FORGIVENESS: The Basic Building Block of Loving Relationships

What comes to mind when you hear someone mention the term “therapy”? Do you envision a patient lying on a couch with a therapist sitting behind and nodding sagely as the patient talks about the shortcomings of his or her life? If so, it’s time to upgrade your thinking.

Liza Elliott (American film star Ginger Rogers) undergoes psychoanalysis by Dr. Alex Brooks (Barry Sullivan) in the 1944 hit “Lady in the Dark.”

Thanks to less-than-accurate portrayals in movie and television docudramas, that approach to therapy (known as psychoanalysis) is still dominant in the minds of most individuals. And while it is still practiced, it is in the minority. There are now an estimated 400 different kinds of therapy used by practitioners around the world.

That’s but one of the many mind-altering revelations in a just-published book called Introduction to Psychology by Jorden A. Cummings (Associate Professor) and Lee Sanders (Sessional Lecturer), both in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  The book offers a comprehensive treatment of core concepts, grounded in classical studies and current/emerging research.

Another major revelation of the new book is its focus on Positive Psychology–the study of happiness. While psychology has traditionally focused on dysfunction–people with mental illness or other issues–and how to treat it, positive psychology, in contrast, is a field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled–in other words, what makes life worth living. 

Three Key Strengths

Within positive psychology, three key human strengths have been identified–forgiveness, gratitude and humility. While Introduction to Psychology provides meticulous coverage of those three strengths (Chapter 12.5), this post will focus on forgiveness. Here are excerpts from the book:

Forgiveness is essential to harmonious long-term relationships between individuals, whether between spouses or nations, dyads or collectives. At the level of the individual, forgiveness of self can help one achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God.


“Forgiveness can be an avenue to healing. It is the basic building block of loving relationships with others.”
Introduction to Psychology


Because the potential for conflict is seemingly built into human nature, the prospects for long-term peace may seem faint. Forgiveness offers another way. If the victim can forgive the perpetrator, the relationship may be restored and possibly even saved from termination.

The essence of forgiveness is that it creates a possibility for a relationship to recover from the damage caused by the offending party’s offense. Forgiveness is thus a powerful pro-social process. It can benefit human social life by helping relationships to heal. Culligan (2002) wrote “Forgiveness may ultimately be the most powerful weapon for breaking the dreadful cycle of violence.”


“On a social level, forgiveness may be the critical element needed for world peace.”
Introduction to Psychology


Forgiveness studies demonstrate that self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive point of view. 

In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others (Enright, 2001).


ADDENDUM:

Introduction to Psychology has been created from a combination of original content and materials compiled and adapted from several Open Educational Resources (OERs)—teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing.

Compared to commercial textbooks and other commercial resources, OERs are: free to access, free to reuse, free to revise, free to remix, and free to redistribute.

This provides opportunities for instructors and learners to shape course content and meet the needs of specific learning contexts. Teachers and students become learners together, and content becomes a dynamic, always changing category to be engaged rather than a stable set of facts to be mastered.

This is called Open Pedagogy–the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. This dynamic, often called Open Education, is transforming lifelong learning in the process.


LEARN MORE:

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF FORGIVENESS

This guest blog was written by Rosemary Kite, Founder and President of Forgive4Peace in Los Angeles, CA.


They say that unforgiveness is like a poison you take hoping that the other person will die! I hope that’s not you.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. The science of forgiveness. Medical experts say that forgiving those who have wronged us helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. The benefits aren’t just limited to the physical, though. Letting go of old grudges is known to reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive tend to have better relationships, be more optimistic, and overall, enjoy better psychological well-being.

So why is it so hard for us to do what is good for us to do? Well, forgiveness is about the hardest thing any one of us ever has to do. But the heart is a muscle and every muscle needs to be exercised. Forgiveness exercises the heart muscle, but not without the help of the head (and the hands for that matter), because forgiveness is above all, a CHOICE. So before moving onto the art of forgiveness, let’s try to define the word.

What exactly is forgiveness anyway? According to Dr. Robert Enright, an Educational Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, forgiveness can be defined as follows:

“Forgiveness is a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and even love toward him or her.”

See. . . Forgiveness involves the head, the hands, and the heart (the intellect, the will, AND the emotions). Let’s take a minute to look at each of these components:

1st – THE EMOTIONS….where it all starts, in the ANGER. In forgiveness, we strive to abandon our right to resentment, that “re-feeling” of the sting of injustice. Resentment is a feeling, a passion, a movement we feel in a painful way as we strive to abandon the desires for revenge, retaliation, desires of getting even, settling the accounts, the wallowing in self-pity.

2nd – THE INTELLECT. By channeling our emotions through the intellect, we invite our reason to have a say and we work toward abandoning our negative judgments (the critical spirit, the condemnation, the name calling, the depressing self-talk).

3rd – THE BEHAVIOR. Our actions that sometimes speak louder than words. We try to abandon negative behavior in our gestures, attitudes and treatment of the other (the sourpuss, the cold shoulder, the bad-mouthing, the finger, the backbiting). By integrating these three dimensions of ourselves, forgiveness makes us WHOLE. Forgiveness makes us more human.

What forgiveness is NOT is: a four-letter word, excusing, condoning (suggesting that something bad is really something good), forgetting (it doesn’t produce amnesia of the event or the hurt; forgiving and the memory of the event can coexist), or pretending that nothing happened.

So if forgiveness is a choice; it is also a process that is multi-layered and cyclical and that is where the art of forgiveness comes in. It places no conditions such as an apology or remorse or even justice for that matter.

The art of forgiveness looks something like this:

  1. We stop dancing around denial and acknowledge the injustice in order to uncover the anger.
  2. We wiggle and wobble around the need to decide to forgive. To make a tough choice. To try to end the resentment. To try to be a loving person even to the one who was unfair to us. We try to learn what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said: “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
  3. Then we dig into the hard work of taking as wide a perspective as possible to re-frame the event, the anger and the pain. Can we consider the humanity in the person; can we see his/her woundedness, stress? Can we see that we both share a common humanity? That this person is not evil incarnate? Can we begin to feel any empathy? A softening of our heart toward understanding?
  4. Finally, we unearth the peace and freedom of letting go of resentment and bitterness; we release the pent-up anger; lessening the emotional anguish. We discover a freer heart; meaning in our suffering. We come to realize that, in the words of Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  We learn the great paradox of forgiveness: as you reach out to others in love, you yourself experience emotional healing.

So the secret art and science of forgiveness suggests that the best medicine we can possibly take to improve our physical, psychological, social and spiritual health is forgiveness. Forgiveness is like the pill that offers the deepest healing of the wounds that fester in the human heart.


If you want to be happy for a moment, take revenge. But if you want to be happy forever,  forgive.
                                                                                                                                 ~ Rosemary Kite


Rosemary Kite

Rosemary Kite and Forgive4Peace have been long-time supporters and financial contributors to the International Forgiveness Institute.  Its mission is “to promote forgiveness education at home, at school and at work for the sake of world peace. Forgiveness fills the gap between our world’s unrest and world peace. All education fosters peace. Forgiveness education brings peace.” In addition to rewarding achievements in forgiveness, Forgive4Peace raises awareness of the importance and value of forgiveness in one’s everyday life. Visit the Forgive4Peace website here.

Rage Reduction Through Forgiveness Education

By Dr. Robert Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons 

After massacres in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, in which 29 people died, President Donald Trump made a  number of sensible recommendations to address violence and mass murders in the United States. He has been criticized for not calling for stricter gun controls but his words went to the heart of this crisis of hatred and violence:

“We must recognize that the Internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the Internet, and stop mass murders before they start. . . We cannot allow ourselves to feel powerless. We can and will stop this evil contagion. In that task, we must honor the sacred memory of those we have lost by acting as one people.” (Read the Full Text Here.)

Below are our proposals for aspects of a comprehensive federal plan consistent with the President’s ideas. They are based on our combined 70 years of experience in research, education, and clinical work in uncovering and initiating treatment protocols in schools and in mental health treatment for excessive anger (or what psychiatrists call “irritability”).

Anger-reduction programs. The mental health field needs to develop protocols to identify individuals at risk for severe irritability and violent impulses. Next, empirically-verified treatment plans should be initiated for reducing intense anger and rage. Programs like this are rare in the mental health field.

A Secret Service report published last month, Mass Attacks in Public Spaces,” found that 67 percent of the suspects displayed symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance. In 93 percent, the suspects had a history of threats or other troubling communications.

The mental health field needs to recognize that the training and ongoing education of health professionals has not been strong regarding the identification and treatment of irritability and violent impulses. So it is no surprise that the mass murderers of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Lakeland, and Columbine had not been treated for their anger. We need training programs. They could be part of required Continuing Education credits for state licensure for psychiatrists, psychologists, and the other physicians who prescribe roughly 80 percent of psychiatric medications.

Our book, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, can be one such training tool for mental health professionals. Forgiveness has been empirically verified to reduce unhealthy anger.

A Newtown, CT, memorial following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

Education in schools. Education programs in schools could uncover and teach youth how to resolve intense anger and desires for revenge that lead to a sense of pleasure in expressing violent acts against others. Dr. Enright has worked to establish scientifically-supported  programs for reducing anger in youth through forgiveness education curricula (from pre-kindergarten through grade 12). These educational guides have been sought by educators in over 30 countries. Dr Enright’s books, Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, and 8 Keys to Forgiveness, can be used as anger-reduction tools with older high school students, college students, and adults.

Teach respect for persons. A key development for forgiveness education is a new perspective on humanity: all have inherent worth, even those who act unfairly. In other words, these programs not only reduce anger, and thus eliminate a major motivation to hurt others, but also engender a sense of respect for persons.

This combination of reduced irritability and a new perception of the worth of all could go a long way in reducing rage and thus in reducing mass shootings.

Regulate violent video games. Violent video-gaming and media violence have played a role in the behavior of mass murders. A continual exposure to gaming that denigrates others in a virtual environment is a sure way of damaging respect for persons. Such “games” have courageously been identified by the President as factors in the epidemic of violence. Rather than teaching the importance of mastering anger without hurting others (character education), some games support the expression of rage and violence.

We need Federal laws. Youth are not allowed into movie theaters for X-rated fare. This should be the case with video games, which should be lawfully kept from youth when judged to have content that demonstrates and even encourages excessive anger. Parents should teach their children how to resolve their anger without harming others and should prohibit violent games in their homes. Violent games must have a warning that they could promote uncontrollable anger.

What about the guns? The President has identified essential issues that need to be addressed on the federal level to end the epidemic of massacres by individuals with severe, largely unrecognized and untreated, psychological problems.

While it is essential to try to keep guns out of the hands of those prone to act on their hatred, more important is the establishment of new anger control programs which will make for a safer America.


Robert Enright, Ph.D., is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Board Member of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.
Rick Fitzgibbons, MD, is a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, PA. They are joint recipients of the 2019 Expanded Reason Award, presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.


This blog originally appeared on the MercatorNet.com website on August 14, 2019.

My son has been bullied in school. He actually came to me and asked how he might start to forgive those who bully him. I was surprised by his maturity, actually. What can you tell me in terms of advice that I can pass on to my son?

Yes, I agree with you that your son is showing maturity in wanting to explore forgiveness. First, I would take the time to be sure he knows what forgiveness is and is not. He needs to know that as he forgives, he needs to strive for justice, as you do, with the school administrators. Next, I would ask him to see the people who bully as genuine persons, who have built-in worth despite their troubling behavior. This can take time and effort. Help him to see more broadly than just the hurtful actions of those who bully. For example, you could ask this: “Do you think that those who bully you have been hurt in the past? Might they be carrying these wounds into the school and imposing their own hurt now on you? Can you see a hurting person through their inappropriate actions?” Again, I would be sure that your son sees the need to forgive and seek justice together.

Learn more at How Forgiveness Benefits Kids and The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program.

What is the one, central issue about forgiveness that you would give to those who are preparing for marriage?

I would encourage them to get to know very deeply what forgiveness is (a moral virtue in which you practice goodness toward those who are not good to you) and is not (to forgive is not to excuse unjust behavior, to automatically reconcile when the other is a danger to you, nor to abandon the quest for justice). Then I would urge both people to examine the injustices which they suffered in their family of origin, forgive the people, and discuss the pattern of injustices together so that they do not reproduce the injustices in their own marriage.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

You say that all people have inherent worth. What about mass murders or those who commit other horrific crimes. Don’t you think they have lost that right for us to see them as having worth?

We need to separate a person’s actions and who they are as persons. Some who commit horrific crimes end up repenting, being very sorry for what they did. They no longer will engage in such behaviors. Still others may remain unrepentant, but should we define them only by their actions? Are they not unique human beings and if so, does not that make them special and irreplaceable?

People of faith would say that we are all “made in the image and likeness of God.” If we are **all** so made, then so too are those who commit horrific crimes. We, then, are not to stand in judgement of them as persons, although we must have impartial law officials make judgements about their behavior.

To learn more, see Actor Kelsey Grammer Forgives Serial Killer Who Raped and Murdered His Sister.

Forgiveness Education: A Modern-Day Strategy That Can Improve Workplace Harmony

Two new research reports have just been published about forgiveness in the workplace and both of them reinforce the findings of a study done more than two years ago by Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, and his research team.

That ground-breaking 2017 study, Forgiveness Education in the Workplace: A New Strategy for the Management of Anger, demonstrated the positive role forgiveness can play in reducing anger, resentment, and the desire for revenge among those coping with workplace injustice. 

Dr. Enright conducted that study, believed to be the first-ever exploration of forgiveness in the workplace, with UW-Madison researchers Ke Zhao and John Klatt. It was published in the London Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Sciences, a London, UK, peer-reviewed international journal for researchers and scientists.

The two new research reports, both published early in August, indicate that the insights of Dr. Enright’s 2017 workplace project are now gaining a foothold with other researchers. The first, Linking Forgiveness at Work and Negative Affect, was a study involving 376 manufacturing employees in Roorkee, a city in Northern India.

In that study, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee implemented forgiveness interventions with employees in a control group and their analysis concluded that “forgiveness significantly reduces the NA (negative affect–the experience of negative emotions and poor self-concept) on employees and hence, organizations should make positive interventions in order to encourage forgiveness at work.” They also noted that forgiveness in the workplace is a subject “that has largely been ignored in organizational research.”

The second study, published Aug. 14 in the American Journal of Health Promotion, was titled,  Is Forgiveness One of the Secrets to Success? Considering the Costs of Workplace Disharmony and the Benefits of Teaching Employees to Forgive. The research team was led by noted forgiveness researchers Loren Toussaint (Luther College, Decorah, IA) and Frederic Luskin (Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA).

According to their analysis: “Worker well-being and productivity benefit when forgiveness skills are taught.” They also speculate that Forgiveness might prove to be one of the most commonly overlooked but crucial elements to any organization’s success. Investment in studying, developing, and monitoring forgiveness and its effects may well become a priority for those organizations wishing to succeed in the 21st century.”  

Both of those new research reports on forgiveness in the workplace provide strong evidence and reinforcement of what Dr. Enright’s team reported in 2017 that forgiveness education is “a systematic, easily-implemented, and non-threatening way to reduce anger in the workplace.” The team recommended that employers conduct regularly scheduled forgiveness education workshops to help their employees be more content and productive.


Learn more about the significant role of workplace forgiveness education by clicking on any of the research report titles highlighted in this article.