A Quarter-Century of Forgiveness Research. . .

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI – Upon Dr. Robert Enright’s recent return from Israel where he organized and conducted the first-ever, two-day Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, he was interviewed by reporter McKenna Oxenden for a lengthy article that appeared in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel. Here’s a snippet from the article:

Researching, analyzing and coaching forgiveness was considered radical; the idea was met with resistance, even anger. But Enright forged ahead, and is now considered a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness, which claims thousands of researchers worldwide.

Enright’s work is in the spotlight more than ever because he focuses on issues that seem to have taken center stage in our culture: bullying and gender-based violence; poverty and trauma, particularly among children; entire groups that feel marginalized or mistreated.

He’s trying to turn around the perception that forgiveness is somehow equated with weakness, and get people to see it as a virtue — an active virtue — like compassion or patience. He’s also trying to show that in the long run, it’s a better answer than: I will never forgive; I will fight and overpower.

Read the entire article: Is there a better response to injustice? Pioneering UW professor teaches forgiveness

“The Forgiveness Trailblazer” Kicks off Theology Retreat Series on August 19

Robert Enright, Ph.D. Dubbed “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time Magazine, will lead an inspiring retreat next month titled “Forgiveness and the Journey of Healing.”
Dr. Robert Enright

Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ; July 19, 2017, by Christine Aromando – How can forgiveness lead us to healing and transformation? Why is it important to forgive, even when we find it impossible? Some would say there is no one more qualified to speak on this topic than Robert Enright, Ph.D. Dubbed “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time Magazine, Enright will lead an inspiring retreat next month titled “Forgiveness and the Journey of Healing.” The event will take place on Saturday, August 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Paul Inside the Walls Catholic Evangelization Center in Madison, New Jersey. The registration fee is $15, which includes a continental breakfast. Pre-registration is required; to register, please contact Theresa Miller at (973) 761-9575 or theresa.miller@shu.edu.
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Enright’s retreat will explore the psychology of forgiveness and the journey that one is called to take in order to achieve healing and transformation. He teaches that giving the gift of forgiveness allows healing to become possible for everyone involved, emphasizing that it is important to forgive even if we feel the person who has offended us is not worthy of that forgiveness. He also teaches that peace results from forgiving others, and this peace is necessary for our true healing and transformation.
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This retreat is the first of seven that will be held monthly through February as part of a series titled “70×7: Faith, Family and Forgiveness, Part IV,” sponsored by Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology. Since the School concluded its last series on forgiveness in December 2016, having offered nearly 30 presentations on the topic over the past few years, the School continues to receive requests for similar presentations. “There is such a hunger for forgiveness, a deep desire for reconciliation and healing,” says Associate Dean Dianne Traflet, J.D., S.T.D. “We thus are highly motivated to continue this work and offer a new series that will help those who are wounded and struggling with forgiveness to journey even deeper into the mystery and power of God’s mercy.”

Robert Enright is the cofounder of the International Forgiveness Institute and an educational psychologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The pioneer of the scientific study of forgiveness, he is the author or editor of seven books and over 100 publications centered on social development and the psychology of forgiveness. His most recent book is 8 Keys to Forgiveness.

Founded in 1861, Immaculate Conception Seminary is a House of Formation for the Roman Catholic priesthood and the School of Theology of Seton Hall University. As a House of Formation, the Seminary offers men preparing for the priesthood the personal, academic, ministerial and spiritual formation essential for their conversion to Jesus Christ and for their commitment to a life of service to the Church.

As a School of Theology, the Seminary provides a theological and philosophical foundation for men and women pursuing undergraduate studies, a theological foundation and a pastoral and spiritual formation for men and women preparing for ministries among the people of God, a theological foundation for men and women desiring to pursue doctoral studies, and varied opportunities for continuing theological education.

Read More: “The Forgiveness Trailblazer” Kicks off Theology Retreat Series in August

The Therapeutic Power of Forgiveness

This article first appeared on July 6, 2017, in The Delta Discovery, a Native-owned and operated weekly publication of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska . It was written by Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel, Alaska.


Question: I was sexually abused as a child. I don’t think I can ever forgive the man who abused me. My husband berates me because he says I don’t give him enough affection. He says I am angry. I think he’s angry. My world is falling apart. Is there any hope for me?

There is hope, and the hope is in something called forgiveness. That may sound more theological than psychological, but it is a topic of research in psychology that has been studied for more than thirty-five years by Dr. Robert Enright and the Human Development Study Group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Results from many peer-reviewed studies indicate that Forgiveness Therapy is more efficacious than alternative therapies in addressing issues related to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Also, injuries and injustices that have occurred in marital relationships can be addressed through the same process, using the same model.

Before you stop reading this article and write forgiveness off as quackery, let me explain; Forgiveness Therapy is significantly more than simply saying, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness Therapy entails four phases: UncoveringDecisionWork, and Deepening. I will attempt to provide an overview of each phase, but I must caution, it is not a matter of step 1, 2, 3, 4, and then you are well. Therapy takes time, it is hard work and often painful, but worthwhile.

Instead of using the word “Abuse” as the precipitating event, I am choosing to use words like “Injury,” or “Injustice,” which may broaden the usefulness of the model. Also, for ease in reading, I am using the term client as the one in therapy who experienced an injury or injustice.

During the Uncovering Phase, the client gains insight into whether and how the injustice experienced has compromised his or her life. As a result of the trauma, the injured person may have begun to rely on unhealthy defense mechanisms to cope. During the Uncovering Phase, it is necessary to discover and examine those psychological defenses and the issues involved in the client’s current cognitive and emotional state. The goal will be to confront and release the anger, rather than harboring it.

When appropriate, the client may need to admit shame that was experienced as a result of the injustice. At some point, the client will likely become aware of his or her depleted state of emotional energy and the time spent mentally rehearsing the injustice. It is possible that because of the trauma, the client may feel the world is unsafe, and therefore, be unable to trust anyone. During this phase the client may discover that even though he or she was hurt, it doesn’t mean that everyone is untrustworthy.

Moving on to the Decision phase, the client recognizes that old strategies have not worked. During this phase, the client considers forgiveness as an option, and makes a decision to commit to forgiving on the basis of this newly acquired understanding. Again, I emphasize that this is not a matter of casually saying, “I forgive you,” and sweeping the injustice under the rug. Forgiveness becomes a conscious choice from a position of empowerment.

During the Work phase the client gains a mental understanding of the offender. In other words, the wrongdoer is viewed in context. For example, maybe the perpetrator was also a victim. This can result in a positive change in affect toward the offender, toward self, and about the relationship. Because of being able to view the event in context, it may be possible to experience empathy and compassion toward the offender. The client eventually reaches a point of accepting and bearing the pain of the offense. At that point the moral gift of forgiveness can be given to the offender. That does not mean that contact has to be made with the offender. In some instances, the offender may no longer be living, or it may not be in the best interest of anyone to make the contact. But forgiveness can be offered as a gift.

Finally, during the Deepening phase, the client discovers meaning in the suffering, feels more connected with others, experiences decreased negative affect, and may experience a renewed purpose in life. During this phase, the client comes to accept that he or she also has needed forgiveness from others in the past. The person gains insight that he or she is not the only one who has experienced similar pain or suffering. Also, there may come a realization that a new purpose in life may develop as a result of the injury. During this phase, a reduction in negative affect and an increase in positive affect toward the offender may occur. If this happens the client is likely to experience an awareness of an internal emotional release.

Unfortunately, there is not an organized Forgiveness Therapy group in Bethel. But, I would encourage anyone who has an interest in this topic to purchase one of Dr. Enright’s books on the topic. I would suggest beginning with Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, and can be purchased at most bookstores or at Amazon.com.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel, Alaska. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to realnews@deltadiscovery.com. You can also access the Ask Dr. Forgiveness feature on this website with your forgiveness-related questions.

Why Kids Need to Learn How to Forgive

GreatSchools, Oakland, California, USA–Learning how to forgive helps children feel better about themselves and those around them, improves academic performance, and enhances their physical well-being.

That’s a summary of the scientific review presented in March by GreatSchools, an organization that “helps parents to unlock educational opportunities for their child.” The review, called “Why teach kids to forgive?” is subtitled: “Peacemakers, poets, and researchers agree: forgiveness heals hurts and is good for the forgiver.”

“Research has associated not-forgiving with depression, anxiety, and hostility,” according to GreatSchools. “Multiple studies find a higher rate of compromised immune systems and heart problems in adults who hold grudges. Conversely, children and adults who are able to let go of angry feelings when they’ve been wronged experience greater psychological well-being.


“When a child feels lingering anger and hurt, forgiving is what will help them recover—from that hurt, and maybe others as well.” – Great Schools


In part, the GreatSchools review was based on the work of Dr. Robert Enright, the University of Wisconsin psychology professor and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. During Dr. Enright’s 30+ years of forgiveness research, he has developed a system of Curriculum Guides for children in grades K-4 through 12th grade that teaches them forgiveness and how to integrate it into their lives.

GreatSchools, for example, cites an Enright study of 6- to 9-year olds in Belfast which found that students who learned to forgive reduced their anger in general toward everyone, not just toward the person who harmed them.

“Children who learn how to forgive also gain an edge academically, and the reason may be as simple as having more energy available to focus on constructive pursuits,” according to GreatSchools. “Their brains aren’t fuming, recounting the hurt, and plotting revenge; instead, they’ve got a clean slate where they can organize information and think creatively.”

In another Enright study, this one at the middle school level, students showed measured improvement in written English, math, and social studies; in their attitude toward school and their teachers; and in their relationships with their parents and other kids.

Editor’s Note: The GreatSchools review was conducted by Hank Pellissier, the founder/director of the Brighter Brains Institute.

Read more:
Why teach kids to forgive? – GreatSchools
♥ Why Kids Need to Learn How to Forgive – Greater Good
♥ Dr. Enright’s Research on the Benefits of Forgiveness – International Forgiveness Institute

How to Live a Peaceful and Purposeful Life

Jamaica Observer, Kingston, Jamaica, W.I. – An unforgiving attitude can cause anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia, and physical pain. 

Those are the conclusions of a major research project entitled “Effects of lifetime stress exposure on mental and physical health in young adulthood: How stress degrades and forgiveness protects health. A summary of the study was published in 2014 in the Journal of Health Psychology.

The researchers discovered that in those persons who exhibited the character trait of being highly forgiving, of both themselves and others, the connection between stress and mental illness was almost eliminated.

“When you forgive someone who has hurt you, you are literally taking back control of your life, and that simple yet difficult act delivers some positive pay-offs such as improved self-esteem, less anger, anxiety, and depression,” according to Dr. Jacqueline Campbell, a family physician who wrote the article for the Jamaica Observer. “Anger is a valuable emotion in that it can aid us in defining our personal boundaries; however, long-term and/or unresolved anger can literally burn out the body and soul.”

The undeniable conclusion, Dr. Campbell says, is that forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of living a peaceful and purposeful life.

The study researchers, all psychology professors from three different US universities, relied in part for their findings on Dr. Robert Enright’s book Exploring Forgiveness that he compiled together with Joanna North.

Read more: “Forgive them” in the Jamaica Observer.

Why Resentment Lasts—and How to Defeat It

robert-enright 3Editor’s Note: As a regular blog contributor to the online version of Psychology Today, Dr. Robert Enright (founder of the International Forgiveness Institute) has repeatedly received special recognition for his posts. Yesterday, his latest blog was given “Essential Topic” status meaning that it receives prominent placement on their website along with being featured on the first page of blog topics like“Education” and “Therapy.” Here is that blog:
Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today

“I resent that!”  Philosophers have made the case that such statements are good (MacLachlan, 2010).  It shows that you respect yourself and will not let others take advantage of you.  Resentment shows that you are a person of moral character who knows right from wrong and therefore knows when wrong is done against you.  In contrast, psychologists can get worried about resentment because they mean something different.
Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
Source: Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
 To psychologists, resentment over a long period of time can be an unhealthy response to injustice, sometimes an injustice that won’t quit such as continual demeaning comments from a partner or the unreasonable demands of a boss who just doesn’t “get it.”  Resentment in cases like these represents a development in one’s anger from mild to deeper…….and it lingers. This kind of resentment can lead to unhappiness, continual irritability, and psychological compromise including excessive anxiety and depression (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Let us keep the philosopher’s resentment and let us banish the other.

Yet, the psychologist’s kind of resentment all too often is not a polite guest.  It seems to never know when to leave.  In fact, if left unchecked it can take over the psychological house within you.  Why is this?  Consider three reasons.

First, we have all felt the initial euphoria created by a response of courage after another’s offense.  We will stand up for ourselves.  We will resist.  Resentment can give you a feeling not only of euphoria but also of strength.  Nurturing such a rewarding feeling can become a habit.  I know of one person who, upon having his morning cup of coffee, would replay the injustice and feel the inner strength as a way of getting ready for the day.  He did this until he realized that over the long-term, such a routine was leaving him drained before he even left for work.  His temporary adrenaline rush was turning on him.  This is a case of positive reinforcement for something that shows itself in the long run not to be so positive.

Second, once we realize that our short-term euphoria is turning against us, we just don’t know how to get the resentment to leave.  How do I turn off the resentment?  What path do I take to have some inner quiet?  Taking up jogging might do it……but once you have recovered your energy from the run, the anger returns.  How about relaxation training?  Same issue: once the muscle relaxation is over, there is the resentment with its perverse smile looking back at you.  “I just don’t know how to rid myself of the resentment!” is a cry I hear too often.


“Resentment could linger for the rest of your life unless you confront it.”


Third, and this is the most sinister of all, resentment can become a part of your identity, a part of who you are as a person.  You move from showing resentful behavior to being a resentful person and there is a large difference between the two. Once you start saying that you are a particular kind of person, it sometimes is threatening to change the identity.  So often people will live with an identity—a sense of self, a sense of who one is—that is compromising for them because they are afraid of change.  The familiar is better than the alternative even if the familiar includes pain and unnecessary suffering.

Source: Mimagephotography/Dreamstime.com

So then, what to do about the unwanted guest?  Try these 5 approaches:

  • Try to see the inner world of the one causing the disturbance.  Might he be carrying an extra burden of resentment, perhaps from times past?  Might she be living with bitterness that is spreading to others, including you?  Can you see the woundedness within the person who is wounding you?
  • Commit to doing no harm to the one who is harming you.  This allows for a new kind of inner strength to develop.
  • Stand in the pain so that you do not pass that pain to innocent others.  This, too, can strengthen you.
  • Science has shown on many occasions that there is a resentment-buster in the name of forgiveness (Enright, 2012).  To forgive is a way of offering goodness to the one who gave you the unwanted present of resentment.  Rather than the strength of the clinched fist and jaw, the strength from forgiveness shows that you can soften your heart toward the one who infected your heart. This can bring you inner relief.
  • Finally, be open to your new identity:  I am someone who can stand in the pain.  I am someone who can forgive. I am even someone who can ask resentment to leave……and it leaves.

Which is the better identity: a life lived with an unwanted inner guest or a life free to be a conduit of good toward others and yourself?


Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today
References:
Enright, R.D. (2012).  The Forgiving Life.  Washington, D.C.: APA Books.
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
MacLachlan, A. (2010).  Unreasonable resentments.  Journal of Social Philosophy, 41. 422-441.

Dr. Enright’s Blog Post on Psychology Today Raised to “Essential Topic” Status

Editor’s Note: Just a few weeks ago (Dec. 21, 2016), we announced on this website that Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI, had been selected by two of the nation’s premier blog sites (Psychology Today and Thrive Global) to add his forgiveness expertise as a regular robert-enright 3contributor.
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In January, Psychology Today’s editorial staff promoted Dr. Enright’s blog “Why We Need Forgiveness Education” to “Essential Topic” status meaning that it receives prominent placement on their website along with being featured on the first page of blog topics like“Education” and “Therapy.”
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This week, another of Dr. Enright’s essays was selected as essential reading by Psychology Today. Here is the link to that blog: “Forgiveness: 3 Misconceptions.”