Are there acts so terrible that you should not, as you say, give a gift to the other?

Some people will not forgive certain people for certain acts. Yet, other people will forgive others for the exact same kind of act. Thus, it seems to me that it is not the act itself that is out of bounds to forgiveness. Instead, the one who was injured is not ready to offer forgiveness. We have to be gentle with people under these circumstances. We are not all ready to forgive others at the same point of the injury. We have to be careful not to condemn those who need more time or who are ambivalent about forgiveness in a particular circumstance.

For additional information, see Why Forgive?

You talk about forgiveness as a process, one that can take time. I find that as I go along the path of forgiveness, that I slip into revenge-seeking. I do not mean anything violent, just some nastiness or even verbal disrespect. Do you think this will delay my forgiveness process?

We are all imperfect forgivers and so we cannot think of forgiveness as a straight line from the start to the finish. We go back and forth with forgiveness. At times, we see the one who offended us as possessing inherent worth. Then we might have a dream about the person and we wake up angry and do not want to even think about the person. The key here is to understand that the process is not a straight line. Have patience with yourself. Try to have patience with the one whom you are forgiving. In time, this back-and-forth will even out and improvements in forgiving are likely as you continue to persevere in the forgiveness process.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

Why is it anger in particular that can be so damaging to a person, compared with other emotions?

It is not anger per se that can be so damaging to a person, but the kind of anger that is deep and abiding for many months and years. This kind of anger can put one on alert so that the body does not rest. Muscle tightness, headaches, raised blood pressure, and fatigue can all lead to a changed life-style and a change in mood and emotions. When one feels constantly challenged, one can begin to feel unsafe and so anxiety can emerge. The physical challenges can lead to a loss of hope which can lead to depression. The good news is that forgiveness therapy can reduce the toxic anger so that it is no longer injurious to the person.

For additional information, see How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy? 

Humility as the Set-Aside Complement to Forgiving

On our Facebook page for the International Forgiveness Institute, I have posted in the past this idea: “Humility and forgiveness seem to be a team. It takes time to develop both.”

The point is to show that if we are to forgive well, we have to set aside our pride, our sense of self-righteousness, and realize that the one(s) who hurt us share a common humanity with us.  We all have inherent or built-in worth.  When we are humble, following Aristotle’s analysis of all moral virtues, we do not move toward the extremes of seeing ourselves as moral worms or as better than others because we are engaging in the practice of such an exalted virtue as humility.

Recently, I made a new friend, Kari Konkola, who holds a doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He specializes in the history of religion.  As I discussed my interest in forgiveness, he responded that it would be hard to forgive if excessive pride is getting in the way.  With a dominance of pride, self-righteous anger can push away the motivation to forgive.

Dr. Konkola further instructed me that humility, as a complement to forgiveness, was a central moral virtue in the Medieval period.  The point during these Middle Ages was to realize that each of us is no better than others precisely because we all fall short of moral perfection.  He went on to say that there has been a trend since the Medieval period in which humility as a valued moral virtue is in decline.  He sees humility as the ignored moral virtue in the modern West.

So, with this challenge in mind, that humility is in decline, I decided to do a little psychological experiment. I wrote an essay centered on humility on the Psychology Today website, where I have been blogging since September, 2017.  I posted the essay entitled, “Humility: What Can It Do for You” on April 27, 2020.  That was over three weeks ago and the number of views for this essay as of this writing on May 20 is 477.  In contrast, I posted an essay on the nine purposes of forgiveness less than a week ago and already the number of views is 2,027.  It is typical to see between 5,000 and 10,000 views for some of these essays focused on forgiveness, and yet the one on humility is languishing, as Dr. Konkola may have predicted.

Humility seems to be the set-aside moral virtue.  If so, then how can people forgive deeply if humility does not accompany the forgiving?  How will people even gravitate toward forgiving if pride blocks all consideration of forgiving?

What has happened in the West that has led to either a disinterest in humility or even an aversion to it?  Who had it right, those in the Medieval period or the modern West?  I’m not sure of the precise answers here, but I am convinced that we somehow have managed to de-value an important moral virtue, one that might need to team with forgiveness if forgiving others is to be achieved well.

Robert

“I work hard on forgiveness, but sometimes I get to a week in which I do not want to even think about it or what happened to me. During these times, what can I do to not feel guilty or uncomfortable about setting forgiveness aside?”

Let us take an analogy here. Suppose you have a physical fitness regimen. Do you work out every week for an entire year or do you take some time off to refresh, to heal, to re-group? Physical trainers tell us to take some time off. It is good for us. Think of becoming forgivingly fit in the same way. Hard work is good, but we need some time off to refresh and re-group so that we come back to that work with renewed enthusiasm.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

“Is it harder to forgive if a person is filled with anger compared with another person who is filled with pain and sorrow after being treated unfairly?”

It seems to me that if the anger is very intense and includes resentment or even hatred, then, yes, it is harder to forgive. Some people who are fuming with anger cannot even use the word “forgiveness” because it intensifies the anger. At the same time, if a person has deep sorrow, sometimes there is an accompanying lack of energy and the person needs some time to mourn first. At such times, the person needs to be gentle with the self as emotional healing takes place.

For additional information, see How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy? 

How to Beat the Coronavirus Lockdown Blues

World-renowned psychologist Dr. Robert Enright has teamed up with acclaimed songwriter-performer Sam Ness to produce a “therapeutic music-discussion video” for adults who are struggling with the anguish created by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Called “Forgiveness,” the hour-long video incorporates original compositions written and performed by Ness with related summary discussion bites on the virtue of forgiveness to create what Dr. Enright calls  “forgiveness therapy through music” or simply “music of the heart.” The video production is available at no cost on YouTube.

“Every person in the world is dealing with some form of pain or toxic anger from being hurt in the past,” Dr. Enright said in explaining why he and Ness produced the video. “The COVID-19 lockdown has a tendency to amplify those internal feelings and cause additional stress so this is the ideal time to practice forgiveness by being good to yourself (self-forgiveness) and good to others.”

The Forgiveness video includes a rolling discussion between Ness and Dr. Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. The exchanges summarize the four phases of the patented Enright Forgiveness Process Model that has become the standard for forgiveness and forgiveness therapy around the world.

“Sam has added high artistry to the language of forgiveness with his voice and his guitar,” Dr. Enright says. “Instead of reading a book to learn how to forgive, Sam’s songs provide forgiveness therapy through music.

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down most television and movie productions for now, would-be viewers of those non-existent productions are looking for something new to watch as they shelter in place, according to Dr. Enright. “This video is just what they need—emotional self-improvement.”

In addition to the song “Forgiveness,” Ness performs two other original compositions on the video: “Storm Inside of Me” (a ballad about self-forgiveness) and “I’ve Come for Grace” (a song he wrote about life’s trials while he was undertaking a 96-mile winter hike through the Highlands of Scotland).

The 22-year-old Ness, a native of Sauk City, WI, began his song-writing career at age 15 and performed in show choir musicals throughout his high school years earning him scores of awards including two Wisconsin Tommy Awards for Outstanding Lead Performer and more than a handful of  Outstanding Male Soloist Awards.

After high school, Ness passed up scholarship offers to study theater from half-a-dozen prestigious universities and music conservatories. Instead, he hitch-hiked and hopped busses for nearly a year across Scotland, England, France, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland while learning the fine art of “busking” (street performing).


The complete video production is available at no cost on


The following year, Ness busked across much of New Zealand before signing on for a 23-show tour across Thailand and Cambodia. Since returning to Wisconsin, he finished writing and recording an album, “Lullabies & Faerie Tales.” He was nominated for several Madison-area music awards and won the Male Vocalist of the Year Award in 2019. Most of his music is available on his website: www.samness.us.

Ness will be traveling throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota this summer (COVID-19 permitting) as part of a solo musical tour featuring performances in 19 separate venues including resorts, lounges, wineries and brewpubs. View the Schedule.

That tour has been arranged and scheduled by Jonathan Little Productions, a talent agency owned by Jonathan Little—a life-long radio broadcaster and promoter of local artists. Little also helped arrange and produce the “Forgiveness” video. He received the Madison Area Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and was inducted into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2008.

“As this new video demonstrates, forgiveness is a paradox in which people are kind to those who were unkind to them, according to Dr. Enright. “That’s something we can all benefit from in this time of coronavirus lockdown. Forgiveness has the power you can use to free yourself from past hurts so you can live a better life.”

For Additional Information: