A New Approach to Reducing Depression

“Forgiveness therapy targets and reduces unhealthy anger.”

Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Psychological depression occurs in at least 25% of all primary care patients in the United States and yet only about one-third of these are diagnosed as depressed.  Mental illness is not an isolated issue but is associated with such physical compromise as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer (American Psychological Association, 2017).  It is estimated that over 14 million people in the United States suffer from major depressive disorder (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 2017).

The good news is that depression is a highly treatable disorder with medication and with such psychological approaches as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (recognizing and stopping maladaptive thinking and replacing this with more adaptive thoughts and behaviors),  Mindfulness Therapy (being present to the symptoms and not letting troublesome thoughts drift to the past or future), and Behavioral Therapy (engaging in rewarding behaviors).

A new approach, Forgiveness Therapy, focuses on a sequence that is not a common practice in contemporary psychotherapies:

  • Examine whether or not you have been treated unfairly, even cruelly, in the past.  Recognize this as unjust.
  • Realize that emotional pain is a natural next step when reacting to such unfair treatment by others.  After all, you have a right to be treated with respect, even if this does not occur.
  • If you do not find a solution to this emotional pain, eventually you may become angry at the situation and at the persisting pain.
  • If you do not find a solution to the growing anger or the emotional pain, then you might develop what we call unhealthy anger, the kind that is so deep that it starts to affect sleep, energy levels, thoughts, and behaviors (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).
  • If the unhealthy anger persists, this can develop more deeply into symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The takeaway message from the above sequence is this: For some people, depression is not the only issue to be treated. Instead there are three other, central issues too often missed with traditional therapies: injustice(s) that happen but are not confronted; the emotional pain that ensues; and most importantly for Forgiveness Therapy, the unhealthy anger that fuels the depression in some people.

If you only focus on current medication or current thoughts or current symptoms, you may miss the actual cause of the depression, which could be a build-up of the unhealthy anger caused by emotional pain caused by injustice.

Forgiveness Therapy starts by examining the injustices in your life that may be compromising that life now.  Some people are surprised to learn that they still carry the emotional wounds, for example, from being bullied on the school playground, or being belittled by a parent years ago, or not being given a chance in the workplace when just starting out.  It is this kind of injustice that has to be uncovered and identified as hurtful in the present.

Next comes the challenge of admitting the depth of one’s anger. The norms of contemporary society, that good people do not get deeply angry, can get in the way of this identification, but it is vital to go more deeply than these norms to see if, in fact, the anger is deep, lingering, and harmful.  When unresolved anger from the past mixes with contemporary challenges, then the anger can intensify, compromising one’s well-being and thus leading to depressive symptoms.

Forgiveness Therapy is not a substitute for medication or for the implementation of other psychotherapies such as CBT.  Forgiveness Therapy can come alongside these well-tested approaches and give you added strength to deal with the depression and to reduce it to manageable levels.  Forgiveness Therapy is not for everyone.  Some just do not want to consider the paradox of offering kindness toward the unkind.  This form of therapy needs to be willingly chosen by the client.  It is new but tested both scientifically and clinically, and it works.

Do you have injustices, even from your distant past, that are getting in the way of your happiness?  If you start the process of forgiving those who have been cruel to you, perhaps the depression not only will be managed but reduced to a degree that may surprise you.

Posted in Psychology Today April 6, 2017


References:

Four Eye-Opening Reasons Why You Should Watch the Rome Forgiveness Conference Videos

“The first-of-its-kind conference in Rome, Italy, explored what it means to forgive another person who has been unjust to you,” 
according to Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. “Crucial ideas on how to help children and adolescents learn to forgive were presented by international experts in the field of forgiveness education.”
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If you were unable to attend the Rome Conference on Forgiveness in January (hosted by Dr. Robert Enright and the International Forgiveness Institute), here are four reasons you should watch the speaker videos that are now available free of charge on the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) website:
Reason #1: To learn the importance of forgiveness education.
Students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast.

Dr. Robert Enright, IFI founder, first discusses what forgiveness education is and its importance for children and adolescents. Click here to watch Dr. Enright’s presentation on “The Science of Forgiveness.”

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This is followed by a stirring presentation delivered by teacher Annette Shannon of the Holy Cross Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland–a school that experienced the effects of The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the early part of this century. Click here for Ms. Shannon’s presentation.
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You can also see the introduction to the conference by the Conference Master of Ceremonies, Fr. Robert Gahl, who is Professor of Philosophy, University of Santa Croce. Click here to watch and hear Fr. Gahl introduce the speakers.
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Reason #2: To hear the surprising declarations made by a high-ranking Iraqi official about forgiveness in Islam.
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The Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, Hon. Omer Ahmed Kerim Berzinji, said forgiveness plays a prominent role in his Muslim faith and that it is cited roughly 100 times in the Quran. (Click here to watch the opening part of his presentation, which includes a consecutive translation of his Arabic words. After this brief consecutive translation, the rest of the ambassador’s talk is in Arabic without the translation). The Hon. Berzinji expressed an interest in considering the implementation of forgiveness education in Iraq.

Reason #3: To hear for yourself the Orthodox Jewish speaker’s views on forgiveness.
Peta
Peta Pellach of the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem gave an inspiring presentation of forgiveness in Judaism that is not to be missed. Click here to watch Ms. Pellach’s presentation.
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Reason #4: To hear for yourself the Christian speaker’s views on forgiveness.
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Monsignor Mariano Fazio, Vicar General of Opus Dei and a long-time personal friend of Pope Francis, discusses his views on forgiveness.  Click here to watch Msgr. Fazio’s presentation. Author of more than 20 books, Msgr. Fazio’s newest book is titled Pope Francis: Keys to His Thought.

        


We extend our thanks and appreciation to our  conference partner Forgive4Peace for helping us make it possible.

Emily Atallah

Through my work as an existential logotherapeutic coach, I help people find meaning in everything in their life, including work, family relationships, and in situations where they face insurmountable suffering. I do this mainly by working with the power of forgiveness.

In my home country, Colombia, forgiveness seems like an impossible task for many. With a history of more than 60 years marked by war, drug trafficking and constant conflict, entire populations have now had to confront a hard question: will they forgive those who horribly hurt them even if they never asked for forgiveness?

This made me look for ways I could help those clients who had to leave their home behind, fearing for their safety, and who came to a city that in more than one occasion, receives them with a hostile environment and not much help. Many people with deep wounds derived from the conflict and a past of violence, resentment and vengeance.

As I looked for ways to help, I researched many therapies, but with time, I found them temporary or incomplete. I also looked into the initiatives of religious groups, and though they were having some admirable results, they did not appeal to non-believers.

Then I heard about the International Forgiveness Institute, and all their research on how forgiveness is a psychological matter, not only a religious one. I was personally impressed by their focus on forgiveness’ impact on psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and others as measurable variables. For me, it meant that now we can present evidence that forgiveness works and can in fact change hearts!

Finding meaning and forgiveness in a life full of resentments is crucial to heal.  To see the offender as a human being and giving them what they deserve in dignity and love, changes your life and theirs.  It restores justice even without reconciliation.

Emily Atallah with her “Helping Clients Forgive” Certificate of Completion.

Forgiveness gives you a second chance for a meaningful and happy life, an opportunity to live a better, healthier, fulfilling life where people reach for their dreams without the weight of resentful thoughts.

As a life coach, I found particularly reassuring and helpful to learn that forgiveness has a measurable impact on the people I treat despite what the offense was. My time studying at the Forgiveness Institute gave me more tools to better treat my clients, to measure their progress and to encourage them to strive for a better and more meaningful life.

I encourage you to give yourself the opportunity to see forgiveness in a new light and learn about its healing power, by taking the online “Helping Clients Forgive” course through the International Forgiveness Institute.

Emily Atallah
Coach de Vida
e-mail: emilyatallah@gmail.com
http://www.emilyatallah.com


 

“Forgiveness works and can change hearts!”

Editor’s Note: We asked a recent graduate of our Online Forgiveness Education Course to tell us about her experience with the IFI course, “Helping Clients Forgive.” Here is the response from life coach Emily Atallah:

Through my work as an existential logotherapeutic coach, I help people find meaning in everything in their life, including work, family relationships, and in situations where they face insurmountable suffering. I do this mainly by working with the power of forgiveness.

In my home country, Colombia, forgiveness seems like an impossible task for many. With a history of more than 60 years marked by war, drug trafficking and constant conflict, entire populations have now had to confront a hard question: will they forgive those who horribly hurt them even if they never asked for forgiveness?

This made me look for ways I could help those clients who had to leave their home behind, fearing for their safety, and who came to a city that in more than one occasion, receives them with a hostile environment and not much help. Many people with deep wounds derived from the conflict and a past of violence, resentment and vengeance.

As I looked for ways to help, I researched many therapies, but with time, I found them temporary or incomplete. I also looked into the initiatives of religious groups, and though they were having some admirable results, they did not appeal to non-believers.

Click on the graphic to learn more about this online CE Course.

Then I heard about the International Forgiveness Institute, and all their research on how forgiveness is a psychological matter, not only a religious one. I was personally impressed by their focus on forgiveness’ impact on psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and others as measurable variables. For me, it meant that now we can present evidence that forgiveness works and can in fact change hearts!

Finding meaning and forgiveness in a life full of resentments is crucial to heal.  To see the offender as a human being and giving them what they deserve in dignity and love, changes your life and theirs.  It restores justice even without reconciliation.

Emily Atallah with her “Helping Clients Forgive” Certificate of Completion.

Forgiveness gives you a second chance for a meaningful and happy life, an opportunity to live a better, healthier, fulfilling life where people reach for their dreams without the weight of resentful thoughts.

As a life coach, I found particularly reassuring and helpful to learn that forgiveness has a measurable impact on the people I treat despite what the offense was. My time studying at the Forgiveness Institute gave me more tools to better treat my clients, to measure their progress and to encourage them to strive for a better and more meaningful life.

I encourage you to give yourself the opportunity to see forgiveness in a new light and learn about its healing power, by taking the online “Helping Clients Forgive” course through the International Forgiveness Institute.

Emily Atallah
Coach de Vida
e-mail: emilyatallah@gmail.com
http://www.emilyatallah.com


 

I recently read an article about “50 children under the care of the state were victims of substantiated sexual abuse.” I’m tired of reading about the sex abuse happening in our society. Is there a connection to anger, lack of forgiveness to sex offenders? If there is a connection what about forgiveness therapy for sex offenders; can it help in lowering the chance of re-offending? If so, can forgiveness therapy/curriculum in schools, anger management programs, prisons etc possibly lower the incidences of sex abuse?

It has been estimated that about 30% of sex offenders have been sexually abused prior to their crimes. Thus, your point that some sex offenders might benefit from Forgiveness Therapy is valid. It is valid for about a third of this population.  The other 70% may be suffering from narcissism, the failure to see the personhood in others, and other challenges.  Forgiveness Therapy may not be effective in these other cases, but if such therapy could aid a third of this population, that would be significant assistance.

Should I Forgive?

Excerpt from pages 37-38 of the book, The Forgiving Life by Dr. Robert Enright:
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“Not everyone agrees that forgiveness is morally good. For example, in 1887, Nietzsche said that only the weak forgive. In other words, if you have to keep a job, then you forgive. If you find another job, then you can boldly tell that boss where he can go as you strut out the door. Yet, is this philosopher Nietzsche talking about genuine forgiveness? I don’t think so.
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To forgive is to deliberately offer goodness in the face of your own pain to the one who was unfair to you. This is an act of great courage, not weakness. Forgiveness—like justice or patience or kindness or love—is a virtue and all virtues are concerned with the exercise of goodness. It is always appropriate to be good to others, if you so choose and are ready to do so. As a caution, if you have only $1 to feed a hungry child and you get a phone call to please give mercifully to the local animal shelter, you should not exercise goodness toward the shelter if it means depriving your child of basic needs. Yet, if the circumstances are right and if you have an honest motive to give mercy to someone who hurt you, then going ahead with forgiveness is morally good.
Why? Because you are freely offering kindness or respect or generosity or even love (or all four together) and this might change you and the other person and others in the world. Even if no one is changed by what you do, it is always good (given the right motivation and circumstance) to offer mercy in a world that seems to turn its collective back on such an act too often.”
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Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05)The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools). American Psychological Association.

Why Resentment Lasts—and How to Defeat It

robert-enright 3Editor’s Note: As a regular blog contributor to the online version of Psychology Today, Dr. Robert Enright (founder of the International Forgiveness Institute) has repeatedly received special recognition for his posts. Yesterday, his latest blog was given “Essential Topic” status meaning that it receives prominent placement on their website along with being featured on the first page of blog topics like“Education” and “Therapy.” Here is that blog:
Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today

“I resent that!”  Philosophers have made the case that such statements are good (MacLachlan, 2010).  It shows that you respect yourself and will not let others take advantage of you.  Resentment shows that you are a person of moral character who knows right from wrong and therefore knows when wrong is done against you.  In contrast, psychologists can get worried about resentment because they mean something different.
Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
Source: Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com and Jacqueline Song
 To psychologists, resentment over a long period of time can be an unhealthy response to injustice, sometimes an injustice that won’t quit such as continual demeaning comments from a partner or the unreasonable demands of a boss who just doesn’t “get it.”  Resentment in cases like these represents a development in one’s anger from mild to deeper…….and it lingers. This kind of resentment can lead to unhappiness, continual irritability, and psychological compromise including excessive anxiety and depression (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Let us keep the philosopher’s resentment and let us banish the other.

Yet, the psychologist’s kind of resentment all too often is not a polite guest.  It seems to never know when to leave.  In fact, if left unchecked it can take over the psychological house within you.  Why is this?  Consider three reasons.

First, we have all felt the initial euphoria created by a response of courage after another’s offense.  We will stand up for ourselves.  We will resist.  Resentment can give you a feeling not only of euphoria but also of strength.  Nurturing such a rewarding feeling can become a habit.  I know of one person who, upon having his morning cup of coffee, would replay the injustice and feel the inner strength as a way of getting ready for the day.  He did this until he realized that over the long-term, such a routine was leaving him drained before he even left for work.  His temporary adrenaline rush was turning on him.  This is a case of positive reinforcement for something that shows itself in the long run not to be so positive.

Second, once we realize that our short-term euphoria is turning against us, we just don’t know how to get the resentment to leave.  How do I turn off the resentment?  What path do I take to have some inner quiet?  Taking up jogging might do it……but once you have recovered your energy from the run, the anger returns.  How about relaxation training?  Same issue: once the muscle relaxation is over, there is the resentment with its perverse smile looking back at you.  “I just don’t know how to rid myself of the resentment!” is a cry I hear too often.


“Resentment could linger for the rest of your life unless you confront it.”


Third, and this is the most sinister of all, resentment can become a part of your identity, a part of who you are as a person.  You move from showing resentful behavior to being a resentful person and there is a large difference between the two. Once you start saying that you are a particular kind of person, it sometimes is threatening to change the identity.  So often people will live with an identity—a sense of self, a sense of who one is—that is compromising for them because they are afraid of change.  The familiar is better than the alternative even if the familiar includes pain and unnecessary suffering.

Source: Mimagephotography/Dreamstime.com

So then, what to do about the unwanted guest?  Try these 5 approaches:

  • Try to see the inner world of the one causing the disturbance.  Might he be carrying an extra burden of resentment, perhaps from times past?  Might she be living with bitterness that is spreading to others, including you?  Can you see the woundedness within the person who is wounding you?
  • Commit to doing no harm to the one who is harming you.  This allows for a new kind of inner strength to develop.
  • Stand in the pain so that you do not pass that pain to innocent others.  This, too, can strengthen you.
  • Science has shown on many occasions that there is a resentment-buster in the name of forgiveness (Enright, 2012).  To forgive is a way of offering goodness to the one who gave you the unwanted present of resentment.  Rather than the strength of the clinched fist and jaw, the strength from forgiveness shows that you can soften your heart toward the one who infected your heart. This can bring you inner relief.
  • Finally, be open to your new identity:  I am someone who can stand in the pain.  I am someone who can forgive. I am even someone who can ask resentment to leave……and it leaves.

Which is the better identity: a life lived with an unwanted inner guest or a life free to be a conduit of good toward others and yourself?


Posted March 25, 2017 – Psychology Today
References:
Enright, R.D. (2012).  The Forgiving Life.  Washington, D.C.: APA Books.
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
MacLachlan, A. (2010).  Unreasonable resentments.  Journal of Social Philosophy, 41. 422-441.