I can understand how forgiveness is part of philosophy and theology, but I am having a hard time seeing how forgiveness can be placed into the scientific arena. After all, this is a highly abstract concept. How can it be studied scientifically?

Forgiveness is not the only abstract concept studied scientifically. The theme of justice also is abstract and has been part of the scientific landscape since at least 1932 when Jean Piaget began his work on children’s and adolescents’ understanding of justice. Gratitude is another abstract construct that is studied in the social sciences. We can study forgiveness because it is possible to define forgiveness in such a way as to make it concretely measurable. For example, we have the Enright Forgiveness Inventory which assesses the degree to which participants forgive one other person who was unfair to them. We categorize forgiving in this scale into 6 dimensions: the degree to which the participant 1) harbors negative thoughts and 2) negative feelings, and 3) exhibits negative behaviors toward the unjustly acting person; the degree to which the participant shows 4) positive thoughts and 5) positive feelings, and 6) exhibits positive behaviors toward the unjustly acting person. We are able to get a score for each participant. Science shows that when people go through forgiveness intervention programs, then their forgiveness scores on this scale tend to increase. People with high scores on this scale tend to show better mental and physical health than people who have very low scores on this forgiveness scale.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Research.

Have you ever examined the effectiveness for group forgiveness therapy?  In other words, an intervener convenes a group of people all of whom share a common kind of injustice against them?  If so, does forgiveness within a group intervention work?

Yes, we have done research on forgiveness as a group intervention and we do get good statistical results.  The very first journal article ever written on a forgiveness intervention was in a group setting with elderly women who had been hurt in family situations (Hebl & Enright, 1993).  They became emotionally healthier as a result of this group effort.  Here is the reference to that work:

Hebl, J. H., & Enright, R. D. (1993).  Forgiveness as a psychotherapeutic goal with elderly females. Psychotherapy, 30, 658-667.

Other group efforts, as examples but not an exhaustive list, have included parentally love-deprived college students, people in residential drug rehabilitation, and men who have cardiac compromise:

Al-Mabuk, R., Enright, R. D., & Cardis, P. (1995).  Forgiveness education with parentally love-deprived college students.  Journal of Moral Education, 24, 427-444.

Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004).  Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.

Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009).  The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease.  Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.

We do tend to find that individual interventions (one intervener and one participant) produce stronger statistical results than group interventions on forgiveness.

Dr. Enright Shares Forgiveness News with Audiences Around the World

The man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer” because of his groundbreaking forgiveness research, has just returned from a five-week international speaking tour during which he provided specialized  forgiveness workshops and presentations to such diverse audiences as prison administrators and correctional facility innovators, cancer doctors and oncology specialists, and educational pioneers. 

Dr. Robert Enright

Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and educator who co-founded the International Forgiveness Institute, travels globally twice per year to respond to at least a handful of the innumerable requests that flow into his office on an almost daily basis.

In addition to private meetings in some of the more than 30 countries where he has helped establish elementary and high school Forgiveness Education Programs in the past few years, his formal presentation schedule on this most-recent tour included stops at Ramat Gan, Israel; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Those presentations included:

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for The Imprisoned: From Practice to Research Outcomes” on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a short distance from Tel Aviv.

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Multiple Myeloma and Other Blood Cancers,” on Jan. 16 (World Cancer Day 2019) during the Sympozium Integrativna Onkologia at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava–the capital of the Slovak Republic.
  • “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” on Feb. 1 during the 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast, Northern Ireland called the 4Corners Festival that ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival was  “Scandalous Forgiveness.” Dr. Enright selected Belfast as the first city in which he would test his forgiveness education curriculum methodology. That was 17-years ago and the Program continues to this day.

Read More:

Presentations Around the World Focus on Forgiveness

Dr. Robert Enright boarded an international jetliner today to take his scientifically-verified Forgiveness Therapy and Education programs onto the world stage as he does at the start of each New Year. The 2019 excursion includes presentations and working sessions in Israel, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Northern Ireland.

Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned in Israel

The founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), Dr. Enright kicks off his formal presentations on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a 25-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. His talk will be entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned.” 

Bar Ilan University is the largest, the fastest growing, and one of the highest-rated academic institutions in Israel with more than 32,000 students. It has a well-respected history of involvement with with criminal justice initiatives, is a member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and hosted the 2006 International Conference on Violence and Restorative Justice.

Dr. Enright was asked to be a keynote speaker at the Israeli conference because of the success his forgiveness therapy methodologies have had when adapted for use with inmates in maximum-security prisons over the past five years.

“Forgiveness therapy is beginning to gain traction in prisons because counselors are beginning to see that it is one of the few approaches to corrections that actually works,” Dr. Enright wrote in a recent blog post entitled Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved my Life.”

“For many prisoners, the abuse an inmate typically experienced as a young man turned to a poisonous anger which was destroying him and his life,” Dr. Enright explains. “Through forgiveness therapy, the heart softens toward those who are cruel and one’s own inner poisons find an antidote in growing compassion. And it works.”

Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers in Slovakia

Seven days after his discussions at Bar Ilan University, Dr. Enright switches forgiveness gears with a presentation on Jan.16 entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers” to physicians and health researchers in Bratislava, Slovakia-the capital of the Slovak Republic, which is also referred to as the “Beauty on the Danube.”

While that location in central Europe may seem like an unusual spot for a talk on cancer, it actually makes perfect sense because of work done by internationally-known organizations in Slovakia like the Cancer Research Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the St. Elizabeth Cancer Institute Hospital, both in Bratislava.

Additionally, cancer survival rates in Slovakia are significantly lower than those of most other European Union member states. That makes physicians there anxious to dialogue with Dr. Enright about his research on the improved well-being of cancer patients who have significantly reduced their anger through forgiveness–research he first started in 2008 with elderly terminally-ill cancer patients.

Forgiveness Therapy in now routinely included among the overall treatment regimens of many cancer treatment centers.

“There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis,” according to ground-breaking   research done by Groer, Davis, Droppleman, Mozingo, and Pierce (2000). Follow-up research on unhealthy anger by Dr. Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (2015), as well as others, has confirmed the apparent  connection.

“Perhaps it is time for both medicine and psychology to unite in a new angle in the fight against certain cancers by continuing to examine the anger-cancer link,” Dr. Enright wrote in his blog  “Finding ways of reducing anger may be part of a regimen for cancer prevention and treatment.”

In fact, the five hospitals operated by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) now incorporate forgiveness therapy into their treatment regimen. Unforgiveness makes people sick and keeps them sick,” according to Dr. Steven Standiford, CTCA cancer surgeon.

“Anyone can get cancer. So make peace with yourself and others,” explains Rev. LaWanda Long, MDiv, Chaplain at CTCA Atlanta. “Forgive others and let go of past hurts and offenses. You do not have time to continue to invest in emotional pain that may be draining you spiritually. Let it go. Forgive and live.”

17 Years of Forgiveness Education for Belfast Students

Before returning to the US in early February, Dr. Enright will once more shift forgiveness gears by conducting a half-day workshop for educators in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” will focus on the forgiveness curriculum guides he has developed for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade which have been used continuously in many Belfast schools since Dr. Enright established his first program there 17 years ago.

That workshop is just one small part of a 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast called the 4Corners Festival that runs from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival is “Scandalous Forgiveness.” According to the event website, the Festival, “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and prosperity of all. It consists of innovative events designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends.”The 2019 event will be the city’s 7th annual Festival. It includes a range of events featuring discussion, music, prayer, drama, poetry and story-telling in venues across the city of Belfast. The Festival was conceived by a group of Christians who wanted to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of the city’s troubled past.

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

The widely-known “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century resulted in more than 3,600 deaths with thousands more injured during 30-years of conflict. Because of the past animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Dr. Enright selected Belfast as the first city in which he would test his forgiveness education curriculum methodology. That was 17-years ago and the Program continues to this day.

Today, Dr. Enright’s school-based forgiveness programs are operating not only in Northern Ireland, but also in the US, and in more than 30 other countries around the world. Those programs have been repeatedly tested and scientifically-supported. A recent research project with middle school students in Korea, for example, concluded that:

“The Forgiveness Education Program helped these students reduce in anger and hostile attribution, and increase in empathy. Their academic grades improved and they reduced in behavioral aggression and delinquency.” 

Additional stops on Dr. Enright’s tour include: 1)  Manila, the capital of the Philippines–a tropical Southeast Asian country composed of more than 7,100 islands that are home to more than 98 million people–where he will meet with non-profit and religious leaders who are proposing to expand Forgiveness Education throughout the country from its current base in Manila and neighboring Quezon City; and, 2) While in Israel, he will visit with educators in Bethlehem and the West Bank where the IFI established a program last year that teaches forgiveness to both Christian and Muslim students and young adults.


Additional Information:

The Amazing Benefits of Forgiveness Therapy on Cancer Patients

Time magazine has called Dr. Robert Enright “the forgiveness trailblazer” because of his groundbreaking scientific discoveries related to how forgiveness favorably impacts both emotional and physical health. Now the doctor (a Ph.D., not a physcian) is working with medical specialists in Europe to discover if forgiveness can improve the health of patients with multiple myeloma–a cancer of cells in the immune system.

Dr. Enright will provide an update on his latest forgiveness challenge at the 17th Annual Fall Cancer Conference sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, at the Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin.

Advances in Multidisciplinary Cancer Care 2018 is the title of the day-long conference that will focus on “Unique Challenges Faced by Young Adults With Cancer.” Dr. Enright’s presentation begins at 2:00 pm and is entitled “Forgiveness as a Strengthening of Emotional Health in Cancer Patients and Their Families.”

While the conference is designed primarily for individuals who are involved in cancer treatment and education of cancer patients and their families, conference organizers are also encouraging patients, caregivers and community members to attend. For registration information, visit the 17th Annual Fall Cancer Conference website.

Forgiveness therapy for cancer patients is not a new endeavor for Dr. Enright. He and his colleagues completed a clinical trial nearly 10 years ago with cancer patients who were receiving end-of-life hospice care. That study found that as the patients’ physical health decreased, measures of emotional health increased if they completed forgiveness therapy.

Next, they completed a clinical trial with patients in cardiac units, where they observed a physical benefit to forgiveness: cardiac health measures, such as blood flow to the heart, increased in the patients on the intervention. Forgiveness therapy, then, has shown both palliative and physical benefits in medical settings.

“So now we’re working with physicians in Europe in regards to multiple myeloma,” Enright says. He explained that multiple myeloma is a cancer of cells in the immune system, that stress is known to compromise the immune system, and that forgiveness therapy has been demonstrated to reduce stress.

Interestingly, case studies in patients with low-grade multiple myeloma have already found disease stabilization if patients complete forgiveness therapy. Could forgiveness – a relatively inexpensive, non-drug-based intervention – become a part of some patients’ treatment plans? Enright and medical colleagues think the answer may be yes, and they are currently developing a clinical trial to understand if forgiveness improves myeloma patient health through measurable biological markers.

“That’s why next we need to do a clinical trial, for cause and effect,” Enright says. “The physicians will measure markers of immune system strength, and then I would bring the hope and anxiety scales to measure the psychological markers.”

Learn more and register for the 17th Annual Fall Cancer Conference.

Teen with Terminal Cancer Responds to Cyberbullies with Forgiveness

The Daily Signal, Waco, Texas – Jeremiah Thomas—a 16-year-old all-star, state champion football player from Waco, TX—was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive bone cancer just four months ago. Since  then, he has battled chemotherapy, radiation, a collapsed lung, and paralysis from the waist down. 

Cancer-fighter Jeremiah Thomas

Unfortunately, Jeremiah has also had to endure despicable scorn and  taunts from many  social media trolls. With perhaps only weeks left to live, Jeremiah has been accosted numerous times on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with some deplorable messages:

“Jeremiah … You aren’t dead yet? God, do your job!” taunted one anonymous writer.

“Good Riddance,” another posted to Jeremiah’s prayer group page on Facebook.

And Jeremiah’s mother, Kendra Thomas, quoted one person as saying Jeremiah has “a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic], hateful” agenda, and another as saying “He’s garbage and is suffering as he deserves.”

All that hate and vitriol was generated because Jeremiah made a “legacy wish” through the 38-year-old Make-A-Wish Foundation that some social media respondents apparently found offensive. As his final wish, Jeremiah dared to call for the abolition of abortion in Texas.

When that wish circulated around to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, he called Jeremiah and spoke with him in his hospital bed in June about passing a bill to abolish abortion in the state in order to make Jeremiah’s “legacy wish” a reality.

The teen made his reasoning for that request public on June 24 by posting “A Letter to My Generation,” describing his Christian faith and writing in part:

We have grown up in a culture of death, sexual confusion, immorality and fatherlessness. This culture of death I speak of consists of abortion, homosexuality and suicide. One-third of our generation has been wiped out due to  abortion; 60 million babies have been murdered. Over 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS. We have been handed a bill of goods that has completely destroyed us. In our nation, we have chosen death and received the curse.

While struggling with his terminal illness–known as osteoblastic osteosarcoma–would certainly be enough suffering for most people, Jeremiah has been handling the hate mail gracefully.

“Its kind of sickening,” Jeremiah says.  “I pray for them…What has happened to people to make them think like that?”

Jeremiah’s mother adds, “Jesus has given him a special grace to forgive. He tells his siblings, ‘Just forgive. We can’t return evil for evil.’”

Jeremiah’s family had set up a GoFundMe page three months ago to help raise money for surgery. It had reached $118,659 as of Aug. 11.


Read more: 

‘Just forgive’: Pro-life teen with cancer responds to pro-choice hate

Teen With Terminal Cancer Forgives Cyberbullies as He Fights ‘Culture of Death’


 

Cancer Patients Embrace Forgiveness Therapy and Other Self-Care Strategies

Making the Mind-Body Connection: Self-Care Strategies for Cancer Patients
by Brad Krause 

The importance of the mind-body connection is evident in the increasingly impactful role that mindfulness and spiritual belief play in helping cancer patients improve their quality of life. And a growing number of cancer patients are turning to alternative approaches that draw on the mind’s ability to moderate the body’s responses to illness.

There is a growing body of research, including research done by the International Forgiveness Institute, showing that mind-body approaches in oncological medicine aid the healing process; help patients with advanced cases of the disease cope with their condition and its devastating emotional effects; and help sufferers maintain a happier lifestyle and positive mindset. Self-care strategies and spiritual strength can also help alleviate depression, anxiety and fatigue, and even energize the patient.

Strategies:

Cancer patients have to cope with an overwhelming situation dominated by treatments that are often as unpleasant as the disease. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy cause nausea, weakness, hair loss and other side effects that keep the patient feeling sick. Fortunately, there are many powerfully-effective mind-body strategies that help the cancer patient maintain a healthy and efficacious self-care regimen.

Deep breathing 

Breathing deeply and mindfully helps establish the mind-body   connection. It’s a core component of yoga and many forms of meditation. Deep-breathing exercises relax you, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and enable you to focus on positive thoughts. Try breathing deeply and center on how it makes you feel. If you prefer, listen to calming music during your breathing exercise. You can also combine breathing with some form of physical exercise, such as walking, biking, or yoga.

Forgiveness and self-forgiveness 

According  to the respected health website WebMD.com, if you can bring yourself to forgive, you are likely to enjoy lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and a drop in the stress hormones circulating in your blood. Back pain, stomach problems, and headaches may disappear. And you’ll reduce the anger, bitterness, resentment, depression, and other negative emotions that accompany the failure to forgive.

While refusing to forgive may not directly cause disease, according to WebMD, the negative impact of holding on to painful memories and past wounds can weaken the immune system and make you more susceptible to illness including cancer.

“It’s important to treat emotional wounds or disorders because they really can hinder someone’s reactions to the treatments — even someone’s willingness to pursue treatment,” says Dr. Steven Standiford, chief of surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “In fact, forgiveness therapy is now an integral part of treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.”

Watch a short video about the amazing power forgiveness has had on one woman’s life and her battle with cancer. “If I hadn’t learned to forgive,” says Jayne Valseca, a cancer patient who was essentially given a death sentence, “I may not even be alive today.” Watch the video here.


          “If I hadn’t learned to forgive, I may not even be alive today.”                                                                                                                            Jane Garcia Valseca


While not a treatment method per se, the act of forgiving yourself can free you mentally and emotionally so that you may best concentrate on healing. When you get cancer, you may blame yourself for smoking, eating the wrong foods, spending too much time in the sun…the list could go on forever. You question every decision you’ve ever made and punish yourself for the actions you did, or did not do, that might have contributed to your disease. By practicing self-forgiveness, you will gain an inner peace and the freedom to look to the future instead of the past.

Meditation 

Meditation is another self-centering exercise in which quiet and inner stillness focus one’s awareness. Meditation can help cancer patients manage nausea, pain and stress, and aid the body’s ability to heal by improving sleep and mood. Mindfulness is key to self-care in cancer patients, and few things help focus one’s energy and inner resources better than meditation. There are many forms of meditation. Some people concentrate on one part of their body, while others focus on a word or phrase as they meditate. Some meditative disciplines focus on controlling pain, while others are designed to help practitioners accept and cope with the physical changes their bodies are going through.

Image projection

The mind’s ability to project images with sensory qualities is another effective means of making the mind-body connection. Mental images can affect your senses, a useful exercise for people suffering the physical discomforts of cancer. Some patients combine their spirituality with meditation by concentrating on religious images. Patients with a strong sense of spirituality often gain a strong sense of well-being, which makes it easier to cope with the disease.

It should be noted that spirituality and religion are not interchangeable terms. Some people use religion to channel and focus their spirituality, while other patients consider themselves spiritual, though not religious, at least not in the formal sense of the word. A cancer diagnosis may cause some people to become religious, or to return to a religious practice they may have previously abandoned. Research has shown that spirituality is capable of enhancing the patient’s quality of life through renewed optimism and hope for a future free of the disease.

Cancer patients sometimes experience difficulty with prescriptive medications, as these are often used as necessary pain management. Incorporating self-care practices like deep breathing and meditation can help prevent cancer patients from becoming addicted to opioids during their course of treatment. The use of alternative therapies to create the mind-body connection has been proven effective at alleviating pain without an excessive use of prescriptive methods.

Cancer ravages the body in many ways. Its effects can also oppress the mind, impeding its ability to help patients deal with the symptoms of the disease. But alternative self-care therapies and spirituality can help marshal the power of the mind to mitigate the pain and physical misery of cancer. 


About Brad Krause:
After four years in the corporate world working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, Brad Krause demonstrated the ultimate act of self-care by leaving his draining, unfulfilling job behind. He now spends full-time helping others as a self-care guru, writer and life coach (SelfCare.info). He sums up his vision by saying, “We all have the potential to be the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, but it comes down to prioritizing our own wellness through self-care. And that’s what I’m here to help people discover!”

You can contact Brad at Brad@selfcaring.info.