The History of Forgiveness Therapy

The prominence of forgiveness and forgiveness therapy in the field of psychology over the past few decades has been well-documented in the scientific literature. Also well documented has been the pioneering and groundbreaking forgiveness work of Dr. Robert Enright within that movement. Here are pertinent milestones:

I am trying to forgive, but I do not have a family member or a friend to accompany me on this journey. What would you recommend. I am a Jewish believer.

We have self-help books that we characteristically use in our forgiveness research. These include Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001) and 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015). I walk you through the process of forgiveness in a step-by-step fashion in these books. They have been shown scientifically to be effective in promoting forgiveness. As a Jewish believer, you are not alone in your forgiving. You can rely on God’s grace to assist you in the forgiveness process.

Learn more at Forgiveness books.

What is your deepest book for the general public?

I have three books for the general public: Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001), The Forgiving Life (2012), and 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015). The deepest discussion of forgiveness is in The Forgiving Life. Why is that the case? I give what I call a Theory of Forgiveness in that book and the theory is based on agape love, or a concern for the other even when it is difficult to do so. Also in that book, I ask the person to take a life-inventory of all people who have been unjust to the readers so that they can, if they choose, forgive all who ever have hurt them.

For additional information, click on the blue links above.

Abortion Survivor Forgives Her Mother and Father

Melissa Ohden’s mother was 19 years old, unmarried, and eight months pregnant in August 1977 when she went to a hospital in Iowa for the first step in what the medical profession calls a “hypertonic saline abortion.” Five days later, and unknown to her mother, Melissa was born alive and the staff left her to die in a pile of medical waste.

Melissa Ohden, abortion survivor.

Soon after the birth, however, another nurse entered the delivery room, heard a faint rustling noise, and discovered Melissa still alive. The nurse rushed Melissa to the neonatal intensive care unit where the 2 lb. 14 oz. child was treated for jaundice, respiratory distress, and seizures but miraculously survived.

Melissa was released from the hospital three months later to the care of a loving couple in a nearby community that adopted and raised her alongside their own children. Years later, when Melissa learned that she was adopted, she began a quest to find–and forgive–her parents.

After seventeen years of fruitless searching, Melissa was finally able to track down her father who did not respond to her queries prior to his death. Through her father’s relatives, however, she was able to get enough information to find her mother who had married another man. Her mother, who had no idea her daughter had survived the abortion attempt, said she had felt guilty every day since then about what she had done.

In an interview with the Daily Mail (a daily newspaper in London, UK), Melissa shared her incredible story and explained how she has forgiven her mother and father–as well as her grandmother who was apparently the major catalyst for the abortion. 

“It’s been a long and painful journey from shame and anger to faith and forgiveness. But I refuse to be poisoned by bitterness — that’s no way to live,” Melissa told the reporter. “Through my Catholic faith I have learned to forgive. It doesn’t make what happened okay, but it releases you from the pain. We are all human and we all make mistakes. I have only forgiveness in my heart. . .”

Melissa, now 42 years old, is married with two children of her own. She has a master’s degree in social work , is an accomplished motivational speaker, and has also started an organization called the Abortion Survivors Network. She wrote an engaging book about her life: You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir, and is the subject of the 2011 award-winning documentary, A Voice for Life.

FORGIVENESS: The Basic Building Block of Loving Relationships

What comes to mind when you hear someone mention the term “therapy”? Do you envision a patient lying on a couch with a therapist sitting behind and nodding sagely as the patient talks about the shortcomings of his or her life? If so, it’s time to upgrade your thinking.

Liza Elliott (American film star Ginger Rogers) undergoes psychoanalysis by Dr. Alex Brooks (Barry Sullivan) in the 1944 hit “Lady in the Dark.”

Thanks to less-than-accurate portrayals in movie and television docudramas, that approach to therapy (known as psychoanalysis) is still dominant in the minds of most individuals. And while it is still practiced, it is in the minority. There are now an estimated 400 different kinds of therapy used by practitioners around the world.

That’s but one of the many mind-altering revelations in a just-published book called Introduction to Psychology by Jorden A. Cummings (Associate Professor) and Lee Sanders (Sessional Lecturer), both in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  The book offers a comprehensive treatment of core concepts, grounded in classical studies and current/emerging research.

Another major revelation of the new book is its focus on Positive Psychology–the study of happiness. While psychology has traditionally focused on dysfunction–people with mental illness or other issues–and how to treat it, positive psychology, in contrast, is a field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled–in other words, what makes life worth living. 

Three Key Strengths

Within positive psychology, three key human strengths have been identified–forgiveness, gratitude and humility. While Introduction to Psychology provides meticulous coverage of those three strengths (Chapter 12.5), this post will focus on forgiveness. Here are excerpts from the book:

Forgiveness is essential to harmonious long-term relationships between individuals, whether between spouses or nations, dyads or collectives. At the level of the individual, forgiveness of self can help one achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God.


“Forgiveness can be an avenue to healing. It is the basic building block of loving relationships with others.”
Introduction to Psychology


Because the potential for conflict is seemingly built into human nature, the prospects for long-term peace may seem faint. Forgiveness offers another way. If the victim can forgive the perpetrator, the relationship may be restored and possibly even saved from termination.

The essence of forgiveness is that it creates a possibility for a relationship to recover from the damage caused by the offending party’s offense. Forgiveness is thus a powerful pro-social process. It can benefit human social life by helping relationships to heal. Culligan (2002) wrote “Forgiveness may ultimately be the most powerful weapon for breaking the dreadful cycle of violence.”


“On a social level, forgiveness may be the critical element needed for world peace.”
Introduction to Psychology


Forgiveness studies demonstrate that self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive point of view. 

In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others (Enright, 2001).


ADDENDUM:

Introduction to Psychology has been created from a combination of original content and materials compiled and adapted from several Open Educational Resources (OERs)—teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing.

Compared to commercial textbooks and other commercial resources, OERs are: free to access, free to reuse, free to revise, free to remix, and free to redistribute.

This provides opportunities for instructors and learners to shape course content and meet the needs of specific learning contexts. Teachers and students become learners together, and content becomes a dynamic, always changing category to be engaged rather than a stable set of facts to be mastered.

This is called Open Pedagogy–the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. This dynamic, often called Open Education, is transforming lifelong learning in the process.


LEARN MORE:

I can be rather rude sometimes and I do not like that at all. How can I find the true origins of my anger?

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I have an exercise called The Forgiveness Landscape. In this exercise, I ask you to take a paper and pencil and begin writing down the hurtful injustices against you: from your earliest childhood memory, to later childhood experiences of injustice, then into adolescence, early adulthood, and up to the present time. I then ask you to rate the hurtfulness of these experiences. Next, you order these unjust experiences from the least hurtful experience (yet, still significant because you have identified it) to the most hurtful experience at the top of the page. That most hurtful experience at the top, if it still is causing you considerable pain, may be the primary source of your current anger. The key is to start at the bottom, where you still may have some hurt, and forgive that particular person. Move up the list, forgiving the people as you go. When you reach the top, you already will have practice in forgiving and so you may be ready to forgive this particular person, even though it is hard to do. This may lessen your anger so that you are not displacing it onto others.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

In your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you say that we should approach the process of forgiving with a sense of “willingness” rather than “willfulness.” I thought that forgiving is an active process and “willfulness” seems to capture that sense of being active more than “willingness” does. Would you please clarify for me?

When I use the term “willfulness” I mean this: We have to be careful not to force the process of forgiving. We, for example, cannot demand that we now feel compassion toward someone who treated us in a cruel way. We have to be open (willingness) to this gradual change of heart toward those who have hurt us. I do not mean to imply either that forgiving is passive or outside of our free will. Instead, I am suggesting that as we actively engage our free will, the process of forgiving still takes time. We are not in absolute control of the timing or the difficulty involved in forgiving another person.

For additional information, see Forgiveness is a Choice.