Is forgiveness correlated with resilience?

Resilience in layperson terms is “bouncing back” from adversity. Not only is forgiveness correlated with resilience, our science shows that learning to forgive actually causes resilience in terms of improved self-esteem and hope and reductions in anger, anxiety, and depression. You can read some of these articles on the “Research” page of this website.

For additional information, see “Research.”

I have read the journal article by Suzanne Freedman and you regarding forgiveness by incest survivors. To be honest with you, I find those case studies unrealistic. So, I cannot see how it is possible for anyone to forgive someone for such acts. Can you convince me otherwise?

The science we report in that article on forgiveness interventions for incest survivors shows in a statistically significant way that the research participants improved substantially in their psychological health, including being healed from psychological depression. As you are skeptical, most of the incest surviving participants in that study initially were skeptical, saying that they did not think it was possible for them to forgive. Nonetheless, once they voluntarily agreed to work on forgiveness with Dr. Freedman guiding them, they were able to complete the forgiveness process with excellent psychological results. In other words, initial skepticism is not an indication of a final decision or a final outcome. Skepticism can aid us in asking the difficult questions and waiting until we receive reasonable answers, but skepticism need not be a final answer, as we saw in this study.

For additional information, see Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal With Incest Survivors.

Teaching Forgiveness to “the poorest of the poor” Around the World

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, the man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer,”  just returned from a European forgiveness-teaching tour that included sessions in Edinburgh, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Rome, Italy. Here is an update on his activities in the first of those locations:

Edinburgh, Scotland Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Enright and  colleagues began a two-phase forgiveness research project with homeless individuals in Edinburgh. Many of those individuals receive services from the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the poor, that has taken a strong interest in the forgiveness project and that has become a full-partner with the IFI in the Edinburgh research initiative.

Mother Teresa with the “street children” of Calcutta, India.

The Missionaries of Charity was founded more than 60 years ago by the late Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work with those she characterized as “the poorest of the poor.”

Initially established in Calcutta, the organization quickly expanded into countries outside India and at the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa had created over 750 homes in more than 135 countries, providing food pantries, orphanages, homes for AIDS patients and people with leprosy, as well as shelters for battered women, people addicted to drugs, and the poor.

The religious order has now grown to more than 6,000 Missionaries of Charity Sisters, 400 Missionaries of Charity Brothers, 40 Missionaries of Charity Fathers (priests), and 100,000 Lay (non-religious) Missionaries of Charity volunteers. Their services are provided, without charge, to people regardless of their religion or social status.

As part of the Edinburgh campaign, Dr. Enright and others are collaborating with Missionaries of Charity volunteers who are in the process of conducting interviews and administering a variety of anger, injustice, worth, and dignity scales to men and women who do not have stable home situations in Edinburgh.

A homeless woman sleeps in an Edinburgh graveyard. Photo by Murdo MacLeod-The Guardian-UK.

So far, we are seeing two distinct patterns emerge from those interviews and self-assessments,” Dr. Enright says. “One of those behavior patterns is pretty much what we expected but the second one presents a significant challenge related to how we address it through an appropriate forgiveness intervention.”

Most or the homeless interviewed in Edinburgh are deeply hurting because of past injustices/trauma and about one-third of them readily admit to being treated unjustly and they admit their pain, according to Dr. Enright. “These are the ones, we think, who may significantly benefit from having a forgiveness program,” he adds.

The second group, again about one-third of those interviewed, are characterized by Dr. Enright as deeply hurting because of past injustices–a pain that is so traumatic that they are not quite yet ready for forgiveness programs because they are in deep denial about what happened and about their depth of pain.

“I think this denial of the pain, the inability to yet see it and face it, keeps them imprisoned in their homeless pattern,” Dr. Enright observes. “They need much love and encouragement to break though their own barriers so that they can confront the injustice, forgive, heal, and then become resilient.”

Missionaries of Charity in their traditional saris.

Dr. Enright and colleagues are in discussions with the Missionaries of Charity volunteers about the structure and the Edinburgh-specific refinements for the forgiveness intervention that will be deployed in phase two of the project. Those guidelines could establish a precedence for a world-wide set of forgiveness interventions for the poor with direct instruction for both adults and children. 

Members of the Missionaries of Charity order designate their affiliation using the initials, “M.C.” A member of the congregation must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”  They are identified by wearing the traditional white religious habits with blue trim. In the U.S., a full 20% of American nuns are members of the Missionaries of Charity.

In Scotland, homelessness is called “rough sleeping.” For those rough sleeping, the risk of assault and theft are high. The weather can do real damage to their health and the stress of survival living takes a huge toll on their mental and physical health. The estimated lifeexpectancy of a rough sleeper is 43, pretty much half that of the general population.

A woman beggar sits on the pavement of a busy street in Edinburgh. Photo by Third Force News (TFN), Scotland.

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was set up in 2017 to recommend to Scottish Government Ministers the actions and solutions needed to eradicate rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland. The group’s final report, issued in June 2018, says that “homelessness must be seen as a public health priority” and makes more than 70 recommendations on ending homelessness in Scotland including those on welfare reform, ensuring adequate affordable housing, homeless assessment and intervention (much like the IFI is doing in Edinburgh), tackling child poverty, and others. ◊


How is forgiveness involved in those affected by suicide?

The issue of forgiveness in the context of suicide is a delicate matter. This is the case because some people will say that suicide is not an unjust act and thus there is no need to forgive. On the other hand, others who have lost loved ones will come to the opposite conclusion and say it was unfair. So, we should not give a general statement here and say all should forgive those who have taken their own lives. Yet, when those who have lost loved ones in this way and do want to go forward with forgiveness, then people should be careful not to pass judgement on them and discourage this healing option. With colleagues, I have published journal articles on this issue:

Lee, E., Kim, S., & Enright, R.D. (2015). A case study of a survivor of suicide who lost all family members through parent-child collective suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 36, 71-75. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000286

Lee, E., Enright, R.D., & Kim, J.J. (2015). Forgiveness postvention with a survivor of suicide following a loved one’s suicide: A case study. Social Sciences, 4, 688-699. doi: 10.3390/socsci4030688

Kenny, Kindness, and Forgiveness from Edinburgh to Rome

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, sent this communiqué today while overseeing forgiveness education projects in western Europe.

It was time to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Rome, Italy to continue the forgiveness work. While going to the Edinburgh airport, Kenny, the driver, engaged me in conversation.

“Were you here to see the sights of this beautiful city?” he asked me.

“I do admire the beauty of the city, but I was not here for sightseeing,” I replied.

As he inquired further, I explained that I had been doing research with people who are homeless. It is our hope to be able to research whether forgiveness interventions can help with this population. I explained that we have found that about two-thirds of people without homes, who take our surveys, show the following pattern:

a) They have been deeply hurt by others’ injustices against them prior to their becoming homeless;

b) they have not yet forgiven, but have significant resentment toward those who treated them unfairly; and

c) they have psychological compromise in the form of anger, anxiety, and depression.

If we can help the people to forgive, perhaps they will have sufficient energy and psychological health to change their life circumstance.

Kenny had wise insights for me regarding the situation of homelessness in Edinburgh.

As we continued the conversation, I told him how, while in Edinburgh, I had visited men in what is called, in the United States, a maximum security prison because one of the professionals in the prison invited me to discuss Forgiveness Therapy. The talk was well-received and so he now is planning to implement a forgiveness intervention soon in that facility.

Again, Kenny seemed to have uncommon insights for me about how to proceed with forgiveness interventions in the prison of Edinburgh.

By then, we were at the airport. After Kenny lifted my suitcase from the boot (trunk in USA talk), I handed him the 55 Great Britain Pounds Sterling as payment. He refused to take it. As I did not want him to work for me for nothing, I again handed the money to him and he said, “You have come a long way to enter my city to help the homeless and the imprisoned. I cannot take money from you. I want you to give that money to the poor when you are in Rome this coming week.” I was almost speechless, but I did manage a heart-felt thank you.

In Rome, there are many people who hold out paper or plastic cups in the hope of help. I met Andrea, a woman with a kind smile. She walks daily through the streets of Rome. She uses crutches because she has one leg. She manages, as she walks on crutches, to hold a white plastic cup in her right hand as she maneuvers the crutches. Much of the funds, meant for Kenny, went to Andrea over the coming days. We got to know one another, as I spoke a little Italian and she spoke a little English. Her eyes brighten each time we come toward one another and she expresses a genuine gratitude, meant, of course, for Kenny, whom she likely will never meet. She, though, has met Kenny’s kindness through me.

Kindness went from Edinburgh to Rome, 1549.7 miles away from each other. Forgiveness work followed the same route. Kindness and forgiveness can spread across hearts and across countries. Long live kindness and forgiveness.

In my experience, I find that mental health professionals emphasize catharsis or “getting the anger off one’s chest.” I now am wondering if this is an incomplete approach to good treatment. What do you think?

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).

30 Years at the Forefront of Forgiveness Science: Dr. Robert Enright, “the Forgiveness Trailblazer”

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.”