We considered eight principles when devising forgiveness education:
The learning should take place in a non-stressful environment, such as a family setting or a classroom. .
What is discussed initially does not center personally on the child but instead on story characters. The child sees first that story characters have conflicts. Next, the child sees that there are many ways to solve and deal with conflicts and that forgiveness is one of those ways. Next, the child sees that forgiveness does not directly solve a situation of injustice. Instead, forgiveness is one way of dealing with the consequences of injustice. .
Once a child understands what forgiveness is and what it is not and understands the nature of interpersonal conflict (when one person acts badly, others can be hurt), he or she is ready to explore the pathway of forgiveness, the “how to” of forgiveness. This, again, is best taught by having the child first see others (story characters) go through forgiveness as a way to model it. .
Then it is time for a child to start trying to forgive someone for a real offense against the child. This is best accomplished initially by choosing a small offense (e.g., being pushed on the playground) and only later building up to more serious injustices. .
As children learn about forgiveness, the instruction should be developmental.
By this we mean that at first the child can see a story character forgiving one other story character for one offense. Then the child should begin to reason that if a story character can forgive one person for one offense, maybe that story character can forgive that same other person again and again, learning to generalize forgiveness across situations. .
Next in the developmental sequence, the child learns that the generalization can occur across divergent other people so that he or she can forgive a variety of people for a variety of offenses. .
Then in adolescence comes the more mature idea that “I can be a
forgiving person.” In other words, forgiveness is not just something that one does in a behavioral sense, but instead forgiveness can go beyond actions to an internalized response that is part of the self, part of one’s identity as a person. It is here that the desire to forgive becomes more stable and enthusiasm for this moral virtue begins to develop. It is what Aristotle called “the love of the virtues.” .
Finally, the developmental pathway leads to a motivation of giving forgiveness away to other people in the community. The adolescent, as part of a class assignment, might, for example, consider talking with counselors or families to introduce them to what forgiveness is, how people forgive, and the benefits for self and others when forgiveness is properly understood and practiced.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 4377-4399). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
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.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.; Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
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.
“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times. When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness. Forgiveness and acceptance are different.
When one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense. It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others. Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen. To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened. To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.
Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who have created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event. Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur.
A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person. The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.
While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others. Forgiveness is the active process for this.
Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.
The International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) is a world-wide, not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping people gain knowledge about forgiveness and to use that knowledge for personal, group, and societal renewal.
We believe that forgiveness is a choice. If you have been deeply hurt by another, you can choose to forgive rather than hold on to debilitating anger and resentment. In doing so, an amazing transformation begins. The black clouds of anxiety and depression give way to enhanced self-esteem and genuine feelings of hopefulness. When you forgive, you may benefit the person you forgive. By liberating yourself from the pain and sorrow, you can reclaim your life and find the peace that your anger had stolen.
We are convinced that anyone–individuals, families, communities, even governments–can experience the extraordinary benefits of forgiveness. By learning to forgive and committing to live the forgiving life, we can all help restore healthy emotions, rebuild relationships and establish more peaceful communities around the world.
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.
Recently, I have been hearing people say that forgiveness is transcendence. By this they seem to mean that as people forgive, then the past injustices do not affect them any more. They have risenabove the pain, the anguish, the sadness, and the anger. They have moved on.
If this is all that forgiveness is, then forgiveness is not a moral virtue. A moral virtue, such as justice or patience, is for people. It reaches out to people. It aids and supports people by putting the particular virtue into action and that action points toward people. When I exercise justice, for example, I honor the agreement that is part of a contract into which we both have entered. I am patient by restraining from harsh words when in a long line or when those who are my teammates at work are slowing things down.
Moral virtues are concerned with goodness expressed toward other people.
If forgiveness is part of love—a moral virtue—then it cannot be only about transcending the past because one can transcend that past by being neutral toward those who have been unfair, who were responsible for the hurt. The forgiver need not enter into a direct relationship with the injuring person if he or she continues to cause harm.
Yet, the forgiver wishes the other well, as Lewis Smedes in his 1984 book, Forgive and Forget has said. The forgiver is willing to do good toward the other, if the other changes abusive behavior. Being neutral might be part of the pathway toward forgiving, but it is not its end point.
The end point of forgiving is to express love, as best one can, toward those who have not loved the forgiver. Even if a person cannot develop that love for whatever reason, loving the other nonetheless is the endpoint of true forgiveness. – Robert Enright
Transcending the past might be a consequence of forgiving, but it is not forgiving itself…..if forgiveness is a moral virtue.