Syrian children have watched their parents die or have assisted in carrying out their parents’ bodies.  What would you advise for these children?

We first have to realize that forgiveness belongs to those who rationally conclude that they have been wronged.  Even if others say, “You have no right to forgive because there is no injustice here,” this does not mean that the children now are frozen in their decisions to forgive.  Some, perhaps the majority, of children who have such a traumatic experience, may develop severe resentment.  This resentment could destroy their lives in the future, even in the distant future because the damaging effects of resentment may not be manifested for years.  So, if there is the poison of resentment and if the children, as they grow up, decide to forgive, they should do so.  A question is whether they are able to identify specific people to forgive or whether they will end up forgiving a system and which system that will be.

For additional information, see Healing Hearts, Building Peace.

Forgive — for Your Own Mental Health

Mad In America Foundation, Cambridge, MA – The more forgiving people are, the fewer symptoms of mental disorders they experience, according to a study published in the Journal of Health PsychologyThe researchers suggested that teaching forgiveness, particularly at an early stage in one’s life, may be a valuable mental health early intervention strategy. 

A team of four psychologists led by noted forgiveness researcher Loren Toussaint recruited 148 young adults from a Midwest liberal arts college for the 2014 study.  The team’s analysis essentially confirmed the rationale and methodology being used by Dr. Robert Enright for the past 17 years to teach his Forgiveness Education Programs to children in countries around the world.

The researchers wrote that their findings “show for the first time that forgivingness is a strong, independent predictor of mental and physical health…” Specifically, regardless of the types and levels of stresses the participants reported, the researchers found greater forgiving tendencies linked to fewer negative mental health symptoms. “Forgivingness” is a general tendency to forgive; it does not assess the degree of actual forgiving toward people who acted unjustly. . .

“[W]e found that lifetime stress severity was unrelated to mental health for persons who were highest in forgivingness and most strongly related to poorer mental health for participants exhibiting the lowest levels of forgivingness,” wrote the researchers.

The researchers did not study how or why this correlation may exist, but hypothesized that “forgiving individuals may have a more adaptive or extensive repertoire of coping strategies and that forgivingness may facilitate healthier behaviors in the aftermath of major life stress.”

“To the extent that forgiveness training can promote a more forgiving coping style, then these interventions may help reduce stress-related disease and improve human health. Such interventions may be particularly beneficial when delivered as a prevention strategy in early life, before  individuals are exposed to major adulthood life  stressors,” the researchers concluded.

Students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, learn about forgiveness principles.

Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, began teaching Forgiveness Education 17-years ago in six grade-school classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While that program is still operating in Belfast, the Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright and his associates for students in Pre-School through 12th Grade, are now in use in more than 30 countries around the world including Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria (West Africa), Kenya and Rwanda (Africa), Colombia and Brazil (South America), Israel, Palestine, and Iran (Middle East), China and the Philippines (Asia), Greece and the Czech Republic (Europe), as well as Canada, Mexico and the US. 


Learn more about the study: Effects of lifetime stress exposure on mental and physical health in young adulthood: How stress degrades and forgiveness protects health (Toussaint, Loren et al. Journal of Health Psychology. Published online before print August 19, 2014, doi: 10.1177/1359105314544132).

The Mad in America Foundation is a not-for-profit organization whose “mission is to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States (and abroad). We believe that the current drug-based paradigm of care has failed our society, and that scientific research, as well as the lived experience of those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, calls for profound change.”


Resources on the International Forgiveness Institute website:

My brother was hurt at school by a harsh teacher. He has not forgiven that teacher. Now I am having a hard time forgiving the teacher. Should I wait until my brother forgives before I start the forgiveness process?

It is perfectly legitimate to forgive someone who hurts a family member when you have been hurt by that action.  You need not wait until your brother forgives because you are free to offer forgiveness whenever you are ready.  Your forgiving the teacher may show your brother that it is possible.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

What is your opinion of children who observe their parents fighting all the time. Do you think this observing child might become a bully in school or a difficult partner when an adult?

This depends on what the child, who now is an adult, has learned from what was observed about the parents.  It is possible that the person might gain wisdom from the parents’ fighting and realize that such a pattern is not healthy.  Thus, the person may deliberately commit to not following the parents’ behavior.  In contrast, if the person does not reflect on the potentially destructive pattern, then, yes, the person may grow up to show bullying behaviors in school and to repeat the pattern of a conflictual relationship with a partner.  In other words, insight along with a commitment to not imitate the conflictual behavior might spare the person from repeating the parents’ behavioral pattern.

Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.

Forgiveness Education: Example of the Second-Grade (Primary 4 in Belfast) Curriculum

A 17-lesson curriculum guide was written by a licensed psychologist and a developmental psychologist for the teachers’ use. Each lesson takes approximately 45 minutes or less and each occurs approximately once per week for the entire class.  Additional activities in the guide are provided if a teacher wishes to extend the learning.

In the early years of the program, the teachers were introduced to the ideas of forgiveness and the curricular materials in a workshop directed by the authors of the curriculum or others associated with the project.  We envision other methods as the work expands.  Audios of the workshop, for example, may become available for download.

Forgiveness is taught by the classroom teachers primarily through the medium of story.  Through stories such as Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, Cinderella, Dumbo, and Snow White, the children learn that conflicts arise and that we have a wide range of options to unfair treatment.

The curriculum guide is divided into three parts:

  • First, the teacher introduces certain concepts that underlie forgiveness (the inherent worth of all people, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love), without mentioning the word forgiveness.
  • In Part Two, the children hear stories in which the story characters display instances of inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love (or their opposites of unkindness, disrespect, and stinginess), toward another story character who was unjust.
  • In Part Three, the teacher helps the children, if they choose, to apply the five principles toward a person who has hurt them.

Throughout the implementation of this program, teachers make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts.  The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.  A child does not reconcile with someone who is potentially harmful, for example.  The teachers impress upon the children that the exercises in Part Three of forgiving are not mandatory, but completely optional.

The first-grade curriculum is similar to this one with the exception of the choice of stories.  In first grade, the centerpiece stories are from Dr. Seuss.

Robert


From Enright, R.D., Knutson, J, & Holter, A. (2006).Turning from hatred to community friendship: Forgiveness education in post-accord Belfast” – Presented at the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, November 7, 2006.

The Eight Principles Underlying Forgiveness Education

We considered eight principles when devising forgiveness education:

  1. The learning should take place in a non-stressful environment, such as a family setting or a classroom.
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  2. 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.
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  3. 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.
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  4. 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.
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  5. As children learn about forgiveness, the instruction should be developmental.
    Forgiveness students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    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.
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  6. 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.
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  7. Then in adolescence comes the more mature idea that “I can be a
    Students at Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Galilee (Israel) learn about forgiveness.

    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.”
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  8. 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.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 4377-4399). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

I have noticed that some of my friends just are angrier than others. They do not seem to show this anger only when recently treated unfairly by others. They are just angry people. Why do you think this would be?

Without knowing the person’s history, it is not possible to know for certain why one of your friends is consistently showing anger.  I suspect two issues.  First, the display of anger in the home, when your friend was growing up, might have been high.  In other words, angry behavior was demonstrated in the home and implicitly approved as a norm.  In other words, the friend learned anger by observing it being modeled in the home.  Second, the friend may have been hurt by the anger displays in the home and so there is resentment from the past that is affecting the person now, in the present.  If this second scenario is correct, then the friend might benefit from forgiving one of the parents who might have displaced the anger onto your friend while growing up.

Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.