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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are some tips you can give me to figure out exactly why I am so angry?

In my book, The Forgiving Life (2012), I have an exercise that I call The Forgiveness Landscape. In this exercise, you start in your childhood and try to recall the central unjust incidents and the people who were unjust to you. You then rate your level of anger on a 1-to-10 scale. You do the same for your adolescence, and the same for your adult years. You then order the people/incidences from the lowest (but still significant in your life) to the highest levels of anger. This will give you a profile of your anger. I then recommend that you start with the lowest level of anger and forgive that person. Move up the anger-ladder until you have forgiven the person toward whom you have the most anger. This should aid you in not only gaining insight into your anger, but also at whom you are angry, and then to rid yourself of that anger.

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

My roommate forgave her boyfriend. Yet, she keeps talking about how mean he was to her. Why would she keep talking about it if she has forgiven him?

It is possible that your roommate has forgiven her boyfriend only to a point, but not completely. It seems that she still has residual anger that is bothering her. Also, even if she has forgiven him, she now may be struggling with the issue of reconciliation, or whether or not to continue the relationship. If she is talking about this as a call for help from you, then you might ask what her level of trust is with the boyfriend. See if she is struggling with the issue of reconciliation. It could be that she a) has forgiven, but not deeply yet, in which case she needs more time in the forgiveness process, or b) she is struggling with the issue of whether to reconcile or not.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I am in the process of forgiving someone, but occasionally I have fantasies of revenge. These are bothering me. What advice can you give me?

The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, reminds us that forgiveness is an imperfect process for imperfect people. We do not necessarily reach perfection in forgiving right away, but instead this takes time. Try to be gentle with yourself when you have these fantasies. Try to remind yourself that you have made a commitment to “do no harm” to the one whom you are forgiving. This reminder will give you confidence that you will not act on the fantasy.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

I have started the forgiveness process, but I have stopped because it is too painful. Should I go back to this process soon or would time off be more beneficial?

The key is this: When you look within, what do you see regarding your starting again? Do you have any motivation to try or not? If you have no motivation at all, then you need more time. Another question to ask yourself is this: Do I have the virtue of courage to go ahead? Courage can be part of the motivation. Another question is this: Do I have the energy right now to move forward with forgiving? Sometimes we need a rest and this is not dishonorable. As a final question, you might ask yourself this: Do I need to forgive someone else first? If the one you are trying to forgive has been deeply unfair, you might consider first forgiving someone for a lesser offense. You then can get more used to the forgiveness process, build up what I call “the forgiveness muscles” and then try to forgive the one who is more of a challenge.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I have a friend who keeps lying to herself about her own condition. She has stolen money from her company, but insists that they have enough so that they will never miss it. She has created an alternative reality in her own mind. How do I help her?

The psychological defenses of rationalization and denial can be so strong as to block the truth from the person. Yet, the psychological defenses are not necessarily so strong as to keep the truth away indefinitely. Over time, a sense of guilt may creep into her story. Try to be aware of these even slightly open doors. It is at the time of even a little doubt in her mind that you can discuss what is true about stealing and what is false. Eventually, if she becomes aware, even a little, of her guilt, then you can begin a conversation about seeking forgiveness and making reparation for the theft.

To learn more, see Why Forgiveness Is Not Only a Psychological Construct.

I notice at the office that some people just seem to have an angry disposition. It is not as if the job is so bad or the boss is being mean. It just seems to be a life-style for them. Is there a central reason why people like this seem to be angry all the time? And can I suggest forgiveness to them?

When you encounter people who seem to be angry all the time, it is my conjecture (and I have not met them, so I cannot know for sure) that they are harboring the effects of a significant trauma in their lives, a trauma that could go back decades. For example, if a person was abused as a child, the effects of this can be mistrust in general and resentment that is displaced onto others. Being in a marriage in which the partner is continually unjust can lead to the angry disposition which you describe. Sometimes people are unaware that they are giving this signal of anger. If people who have anger abiding in their hearts can be made aware that there is a solution to defeating that anger—forgiveness—they might or might not at first accept this. The idea of forgiveness can make some people even more angry and so you have to be gentle and not insist on their choosing forgiving. They may need time to think about forgiveness, get used to the idea, and then try it as their own free-will choice when they are ready.

To learn more, see Forgiveness Education: A Modern-Day Strategy That Can Improve Workplace Harmony.