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.

New Manual for School Counselors — An Introduction to Forgiveness for Adolescents

A new forgiveness intervention manual for at-risk middle school and high school students is now available from the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI)—at no cost.

Forgiveness Over Revenge: Grief, Insight and Virtue through Education (F.O.R.G.I.V.E.) is a training manual intended to serve as an introduction to the topic of forgiveness, both for school counselorsAsk 4 and adolescents. The manual is not meant to serve as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool. Instead, it may be used to introduce the topic of forgiveness and to provide hands-on experience practicing forgiveness-related thought processes and exercises.

Counselors who opt to use the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual are provided with ten lessons, each approximately one hour in length. In the first five, students learn the basics of forgiveness, both what it is and what it is not. The remaining five lessons focus on applying the process of forgiveness through targeted activities in a group setting. Instructors may use their observations over the course of the ten sessions to better understand youths’ relationship to forgiveness and to make possible referrals for more directed forgiveness therapy when
appropriate.

The new manual was developed, designed and written by Dayana Kupisk, a current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Dayana Kupisk PhotoMadison, who spent a semester studying forgiveness under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI. She additionally has experience facilitating life skills and employment training to groups of at-risk youth, which greatly informed her approach for translating research-based information on forgiveness into creative activities that may be done with groups of youth.

This manual is intended for professional counselors with training to do group counseling with middle school and high school students,” according to Kupisk. “Since it contains therapeutic content, in which students focus on forgiving people who have hurt them, it is not for general classroom use, either by teachers or by counselors. Instead, this manual is intended for short-term group counseling with students who have been referred for treatment within the school setting.” 

Kupisk said she wants the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual distributed to as many potential users as possible. To accomplish that, she decided to allow the IFI to add the manual to its growing compilation of forgiveness intervention manuals and curriculum guides and to offer it at no cost. The manual can be ordered through the IFI website Store.

The International Forgiveness Institute, based in Madison, WI, is the only worldwide organization that focuses exclusively on forgiveness education for students from pre-kindergarten through high school. The Institute’s school forgiveness programs are operating in the U.S. and 30 other countries.

How would you define forgivable offenses? To be particular, can someone forgive another’s failure or deficiency in character (even if there was no wrongful act committed by the person)? For instance, someone might be indifferent to me without meaning to hurt me, but I might still feel offended while knowing he or she didn’t do anything wrong to me. Thank you.

Deficiency of character will come out as behavior, either as a bad act (an act of commission) or as a failure to act when one should (an act of omission). When a person treats you with indifference, this is an act of omission because you are a person of worth and others should not treat you as if you were invisible. This, of course, does not mean that we have to pour ourselves out for everyone we meet. Your example centers on actual interactions which make you feel ignored. We should not treat others as if they do not count or have no worth (an act of omission).  When this occurs, those so ignored can, if they choose, forgive the other.

Forgiveness: Why is it so hard?

AEON Magazine, London, Melbourne, New York – “Science is discovering what religion has always known: forgiveness is good for us. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”

That’s the opening of an article for AEON Magazine titled “Letting Go” by California writer Amy Westervelt, who writes on health issues primarily for The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian.  In this article, she documents the science proving that forgiveness is healthy, but struggles to figure out why is it so hard.

After studying and interviewing forgiveness experts like Dr. Robert Enright, Professor Frederic Luskin, and Oprah Winfrey’s favorite life coach, Iyanla Vanzant, here is some of what Westervelt concluded about why forgiveness is so hard:

Forgiveness is a relatively new academic research area, studied in earnest only since Dr. Enright began publishing on the subject in the 1980s. The first batch of studies were medical in focus. Forgiveness was widely correlated with a range of physical benefits, including better sleep, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, Hard workeven increased life expectancy; really, every benefit you’d expect from reduced stress.

The late Kathleen Lawler, while working as a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, studied the effects of both hostility and forgiveness on the body’s systems fairly extensively. ‘Forgiveness is aptly described as “a change of heart”,’ she wrote, in summarising a series of studies focused on the impact of forgiveness on heart health. Meanwhile, Duke University researchers found a strong correlation between improved immune system function and forgiveness in HIV-positive patients, and between forgiveness and improved mortality rates across the general population. . . .

Dr. Enright has established himself as ‘the father of forgiveness’, creating a therapeutic protocol for how to practise it that was officially sanctioned by the American Psychology Association and the United Nations. He thought the Catholic Church could be doing more to Being Humanemphasise its deep history in the subject, and spreading the gospel of forgiveness to the masses, and said so in a speech at the Vatican. . . .

While researchers have spent the past 20 years proving the physical and mental benefits of forgiveness, it’s the step-by-step forgiveness guides they’ve developed that might turn out to be academia’s most important contribution to the subject.

Like Vanzant’s pop-psych version, the protocols that Enright and Luskin have developed offer specific steps towards forgiveness rooted in decades of research and clinical experience. While the various approaches differ, all include practical guidance and the basics are consistent: feel the feelings you need to feel, express them, then leave them in the past where they can no longer have power over you.

What all of the researchers and pop-psych proponents of forgiveness agree on is that it takes practice and that it is hard work. Vanzant compares it to pulling out a tooth without Novocaine. Luskin described it as re-training the brain. ‘You can get upset about anything – you can also get un-upset about anything, it’s just a matter of learning how,’ he said.

Forgiveness works, and that’s what makes it so damn hard. Time does not heal all wounds. This too shall not pass. Letting go of hurt and anger is a grind, and forgiveness only works if you practise it regularly, and are prepared to fail often without giving up. But the pay-off is so huge it just might be worth it.

Read the full article “Letting Go” and watch a related video–a classic Iranian documentary that draws a forceful, poetic appeal for dignity from the harrowing images of leprosy.

A Day Discussing Forgiveness in a Maximum Security Prison

In late August, my colleague, Gayle Reed, and I visited a maximun security prison to discuss forgiveness. The point was not to focus on those in prison seeking forgiveness for their crimes, but instead to help each of them to begin forgiving those who have abused them prior to their serious crimes. Many of these men have been deeply abused by others, but this becomes invisible as the focus is on their crimes and rehabilitating them for those actions.

Yet, this next point seems so little understood: Those who perpetrate crime so often have an anger, a hatred, a fury within because of the HatePrison-Loveinjustices they have suffered, often long before they lash out at others. If it will diminish, this kind of fury within needs major surgery of the heart. All the rehabilitation in the world, if it only focuses on their bad behavior, will do nothing to cleanse the heart of fury. Only forgiveness therapy will do that—and this idea of “only forgiveness therapy” came from one of the counselors at the prison, who supervised a forgiveness group for 6 months.

The day at the institution was special for us as we saw the men’s hearts melt at the realization (over 6 months of forgiveness therapy) that they have been deeply hurt by others, not only perpetrators of hurt onto others. They gained the insight that their own anger, rage, and fury built up to such an extent that it came roaring out onto others. As one man said, “Forgiveness is the enemy of hatred.”

Another man had this remarkable insight that anger, which is displaced onto unsuspecting other people, leads to the victim possibly passing that anger to another person, who may pass it on yet again. At some point, he reasoned, someone has to stop the passing on of anger and forgiving can do that job. He said this: “When another is in pain, they are on the hook.  Then they put you on the hook. hen you put others on the hook.” He was clearly seeing that his anger was passed to his victim(s).

After our meeting with the men who took part in the 6-month CellWindowforgiveness group, several of the men came up privately to me. Each one had tears in his eyes and whispered that he needs to forgive himself now. They are having a hard time living with themselves.  The remorse was genuine and the pain real.

After 30 years of studying forgiveness and seeing the scientific results of a significant reduction in anger by those who forgive, I am confident that as the people in prison (both men and women) learn to forgive, their anger within the institution may diminish, making their prison home safer for everyone, including the officers and all who attend to them.

This is a new idea for corrections. May it be a standard idea within a decade.

Robert