You are not alone when you say it is hardest to forgive yourself. Most of us are harder on ourselves than on others. So, welcome to a large and not-so-exclusive club. The pathway to forgiving oneself is actually not that different from forgiving other people. That pathway, of forgiving others, is discussed in detail in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice (available for purchase from this website). I recommend that book because the forgiveness pathway described there has the most scientific support of any forgiveness model out there.
OK, now to self-forgiveness. When you forgive yourself, the complication is that you are both an offended person and an offender. At the very least, you have offended yourself, you have broken your own standard in what you did or said. And, I might add, we rarely offend ourselves in isolation. So, a first step may be to go to those whom you have offended and say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Please realize that those whom you approach may or may not be ready to give the gift of forgiveness. Thus, please be patient and understanding. A second step then is to offer to yourself in forgiveness what you offer to others when you forgive them—compassion, gentleness, understanding, and love. Yes, even love. Give yourself permission, as an imperfect person, to love yourself despite what you did to offend yourself. You are larger than your actions and words. You are more important than only your unjust words and actions, as is every person in the world. Allow this perspective toward yourself to gently wash over you until you believe it. This is the essence of self-forgiveness.
Learn more at Self-Forgiveness.
Catharsis as the exclusive end in and of itself is not advised when the anger is deep and long-lasting. This is because the venting of anger does not cure the anger in the vast majority of cases. Taking some time to be aware of the anger, and the expression of it within temperate (reasonable) bounds in the short-run, can help the client to be aware of the depth of that anger. The cure for the anger, in other words the deep reduction in that anger, is forgiveness, shown scientifically to be the case (see Enright & Fitzgibbons, Forgiveness Therapy, 2015).
Editor’s Note: Except for those literally living under a rock, few can deny that forgiveness has become not only an accepted but sought-after area of scientific psychological research during the past few decades. Forgiveness interventions have been tested, enhanced, and endorsed for both their psychological benefits as well as their physical health benefits. This year, in fact, marks a significant anniversary in what has become a remarkable evolution. Here are some of the significant dates in that chronology:
1989 – The first empirically-based published article in which there was an explicit focus on person-to-person forgiving appeared in the Journal of Adolescence. The article, “The Adolescent as Forgiver,” assessed two studies that focused on how children, adolescents, and young adults thought about forgiveness. The studies were conducted by Dr. Robert Enright, Dr. Radhi Al-Mabuk, and Dr. Maria Santos, MD.
“This year marks an important 30th anniversary of which the world is hardly aware and from which the world has greatly benefitted,” Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, wrote earlier this month in a Psychology Today blog article referring to those pioneering studies and the Journal of Adolescence article. “Prior to this study, there was research on apology, or people seeking forgiveness, but never with a deliberate focus on people forgiving one another.”
In the first 1989 study, 59 subjects in grades 4, 7, 10, college and in adulthood were interviewed and tested to assess their stages of forgiveness development. As predicted, the study provided strong evidence that people’s understanding of forgiveness develops with age. Study 2, with 60 subjects, replicated the findings of Study 1.
1993 – The next empirical study of forgiveness was published that introduced Dr. Enright’s Process Model of how people forgive. (Hebl & Enright, 1993). This study showed that as elderly females forgave family members for unjust treatment, then they (the forgivers themselves) became psychologically healthier. This was the first published intervention study and it showed a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and the subsequent positive changes in psychological health.
1995 – Other researchers began to publish the results of their studies as they, too, took up the empirical cause of forgiveness. Dr. Enright, on whom Time magazine bestowed the title “the forgiveness trailblazer,” shared the knowledge he gained from his groundbreaking forgiveness research with inquisitive researchers around the globe who significantly broadened the scope of forgiveness investigations.
2015 – The empirically-based treatment manual, Forgiveness Therapy, is published by the American Psychological Association. Its authors: Dr. Robert Enright and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons. Its audience: thousands of mental health professions around the world who are helping to make forgiveness therapy a gold-standard therapeutic treatment like psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy.♥
Learn more about Dr. Enright’s pioneering role in forgiveness therapy by reading his complete April 16, 2019 Psychology Today blog article “Reflecting on 30 Years of Forgiveness Science.”
This depends on how deeply serious is the injustice against you and your inner reactions. For example, on a 1-to-10 scale, how angry or sad are you (with a 10 being extreme pain)? If you are near a 10, then I would recommend a mental health professional who knows Forgiveness Therapy or who is willing to read one of my self-help books (such as Forgiveness Is a Choice) along with you. If your pain is in the 3 to 5 range, you might consider going ahead with that book yourself and let me, in my printed words, accompany you on the forgiveness journey.
For additional information, see How to Forgive.
Recent statistics illustrate an increase in elementary school children dying by suicide (Dillard, 2018). Three nine-year old children took their own lives this past year and bullying was related to all three deaths. Hate incidents at school are increasing at alarming rates although most incidents of hate are not reported. Along with increases in suicide and suicide ideation, anxiety and depression in youth are on the rise (Dillard, 2018).
Helping students develop empathy toward others is a key strategy in bullying prevention and intervention and according to a recent NY Times article (Brody, 2018), it is critical that we help kids develop empathy early in their lives. Social emotional learning (SEL) programs that include a focus on empathy and regulation of emotions are being recognized as an important part of the school curriculum for all students (Zakrzeski, 2014) and based on recent statistics, there is a need for more SEL programs in schools today.
According to Cook-Deegan (2018), social-emotional learning teaches the key attitudes and skills necessary for understanding and managing emotions, listening, feeling and showing empathy for others, and making thoughtful, responsible decisions. Research illustrates that including social-emotional learning (SEL) in the curriculum is good for both students and their teachers (Zakrzeski, 2014).
Forgiveness education, with its focus on recognizing and validating students’ anger as well as teaching students to express emotions in a healthy way, understand the perspective of others, recognize the humanity in all, and increase empathy and compassion, is one form of social-emotional learning that is currently being investigated by researchers (Enright., Knutson, Holter., Baskin, & Knutson, 2007; Freedman, 2018).
The forgiveness education research project described here was based on a quasi-experimental pre-test post-test design with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. There were approximately 25 ten and eleven-year old students in each class representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.
The forgiveness education curriculum consisted of 10 weekly lessons of 30 minutes in duration with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Although all students received the forgiveness education, only the students who returned signed consent forms from their parents completed pre and post-tests (30 out of 50 students total – 16 students in one class and 14 students in another class).
The forgiveness education was taught by the researcher (and author of this blog) and occurred in each classroom on different days of the week. The same weekly lesson was taught in each classroom and the forgiveness education curriculum was based on Enright’s four-phase, 20-unit process model. Selected children’s literature was used to teach and illustrate forgiveness and related concepts to the students.
Certain principles from the chapter, “Helping Children and Adolescents Forgive”, in Enright’s (2001) book, Forgiveness is a Choice, guided the education. First, the idea that it is always the child’s choice to forgive was highlighted. Second, the curriculum was developed with the understanding that children may not understand forgiveness in the same was as adults. Third, the point that forgiving and reconciling are not the same thing was emphasized. Fourth, the rationale for this education and research project was based on the realization that if children are going to learn about forgiveness they need to be educated about it and know that it exists as an option as well as the knowledge that children learn more deeply when challenged and encouraged.
After the project, quantitative results illustrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender from pre-test to post-test. Students reported being hurt by friends, siblings, mothers and other students. Students also showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.
Qualitative results illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked about what they learned and enjoyed about the forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education “helped them learn to forgive someone”.
Specific statements included, “I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them”; “Forgiveness has helped me forgive people I couldn’t forgive in a long time”, “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices”; and “I liked learning because I have learned how to forgive someone like I am trying to forgive someone right now”.
Ten students reported that learning about forgiveness helped them know more about “being nice and showing kindness to others”. Specific comments included, “Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them. Don’t be mean to others”; “It helped me be nicer to my brother and friends”; and “You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend”.
Nine students also reported that they “learned more about bullying” from the forgiveness education. Specific comments included, “Some bullies get bullied so they are letting their anger out on somebody else”; “People are just hurt inside when they bully”; Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them”; and “When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel”.
Seven students reported that they “learned ways to calm down and let go of anger as a result of the forgiveness education. Six students stated that the forgiveness education taught them that “we are all the same underneath”. Another six students reported that they “learned about empathy”. Additional responses by more than one student included, “Forgiving is hard”; “Forgiveness is a choice”; “You don’t need an apology”; Forgiving takes time”; “Forgive but not forget”; and “Revenge is not part of forgiveness”.
This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum. Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts (Freedman, 2018). This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.
Editor’s Note: We asked a recent graduate of our Online Forgiveness Education Course to tell us about his experience with the “Forgiveness Therapy” course. Here is the response from Randy Miota, Manager of Chaplaincy Services, Spectrum Health Lakeland, St. Joseph, MI, USA:
“This Forgiveness Therapy CE course has been one of the most challenging educational efforts I have been able to finish. ‘Finish’ in the sense that I completed the assignments. However, I refer back to the book and the chapter summaries when I run into situations that involve anger, and therefore (potentially) forgiveness.
“At first, I thought that I was most challenged by having to recall and remember the counseling and psychological concepts and practices that we learn and integrate into healthcare chaplaincy. Then, I realized that this non-theological approach to understanding and practicing forgiveness necessarily has to address some basic theological concepts – such as right and wrong, moral thought and action, and moral character that some will say points to the character of a transcendent God, etc.
“This course has also challenged me to face and to encourage others to face the painful interactional/social nature of how we live. Most of our hurts come from others, and facing that and trying to make that better takes work and courage. In other words, I hear so many people talk of having to forgive themselves for how they have failed themselves. I wonder if this is be a way of avoiding having to face the hurt, anger, and deep sadness that can be dealt with through courageous self-examination, confrontation with others, the willingness to risk disappointment and “non-closure,” and to keep growing and maturing.
Overall, as a healthcare chaplain and a clergy person, the Forgiveness Therapy course equips me to think about and to work with forgiveness in a practical way that bridges the gap between the theology and theory and the everyday need for many to start to do something more constructive with their anger.”
Forgiveness Therapy, the online CE Course, is based on the book by the same title written by psychologist Dr. Robert Enright and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia, PA. The 15-lesson course was developed by Dr. Enright and Dr. Elizabeth Gassin, Professor of Educational Psychology at Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, IL. Although primarily designed for licensed psychologists, the course has also proven beneficial for ministers, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, and other professional counselors who have completed it.
The International Forgiveness Institute is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. The International Forgiveness Institute maintains responsibility for this program and its content.
Learn more at Forgiveness Therapy.