Researchers in Spain have just completed a cyberbullying study with 1,665 secondary school students that not only indicates “forgiveness is a protective factor that can act to break the cycle of violence and improve general health” but that “anticyberbullying interventions need to focus on promoting forgiveness in adolescents.”
The study is titled “Forgiveness and cyberbullying in adolescence: Does willingness to forgive help minimize the risk of becoming a cyberbully?” It was conducted by psychology professors at the University of Malaga on the southern coast of Spain and was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (Vol. 81).
According to the study, adolescents who are subject to cyberbullying (the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature), feel a variety of negative emotions such as shame, anger, guilt, and helplessness. Those feelings often lead the victims to “bully back” so as to defend themselves or to exact revenge and those behaviors can negatively impact adolescent adjustment.
Consistent with that line of reasoning, the study’s authors say that the strongest predictor of engaging in cyberbullying is being a previous victim of bullying or cyberbullying. When a victim of bullying and/or cyberbullying turns into a bully, the cycle of violence promulgates itself.
According to the study, however, ” forgiveness is a protective factor that can act to break the cycle of violence and improve general health.” Further, because “forgiveness is a strength that involves the reduction of negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and an increase in more positive feelings, forgiveness can be an effective resource for ameliorating the aggressive states associated with being victimized, and reducing negative reactions to other people’s behavior.”
The authors add that their findings “conﬁrm that lower levels of forgiveness (in students) can represent a risk for cyberbullying aggression. In addition, forgiveness appears to be a key element for addressing the limitations of traditional anti-bullying programs and for helping victims overcome interpersonal transgressions.”
Students in the study (825 males and 840 females) were in 7th to 12th grades, ranged in age from 11 to 20 years (with a mean age of 14.1 years), and attended six different public schools in Malaga, Spain. The researchers were Lourdes Rey and Cirenia Quintana-Ort.
“One promising personal resource that seems to protect individuals after interpersonal transgressions is forgiveness.”
In the study’s conclusion, the authors contend that: 1) applying forgiveness interventions may help reduce the likelihood that one will turn into a bully, even after being cyberbullied oneself; 2) that forgiveness could be used as an important adjunct to current approaches for reducing cyberbullying aggression; and, 3) that it would be useful to include evidence-based interventions on forgiveness in the field of anti-bullying interventions.
None of that comes as a surprise to Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), who developed The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program seven years ago in 2012–the year Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast and the year US President Barack Obama was re-elected to his second term.
“It has always been our contention that bullying starts from within, as anger, and comes out as displaced anger onto the victim,” Dr. Enright says, acknowledging that he has long known what the Spain study disclosed. “Forgiveness targets that anger and then reduces it, thus reducing or eliminating the displaced anger which comes out as bullying.”
Because Dr. Enright wants to share this program and its positive benefits with as many teachers, counselors and parents as possible, the IFI is making the Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program available at no cost. Click here to get your free copy.
LEARN MORE ON THE IFI WEBSITE: