Forgiveness Infiltrates Central Asia’s Kyrgyzstan

photo of Alyona Yartseva
Alyona Yartseva is spearheading forgiveness interventions in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Alyona Yartseva moved in 2015 from Russia to Kyrgyzstan (officially the Kyrgyz Republic)–a mountainous country of incredible natural beauty in Central Asia. As she pursued her new life  there, intent on helping others improve their own lives, she quickly came to realize that forgiveness is a valuable commodity not only for helping people overcome personal difficulties but also for helping tame the ethnic, political, and socio-economic tensions that simmered there and in surrounding countries that had all gained their independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since Alyona moved to Kyrgyzstan, she has been on “a forgiveness rampage” that has included:

  • Undertaking a 15-lesson online Forgiveness Therapy course administered by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) after convincing AUCA administrators to accept it as a fully-accredited graduate degree university course;
  • Acquiring the Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children (EFI-C), translating it into Russian,  back-translating it, and working directly with Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the IFI, in modifying that research tool into what is essentially a new EFI Short Form known as the EFI-30;
  • Validating the newly-adapted EFI-30 by using it, along with a checklist of physical health symptoms (a new measuring tool that she created herself), in a forgiveness research project with more than 150 participants;
  • Participating in a four-month forgiveness intervention internship and conducting post-therapy interviews that “vividly demonstrated” to her the therapeutic effects and positive results of forgiveness; 
  • Conducting a hands-on forgiveness training program for her fellow-AUCA students to demonstrate the four-phases of Dr. Enright’s Process Model of Forgiveness and further expand the use of the EFI-30;
  • Consulting with “no-charge clients” (as a student she cannot charge for her services) who were able to move towards forgiveness and improve their mental health; 
  • Obtaining and starting to translate into Russian Dr. Enright’s Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program; and,
  • Writing her thesis on “Subjective Effects of Forgiveness on Stress Level and Physical Health”–a project she conducted involving 150 adults of 3 nationalities and obtaining a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Psychology from the American University of Central Asia (AUCA).

One of the motivating factors for Alyona’s impressive foray into forgiveness activities was what she was unable to find when she was accepted as a graduate student at the AUCA in the capital city of Bishkek. Although she conducted exhaustive literature searches for anything related to forgiveness written in either the Russian or Kyrgyz language, she found absolutely none. 

“As a believer in Jesus Christ, I’ve always understood the value of forgiveness but now I see it from a different professional perspective,” Alyona says. “I want to be able to demonstrate the effects of forgiveness (or unforgiveness) to my colleagues in Russian language publications.”

As Alyona looks ahead to the future, she says that once she completes translating the anti-bullying material she would like to personally introduce it to local school counselors. Following that, she plans to move to Uzbekistan where she wants to popularize forgiveness therapy among local psychologists. She plans to continue her forgiveness research together with a group of colleagues “who have a heart for forgiveness” and is pursuing foundation grants to fund their efforts.

“Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Therapy is at the very top of my tool box as a counselor,” Alyona adds, “and I believe it is essential to promote and research forgiveness therapy and the positive effects of forgiveness in Central Asia.”

Alyona can be reached at: alyona.yartseva@gmail.com


Kyrgyzstan is a country in Central Asia–a map of central asiaregion which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The United Nations also includes Afghanistan as part of Central Asia. The region is also colloquially referred to as “the stans” as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix “-stan,” meaning “land of.” ƒ

You have what you call the Process Model of forgiveness in which you walk people through a series of steps toward forgiveness. It seems to me that this approach is too limiting. Why impose a particular system rather than let people forgive as they wish, when they wish, and with their own freedom of expression?

Let me start with an analogy. Suppose you are from Spain and you fly into Chicago in the United States. As you exit the airport, your goal is to get to Green Bay, Wisconsin. You have no road map and you never have been in the United States before now. Would it be an imposition if someone gave you a road map that leads from Chicago to Green Bay? Certainly, the map-giver knows that there are many different routes you could take to your final destination, but this particular road map is time-tested and gets the person to Green Bay in the shortest time possible. Would this be a service to the person from Spain or an imposition, especially when the map-giver is not insisting on the use of this map?

It is the same with the Process Model of forgiveness. Think of it as your road map to forgiving and it is your choice whether or not to use that map and even whether or not to engage in all of the units of the Process Model. In my own experience, when people want to forgive, many do not know how to do so or to do so in as efficient way as possible. The Process Model is an empirically-verified treatment. In other words, it has been shown in scientific studies to work in aiding people’s forgiving and in reducing emotional distress. It then is the person’s own choice to use it or not, when to use it, and how to use it.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

Robert

Does forgiveness work with those who are addicted to drugs?

Yes, and we have a randomized experimental and control study to show this. We did two sessions a week with the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, for 6 weeks. After the forgiveness sessions, the participants went from clinically depressed to non-depressed. In contrast, those in the drug-treatment program as usual (the control group) went down in depression, but they remained clinically depressed. Here is the reference to that research:

Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.

I am working with clients who had alcoholic parents. These clients, now adults, tend to downplay the seriousness of their parents’ addiction. In other words, the clients tend to say this: “My parents simply did the best that they could.” There is an obvious denial of injustice by the parents. Here is the complication: The clients in so denying any wrongdoing by the parents are taking out their anger on their own children. What do you suggest I do to break this hurtful denial in my clients?

Denial can take time, but I find that emotional pain can break through the denial when you ask about that inner pain. So, to start, I suggest that you ask these questions of your clients: How are your children doing? Are they having any adjustment problems? What is the nature of these problems? Do you feel sad or frustrated or scared when you see the challenges in your children?

Give the clients a chance to see the children’s adjustment challenges and to assess their own (the clients’) pain regarding those challenges. Once the clients can see their own pain with regard to their own children’s struggles, now it is time to ask the clients: Are your children possibly inheriting your own discontent, anger, sadness, or other emotional challenges?

It is at this point that you can begin to explore the family-of-origin hurts that the clients had experienced. In summary, start with the clients’ children’s difficulties which likely are present. Then turn to how the clients’ own challenges are affecting their children. This can serve as motivation for the clients to see how they have inherited pain and now are passing this on to their own children. At this point, the clients may be open to forgiving their own parents.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Which of your books do you recommend for a prison setting?

Two of my books have been used successfully in prisons: Forgiveness Is a Choice (2001) and 8 Keys to Forgiveness (2015). The latter book has a chapter on self-forgiveness which prison counselors tell me is important in this context.

Learn more at Shop: Books.

In some of your books you say that Aristotle is the foundation for your work on forgiveness. Why bother with some old white guy when there are so many people who have discussed moral issues?

So, are you saying that age and skin color should be the primary basis for embracing ideas? Tell me, which other author has defined the concept of moral virtue as or more complexly than Aristotle? He tells that all moral virtues, and that would include what he calls magnanimity of heart (which would include forgiveness), is characterized by at least 7 characteristics: 1) It concerns the good toward others; 2) people are motivated to do the good (affective dimension); 3) people know it is good (the cognitive dimension); 4) the insight translates into behavior that is consistent with the motivation and the cognitive insight (the behavioral dimension); 5) people can strive for perfection of the virtue, but do not reach perfection; 6) there are individual differences among people in the understanding and expression of the virtue; and 7) people strive for consistency in how they express the virtue. Further, he challenges us to see the universal characteristics of each moral virtue (it’s essence) as we express the virtue differently across situations and cultures (it’s existence). And still further, he tells us that each moral virtue has a formal cause (what it is in its essence) and a final cause (each virtue points to certain outcomes). Who is more complete than this? Do you still think these are arbitrary thoughts by “some old white guy”? If so, produce another thinker who is deeper.

For additional information, see Why Forgiveness Is Not Only a Psychological Construct.