Dr. Robert Enright Named “Pioneer and Founder of Forgiveness Science”

Editor’s Note: That designation was issued by CRUX Media last week as part of an intense and revealing interview with Dr. Enright that was conducted while he was in Rome for the Rome Forgiveness Conference at the University of Santa Croce. 

Among the interview questions addressed by Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, were these: What does the science of forgiveness tell us? What are the consequences of forgiving?  In such battle-scarred parts of the world as Northern Ireland, does your science work? Do you find religious people are more inclined to forgive?


ROME – Scientific study of the world has been around for a while now, so it’s rare these days to meet the founder of an entirely new branch of science. That, however, is what you’ve got in full living color in the person of Robert Enright, a Catholic who teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and who pioneered what’s today known as “forgiveness science.”

Enright has spent the last thirty-plus years developing hard, empirical answers, including a four-phase, twenty-step process to lead patients to forgive. He insists data prove it has positive effects, including tangible reductions in anxiety, anger and psychological depression, and gains in self-esteem and optimism about the future.

Enright is in Rome this week, to speak at a Jan. 18 conference on forgiveness at the University of the Holy Cross, the Opus Dei-sponsored university here. He’s applied his tools in some of the world’s least forgiving places, including Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, and Liberia.  .  .  .

Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s interview with John L. Allen Jr., Editor of CRUX Media, an international, independent Catholic media outlet operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization.

John L. Allen Jr. has written nine books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs and is a renowned columnist and speaker in both the US and internationally. His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The New York Times, CNN, NPR, The Tablet, Jesus, Second Opinion, The Nation, the Miami Herald, Die Furche, the Irish Examiner, and many other publications.

He has received honorary doctorates from four universities in the US and Canada, is a senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and was a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter for 16 years. Allen is a native of Kansas, a state in the exact geographic center of the US.

Forgiveness as Order

I was reflecting on all of the disorder within schools during 2015 and 2016.  It has been reported that there were 35 shootings at schools in the United States in this two-year period.  Think about that for a moment. The context of the shootings centers on innocent children, adolescents, and young adults (at universities) who are unarmed and innocent.

Such disorder.

How many family break-ups were there in 2015-16 or acts of bullying that cut deeply into the very being of those bullied?

Such disorder.

Forgiveness is a profound response to disorder.  What do you think?  Do you think any of those school shootings would have happened if the ones responsible for the mayhem had practiced forgiveness and rightly ordered their emotions from rage to calm?

What do you think?  Do you think all of the family break-ups would have happened if both sides of the conflict practiced forgiveness?  And perhaps the forgiveness needed to be toward people from years before because our left-over anger from childhood can follow us into adulthood and strike the innocent.

Forgiveness likely could have averted some of those break-ups if forgiveness toward each other in the present and toward parents from the past had been practiced.  Forgiveness could have restored order……..and prevented disorder.

The same theme applies to bullying.  If those who bully could only forgive those who have abused them, would the bullying continue or would the behavior become more orderly, more civil?

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for restoring order within an injured self, within relationships, and within and between communities. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for preventing disorder.

What do you think?  Do you think that forgiveness could save our planet from destruction by enraged people with the weaponry to destroy?Forgiveness is about order, protection, wholeness, and love.

It is time for individuals and communities to see this and to have the courage to bring forgiveness into the light….to restore and then enhance order while it destroys disorder.

Robert

On Reversing Pessimism

When we are treated unjustly by others, we slowly can become more apathetic about everything. Consider this quotation from G.K. Chesterton on the matter:

“It matters very little whether a man isFlowers discontented in the name of pessimism or progress, if his discontent does in fact paralyse his power of appreciating what he has got.”

Forgiveness can reverse the apathy and the pessimism and increase our appreciation of situations and other people.

Robert

I am reading your book, “Forgiveness is a Choice,” and I am wondering… Does forgiveness apply in the case of a husband who is constantly mean and untrustworthy? The examples in the book seem to all be regarding a single past hurt, or an offense that occurred in the past. What about offenses that are ongoing but unrepented of and unresolved? I am Catholic, so I very much agree with forgiveness and starting over, etc. But I don’t know how to respond to unchanging behaviors that are sinful against me. Continual forgiveness?? Is it possible to not be resentful and bitter?

First, we have to realize that to forgive does not mean that you abandon the quest for justice. Forgive and from this place of diminished anger, let your husband know of your wounded heart and exactly why it is so wounded. He may reject your feelings at first, but this does not mean he will continually reject the truth.

You need to practice continual forgiveness, every day if you have the strong will for this. And pray about when it is the best time to once again ask for justice and even compassion from your husband. Was he deeply hurt as a child? If so, he may be displacing his anger onto you. Perhaps you both need to read Forgiveness Is a Choice…..together.

Forgiveness Therapy Can Reduce and Even Eliminate Psychological Depression

Dr. Suzanne Freedman and I did a scientific study in which we helped women who were incest survivors to forgive their perpetrators. This does not mean that we encouraged them to reconcile. They went through a 14-month forgiveness process that involved acknowledging their own anger and sadness, committing to forgive the offending person, trying to understand him as deeply as possible, trying as best they could to see how deeply wounded he is (not to condone or excuse him, but to better understand him), cultivating compassion when possible, and finding new meaning from what they suffered.

After the 14 months the women, who came to us psychologically depressed, had no depression at all. The absence of depression continued at least through the next 14 months No Depressionwhen we reassessed their level of this challenging condition. It was the first scientific paper ever published  to show that incest survivors not only can reduce depression but also eliminate it, at least for 14 months following the ending of therapy. Forgiveness made this healing possible.

Despite this positive outcome, we must not jump to the conclusion that everyone who tries to forgive will be depression-free at the journey’s end. Different people will have different outcomes. Yet, even for those who experience only some relief, this bit of improvement surely is better than never having tried to forgive and never experiencing any change in the level of depression.

Excerpt from the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright (W.W. Norton, New York City).