As a follow-up question, let us suppose that children as young as 10-years-old have learned about forgiveness and want to practice it.  How can they go about forgiving a parent if that parent keeps offending?

This will depend on the severity of the injustice.  If there is abuse, it would be my hope that this will be discovered by professionals in the child’s school.  Such abuse often leads to observable effects in children such as inattention during schoolwork, aggressive acting out in school, poor grades, and anger or depressive mood.  The child needs justice along with forgiving.  The forgiving in this case likely would begin only after the child is in a safe place.  If the injustice is not so severe as to require a solution from outside the home, the child could start forgiving by: a) acknowledging anger.  This can be difficult because of loyalty to the parent; and b) seeing the inherent worth in people in general and then applying it to the parent.

Many children are very good at exclaiming: “That’s not fair” and if a child is schooled in the moral virtue of forgiveness, which includes schooling in fair treatment, this kind of proclamation, spoken from a forgiving heart, may aid parents in thinking through their own behavior.  This kind of pattern is not easy to solve and so, again, I recommend forgiveness education in schools to equip children with the tools for overcoming disappointments and anger caused by truly unfair treatment against them.

For additional information: Teaching Kids About Forgiveness.

WORTH-LESS OR WORTH-MORE?

“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. Over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, ‘I, too, am worthless. ’After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Even later, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worth-less.”

Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 1.

Robert

I don’t need to forgive.  I have put the person out of my life.  I have moved on.  That person can have a miserable life now as far as I am concerned.  In fact, this person would deserve misery.  I don’t really have a question, just this statement that one simply can move on without forgiving.

Thank you for your note.  While “moving on” certainly is possible when the injustice is not serious, I have found that people have a very hard time “just moving on” when deeply hurt by others.  In your case, may I challenge you a bit?  I do not think that you are “moving on” without resentment in your heart toward the person.  I say this because of your statement, “In fact, this person would deserve misery.”  This suggests to me that you still are angry.  This kind of anger can stay with a person for a very long time.  “Moving on” is not a cure for such anger.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a cure for it.  If and when you are ready to consider forgiveness in this case, your forgiving the person may help you reduce this feeling of resentment.

For additional information, see The Personal, Global, and Cosmic Perspectives.

A year ago, my wife hurt me deeply, right down to my core.  She did not apologize then or now.  She does not feel responsible because she did not intend to hurt me.  I do not want revenge at all.  While I believe that I can forgive her, even without an apology, is it inconsistent with the notion of forgiveness that I feel she cannot remain my wife if she will not take responsibility for her part in my suffering?

Yes, it is inconsistent to both forgive your wife and to consider leaving her for the hurt she caused you, especially when her action appears to be a one-time act that was not repeated. To put in perspective what I am saying, I think you may have a good case against your marriage if: a) she showed a pattern before marriage that made it impossible for her to be a wife to you; b) she continued this pattern that is so extreme that she was not a wife to you during the marriage, and c) it appears, from the counsel you receive from competently wise people, that she does not have the capacity for the future to truly be a wife to you.

Perhaps you both need to sit down and revisit the hurtful event from a year ago. She says that she never intended to hurt you. Sometimes, intentions that are not directed toward unjust and cruel actions nonetheless are morally wrong. Here is an example: A person at a party knows that she will be driving. Yet, she drinks and then drinks to excess. She gets behind the wheel of the car, drives, crashes into another car, and breaks the leg of the other driver. She did not intend wrong. She tried to be careful even though she had too much alcohol in her. The act itself was negligent even though there was no intent to break another person’s leg. It was negligent precisely because the consequences of driving under the influence can be dire even with the best of intentions.

Does your wife see this: one can act unjustly even with intentions that are not leaning toward doing something unjust? Do you see this: Her actions, though hurtful to you, may not have been unjust? Try to have a civil dialogue about these issues. And continue to deepen your forgiveness and to see that your avowed commitment to your wife is far deeper than one even enormous hurt that she inflicted on you.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Take the Long Perspective When It Is Difficult to Forgive

Think about one time in your childhood when you had what seemed to be a serious disagreement with a friend. At the time, did it seem like this breach would last forever? Did it? How long did it take to either reconcile or to find a new friend? Time has a way of changing our circumstances. This is not to advocate a kind of passive approach to life here—such as, “Oh, I’ll just wait it out and not bother to exert any effort.” That is not the point. The point is to take a long perspective so that you can see beyond the next hill to a place that is more settled and the pain is not so great. You already saw in your childhood that conflicts end. And the consequences of those conflicts (feeling sad or angry) also end. Why should that same process of change not also apply now? Try to see your circumstance, as realistically as you can, one month from now. Try to see your circumstance six months from now. Try to see yourself two years from now. Will you be the same person? Will you respond to injustices in the exact same way as you did three months ago? Probably not. You will likely be able to meet challenges with greater strength and wisdom as you continue on the forgiveness journey.

Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

A School Anti-Bullying Program That Works!

No one argues about the need to stop bullying in schools. Bullying’s adverse effects not only impact the child when the bullying occurs but typically impact a victim’s health and emotions throughout the person’s lifetime (see “The Impact of Bullying” box below).

That reality has become a growing topic of concern in the academic community with bullying being cited as a universal problem in countries around the world. Over the past several decades, literally hundreds of school-wide anti-bullying programs have been developed and implemented. That raises the question, of course: Do school antibullying programs work?

The typical answer from those professionals studying that question is: “Not so well. We need to do better.”

And sure enough, that’s the inauspicious conclusion of a just-completed systematic review of  scientific publications covering the past 20 years. According to the study, Whole‐school Antibullying Interventions,  a full 50% of all the school programs reviewed  failed to “show significant effects on bullying prevalence” or  found negative results including an actual increase in bullying.

The study, published in April by the peer-reviewed journal Psychology in the Schools,  was conducted by university researchers in Brazil. While their study found that anti-bullying interventions resulted in increased reporting of bullying occurrences (with resultant increases in the use of punitive discipline), at the same time many of the programs failed totally–primarily due to inadequate time for training and implementation as well as lack of support.

Dr. Jichan J. Kim

Those findings come as no surprise to many psychologists. In fact, the report actually documented and reinforced what educational psychologist Dr. Jichan J. Kim first reported more than four years ago in his University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral thesis: The Effectiveness of a Forgiveness Intervention Program on Reducing Adolescents’ Bullying Behavior.

Dr. Kim’s thesis includes a 29-page literature review in which he documents the unusually large number of research projects demonstrating the ineffectiveness of most school-wide anti-bullying programs including:

  • A 2007 review of 45 separate school-based anti-bullying studies involving 34,713 individuals that concluded “the positive changes were too small to be supported as significant;”
  • Another 2007 examination of 16 major anti-bullying programs across 11 different countries that showed mixed results with less than half the programs demonstrating desirable effects;
  • A 2008 evaluation of 16 studies across 6 nations involving a total of 15,386 K-12 students that showed the interventions tended to influence students’ attitudes and self-perceptions but not their bullying behavior; and,
  • Studies completed in 2012, 2014, and 2015 (one involving 560 school psychologists and school counselors) supporting the lack of evidence-based interventions.

Despite all the negative assessments he uncovered, Dr. Kim believes there is one approach that might be effective–helping adolescents exhibiting bullying behavior to forgive those who have offended them in the past. That approach, Dr. Kim says, is still not widely used and is, therefore, still not a compelling component of the scientific literature although he is confident it “can be beneficial.” 

Dr. Robert D. Enright

That intervention approach, in fact, is  the one advocated in The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program developed more than 8 years ago by Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. The program not only incorporates lessons-learned from Dr. Enright’s more than 40-years of forgiveness research, it also integrates the scientifically-quantifiable forgiveness process he developed and , perhaps most importantly, it focuses directly on the one doing the bullying.

“Those who bully usually have pent-up anger and as a result they displace their own wounds onto others,” Dr. Enright explains. “Our program is meant to take the anger out of the heart of those who bully so that they no longer bully others.”

Dr. Enright says his research has taught him to take an approach that may seem counter-intuitive today, but will appear obvious to many in the future: “Yes, help the victim, but also help the one who is bullying to get rid of his or her anger, which is fueling the bullying. Those who bully have been victimized by others. Help them to reduce their resentment toward those who were the victimizers and the bullying behavior will melt away.”


I thought I had completely forgiven my ‘ex’ and last night I had a dream that reawakened all of my anger. I had forgiven, maybe, a year ago. Now here I am again fuming. Do you have a suggestion for me to really get over this and forgive permanently?

We have to realize that forgiveness, as the late Lewis Smedes said, is an imperfect enterprise for imperfect people. It is common to have forgiven and then to be triggered by something unexpected, whether it is a dream or meeting the person for the first time, as examples. Because you already know the path of forgiveness, I recommend that you get your backpack on again, and your hiking shoes, and travel the forgiveness road once again. This time it may be quicker with deeper results. And please do not be discouraged if and when you have another trigger for your anger in the months or years ahead. Go on the forgiveness journey once again.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am finding no excuses for what my husband has done to me. When I try to forgive, it is very difficult for me to cultivate any sense of empathy toward him. What would you suggest to help me forgive?

You need not find any excuses for your husband’s behavior if you are to forgive him. Forgiveness is not based on finding excuses, but instead is based on seeing his worth, not because of what he did, but in spite of this. Further, try to see his inner world. Is he wounded in any way? Confused? Do you see a human being rather than someone who is less than human? These kinds of perspectives can increase empathy and foster forgiveness.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

How can I put my anger aside so that I now want to forgive and am able to actually forgive?

I do not think it is a matter of putting your anger aside. Instead, it is a matter of going ahead with forgiveness, if you so choose, even when angry. I say this because our science shows that as people forgive, their anger tends to lessen. So, you might want to start the pathway of forgiving even when you are angry. The process may help you reduce anger. In other words, you do not have to wait until the anger lessens before you start to forgive.

For additional information, see How do I know if my anger is healthy or unhealthy?

Are there acts so terrible that you should not, as you say, give a gift to the other?

Some people will not forgive certain people for certain acts. Yet, other people will forgive others for the exact same kind of act. Thus, it seems to me that it is not the act itself that is out of bounds to forgiveness. Instead, the one who was injured is not ready to offer forgiveness. We have to be gentle with people under these circumstances. We are not all ready to forgive others at the same point of the injury. We have to be careful not to condemn those who need more time or who are ambivalent about forgiveness in a particular circumstance.

For additional information, see Why Forgive?