the powerful can be deeply affected as they continue their unjust ways in the face of the others’ peace.

Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share commonalities, but they are not the same.  We need clarity when engaging in each so that they move forward well and with a deep understanding about what the forgiver or resister actually is doing.

Robert

Criticisms of Forgiveness: Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Offender

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.

We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.

Robert

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Coerced Forgiveness

I recently read an article by an abused person who seemed angry at forgiveness itself. The person talked of a cultural demand for forgiving an abusive person. This put pressure on the one abused. The culture of forgiving, as it was called, seemed to create a sense of superiority in those who forgive in contrast to those who refuse to forgive. Further, the person seemed angry because this cultural demand for forgiving was creating a sense of entitlement for the abuser, an entitlement that forgiveness be granted.

My heart goes out to this person who now must live with a horrible action perpetrated. No one deserves this.

At the same time, forgiveness itself deserves accuracy. If forgiveness is to be criticized, it is my fervent hope that the criticism comes from a place of truth about forgiveness’s flaws, and not from a position of error.

I think there are errors in the criticism of forgiveness which I would like to correct here and I do not want to be misunderstood. By this essay, I am not saying that the person should forgive. I am not saying that this person is inferior. I am saying that forgiveness should not be dishonored because someone does not want to avail themselves of that forgiveness.

So, please allow me three points:

1. People who forgive rarely feel superior based on my own experience talking with those who have forgiven. The path of forgiveness is strewn with struggle and tears. After walking such a path, a person can feel relief, but it is difficult to feel superior as the person wipes off the emotional stress and strain from that journey. If a person happens to feel superior, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness itself is innocent.

2. Anyone who demands that others forgive is creating the pressure. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating it. Forgiveness is seen in philosophy as a supererogatory virtue, not demanded, but given if and only if the person wishes to do so. A supererogatory virtue does not make demands, even if people do demand.

3. Some who perpetrate injustice do play the forgiveness card and tell the victim that without forgiving, then the victim is a hypocrite.  “Sure, you talk of forgiveness, but then you do not forgive me,” the story goes. This is a power-play by the one who perpetrated the injustice and should be recognized as such. Again, as in points 1 and 2, the fault is with particular people, in this case those who act unjustly. It is not the fault of forgiveness itself.

Forgiveness can be given a black eye by people, those who misunderstand. My client, forgiveness, is innocent and I ask the court to dismiss the charges against it.

Robert

 

On Being Treated Unfairly: Don’t Let Them Win Twice!

So often when I talk with people who have suffered severe injustices, they are not ready to forgive.  This is a normal reaction because a time of anger and adjustment to what happened is important.  Forgiveness never should be rushed or pushed onto anyone.  To the injured does the decision to forgive belong.
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Within the past few weeks, I was talking with a teenager who lives under very trying circumstances.  He lives on the West Coast of the United States.  He has a history of violence against others because “this is the way you survive,” he told me.  “Forgiveness is a sign of weakness,” he added.  “You just can’t imagine what my family would say if I came home and proclaimed that I am forgiving those who hurt me.  They would get a big laugh out of this.”
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Yet, his strategies are not necessarily working for him.  He is in a special program and could be expelled from his school and even from his school district.  Three of his relatives are in maximum security prison.  I hope we can keep him from following them.
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Dr. Robert Enright

What strikes me in particular about this young man is his apparent kindness.  He does not have angry eyes.  He talks in a respectful way to me.  We are engaged in a conversation, not engaged in a battle of wills.  He wants to learn more about forgiveness, but he knows he could pay a dear price for practicing it, especially if his family and peers begin to mock him.

“You can forgive and not tell anyone you did this, not even the one who hut you,” I said.  “Those you forgive will know by how you respond to them, by how you are civil to them.  You do not have to use the word, ‘forgive.’”

“I need my anger,” was his studied response.

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song
“Don’t let them win twice!” I said to him.  “You have been hurt by others’ actions.  Now you are carrying around the **effects** of those injustices against you.  In your hurt, you are hurting others.  In your hurt, you are being told over and over that you are the one who needs rehabilitation.  You are the one being stereotyped.”
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He looked at me with insightful eyes.  He wanted to learn more.
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“Yes, you have been hurt by others.  Now you are hurting others.  You are even hurting yourself by your actions. Do you see how those who hurt you at first are hurting you again?  They may not be present to you, but they are inside of you, disrupting you, angering you, causing you pain and causing you to give pain to others.”

“They have hurt me twice,” was his insight.  He got it.

“The key now is to deliberately commit to do no harm to those who have injured you. Another key now is to deliberately commit to do no harm to others.  Don’t let your pain become others’ pain.  When you do that, those who have hurt you win again.  Those who originally hurt you win twice.”

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song
I added: “When you forgive, you do not throw justice out the window.  When people hurt you, try to exercise both justice and forgiveness together.  And justice is very different from revenge.  When you seek revenge, you are letting the other win as you come to the attention of authorities, when you are punished…..again.”
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“They have hurt me enough.  They will not win again.”
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And with that he committed to working on his own anger…..so that “the bad guys” don’t have a chance to win a second time.  We shook hands.  We have a mutual respect for each other as persons.

Forgiveness Stops the Hurt So the “Bad Guys” Don’t Defeat You


How about you?  Have others hurt you?  Are you allowing them to win again?

Forgiving allows you to win for a change.

Posted Nov 11, 2017

 

Does Forgiveness Victimize the Victim?

In the latest round of false criticism against the moral virtue of forgiveness, we find this: Forgiveness places an extra burden on victims because they already are burdened by injustice.  Now asking them to forgive or even assisting them in forgiveness adds a new challenge, a new burden and this is unfair.  Leave the victim alone, is the advice.

Let us examine this claim of a new unfair burden in forgiving.  Suppose that Person A deliberately hits Person B’s knee with a baseball bat, breaking the knee.  Person B has a burden: the broken knee and the resentment toward Person A.

If Person B now wishes to take seriously the responsibility for physical healing, should this person now go to the emergency room and endure the bright lights and the MRI and the surgery and the physical rehab?  Or, would this be too much of an added burden for Person B.  Perhaps it is unfair to encourage Person B to seek medical help……if we follow the logic of the forgiveness criticism.

Yet, this added burden of medical care, which can be a challenge, is hardly a burden relative to living with a broken knee that may not heal well with the resultant pain and limp that may last indefinitely.  The “burden” of healing is not nearly as troublesome as the burden of neglect of the injury.

Now let us turn back to the argument against forgiveness.  Let us even stay with the baseball bat incident.  Person B not only has a broken knee, but now also a broken heart from the shocking and unexpected incident.

Is it a burden to assist this person in healing the broken heart?  Should we just let the victim be?  Should we just let the victim live with the broken heart…..perhaps for the rest of the person’s life?

Do you see how this latest criticism against forgiveness is false?  Do you see how the major problem is the error in thinking by the critics and not in forgiveness itself?

When a person is morally injured, it seems to be charitable to offer healing.  Yes, healing can be challenging, but ignoring healing can be much worse.

Robert