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:

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.

Dr. Robert Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons Receive 2019 International Research Award

Two members of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) Board of Directors have been selected to receive an international award recognizing their Forgiveness Therapy research. Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI, and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, MD, Director of the Institute for Marital Healing just outside Philadelphia, PA, have been named the 2019 recipients of the Expanded Reason Award.

The prestigious award is presented annually by the University Francisco de Vitoria (Madrid, Spain) in collaboration with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI (Rome, Italy) “to recognize and encourage innovation in scientific research and academic programs.”  

Recipients (only two researchers are selected worldwide each year) are determined by an international panel of seven judges who examine books and journal articles to ascertain who across the globe is conducting innovative and exceptional research that cuts across the social sciences. The award criteria includes the challenge of establishing a dialogue of particular sciences with philosophy and theology in line with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI who led the Catholic Church from 2005 – 2013.

Drs. Enright and Fitzgibbons co-authored the book Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope.  The book, published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2015, signifies that Forgiveness Therapy is now rightfully taking its place alongside such historically accepted therapies as Psychoanalysis, Humanistic Psychotherapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Forgiveness Therapy is actually a new and updated version of a previous book by Drs. Enright and Fitzgibbons, Helping Clients Forgive, that was published in 2000, also by the APA. The new 358-page volume helps clinicians learn how to recognize when forgiveness is an appropriate client goal and provides concrete methods for working forgiveness into therapy with individuals, couples and families. It is grounded in theology, philosophy, psychiatry, education and the social scientific method.

Dr. Fitzgibbons is a long-time research associate of Dr. Enright’s. Trained in psychiatry, he has worked with hundreds of couples over the past 40 years. His book, Habits for a Healthy Marriage: A Handbook for Catholic Couples, will be published later this month by Ignatius Press.

Dr. Enright, in addition to founding the IFI 25 years ago, has been a professor with the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education’s highly-regarded Department of Educational Psychology since 1978. He is the author or editor of seven books and more than 150 publications on social development and the psychology of forgiveness. He pioneered forgiveness therapy and developed an early intervention to promote forgiveness–the 20-step “Process Model of Forgiving.”

Both Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Enright have been invited to attend and formally accept their awards at the Expanded Reason Awards Ceremony on Sept. 19, 2019 at the University Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid.


The Expanded Reason Awards recognize extraordinary teachers and researchers.


The Awards Ceremony is part of the 3-day International Expanded Reason Congress in Madrid that brings together university researchers and teachers from all over the world. The Congress seeks to deepen the dialogue among science, philosophy, and theology through presentations, roundtable discussions, and workshops. Dr. Fitzgibbons and Dr. Enright will be  outlining the concepts behind their winning project in a talk that will also be published in the official proceedings of the Congress.

Learn more:

Is forgiveness correlated with resilience?

Resilience in layperson terms is “bouncing back” from adversity. Not only is forgiveness correlated with resilience, our science shows that learning to forgive actually causes resilience in terms of improved self-esteem and hope and reductions in anger, anxiety, and depression. You can read some of these articles on the “Research” page of this website.

For additional information, see “Research.”

Teaching Forgiveness to “the poorest of the poor” Around the World

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, the man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer,”  just returned from a European forgiveness-teaching tour that included sessions in Edinburgh, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Rome, Italy. Here is an update on his activities in the first of those locations:

Edinburgh, Scotland Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Enright and  colleagues began a two-phase forgiveness research project with homeless individuals in Edinburgh. Many of those individuals receive services from the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the poor, that has taken a strong interest in the forgiveness project and that has become a full-partner with the IFI in the Edinburgh research initiative.

Mother Teresa with the “street children” of Calcutta, India.

The Missionaries of Charity was founded more than 60 years ago by the late Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work with those she characterized as “the poorest of the poor.”

Initially established in Calcutta, the organization quickly expanded into countries outside India and at the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa had created over 750 homes in more than 135 countries, providing food pantries, orphanages, homes for AIDS patients and people with leprosy, as well as shelters for battered women, people addicted to drugs, and the poor.

The religious order has now grown to more than 6,000 Missionaries of Charity Sisters, 400 Missionaries of Charity Brothers, 40 Missionaries of Charity Fathers (priests), and 100,000 Lay (non-religious) Missionaries of Charity volunteers. Their services are provided, without charge, to people regardless of their religion or social status.

As part of the Edinburgh campaign, Dr. Enright and others are collaborating with Missionaries of Charity volunteers who are in the process of conducting interviews and administering a variety of anger, injustice, worth, and dignity scales to men and women who do not have stable home situations in Edinburgh.

A homeless woman sleeps in an Edinburgh graveyard. Photo by Murdo MacLeod-The Guardian-UK.

So far, we are seeing two distinct patterns emerge from those interviews and self-assessments,” Dr. Enright says. “One of those behavior patterns is pretty much what we expected but the second one presents a significant challenge related to how we address it through an appropriate forgiveness intervention.”

Most or the homeless interviewed in Edinburgh are deeply hurting because of past injustices/trauma and about one-third of them readily admit to being treated unjustly and they admit their pain, according to Dr. Enright. “These are the ones, we think, who may significantly benefit from having a forgiveness program,” he adds.

The second group, again about one-third of those interviewed, are characterized by Dr. Enright as deeply hurting because of past injustices–a pain that is so traumatic that they are not quite yet ready for forgiveness programs because they are in deep denial about what happened and about their depth of pain.

“I think this denial of the pain, the inability to yet see it and face it, keeps them imprisoned in their homeless pattern,” Dr. Enright observes. “They need much love and encouragement to break through their own barriers so that they can confront the injustice, forgive, heal, and then become resilient.”

Missionaries of Charity in their traditional saris.

Dr. Enright and colleagues are in discussions with the Missionaries of Charity volunteers about the structure and the Edinburgh-specific refinements for the forgiveness intervention that will be deployed in phase two of the project. Those guidelines could establish a precedence for a world-wide set of forgiveness interventions for the poor with direct instruction for both adults and children. 

Members of the Missionaries of Charity order designate their affiliation using the initials, “M.C.” A member of the congregation must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”  They are identified by wearing the traditional white religious habits with blue trim. In the U.S., a full 20% of American nuns are members of the Missionaries of Charity.

In Scotland, homelessness is called “rough sleeping.” For those rough sleeping, the risk of assault and theft are high. The weather can do real damage to their health and the stress of survival living takes a huge toll on their mental and physical health. The estimated lifeexpectancy of a rough sleeper is 43, pretty much half that of the general population.

A woman beggar sits on the pavement of a busy street in Edinburgh. Photo by Third Force News (TFN), Scotland.

The Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) was set up in 2017 to recommend to Scottish Government Ministers the actions and solutions needed to eradicate rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland. The group’s final report, issued in June 2018, says that “homelessness must be seen as a public health priority” and makes more than 70 recommendations on ending homelessness in Scotland including those on welfare reform, ensuring adequate affordable housing, homeless assessment and intervention (much like the IFI is doing in Edinburgh), tackling child poverty, and others. ◊


How is forgiveness involved in those affected by suicide?

The issue of forgiveness in the context of suicide is a delicate matter. This is the case because some people will say that suicide is not an unjust act and thus there is no need to forgive. On the other hand, others who have lost loved ones will come to the opposite conclusion and say it was unfair. So, we should not give a general statement here and say all should forgive those who have taken their own lives. Yet, when those who have lost loved ones in this way and do want to go forward with forgiveness, then people should be careful not to pass judgement on them and discourage this healing option. With colleagues, I have published journal articles on this issue:

Lee, E., Kim, S., & Enright, R.D. (2015). A case study of a survivor of suicide who lost all family members through parent-child collective suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 36, 71-75. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000286

Lee, E., Enright, R.D., & Kim, J.J. (2015). Forgiveness postvention with a survivor of suicide following a loved one’s suicide: A case study. Social Sciences, 4, 688-699. doi: 10.3390/socsci4030688

Kenny, Kindness, and Forgiveness from Edinburgh to Rome

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, sent this communiqué today while overseeing forgiveness education projects in western Europe.

It was time to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Rome, Italy to continue the forgiveness work. While going to the Edinburgh airport, Kenny, the driver, engaged me in conversation.

“Were you here to see the sights of this beautiful city?” he asked me.

“I do admire the beauty of the city, but I was not here for sightseeing,” I replied.

As he inquired further, I explained that I had been doing research with people who are homeless. It is our hope to be able to research whether forgiveness interventions can help with this population. I explained that we have found that about two-thirds of people without homes, who take our surveys, show the following pattern:

a) They have been deeply hurt by others’ injustices against them prior to their becoming homeless;

b) they have not yet forgiven, but have significant resentment toward those who treated them unfairly; and

c) they have psychological compromise in the form of anger, anxiety, and depression.

If we can help the people to forgive, perhaps they will have sufficient energy and psychological health to change their life circumstance.

Kenny had wise insights for me regarding the situation of homelessness in Edinburgh.

As we continued the conversation, I told him how, while in Edinburgh, I had visited men in what is called, in the United States, a maximum security prison because one of the professionals in the prison invited me to discuss Forgiveness Therapy. The talk was well-received and so he now is planning to implement a forgiveness intervention soon in that facility.

Again, Kenny seemed to have uncommon insights for me about how to proceed with forgiveness interventions in the prison of Edinburgh.

By then, we were at the airport. After Kenny lifted my suitcase from the boot (trunk in USA talk), I handed him the 55 Great Britain Pounds Sterling as payment. He refused to take it. As I did not want him to work for me for nothing, I again handed the money to him and he said, “You have come a long way to enter my city to help the homeless and the imprisoned. I cannot take money from you. I want you to give that money to the poor when you are in Rome this coming week.” I was almost speechless, but I did manage a heart-felt thank you.

In Rome, there are many people who hold out paper or plastic cups in the hope of help. I met Andrea, a woman with a kind smile. She walks daily through the streets of Rome. She uses crutches because she has one leg. She manages, as she walks on crutches, to hold a white plastic cup in her right hand as she maneuvers the crutches. Much of the funds, meant for Kenny, went to Andrea over the coming days. We got to know one another, as I spoke a little Italian and she spoke a little English. Her eyes brighten each time we come toward one another and she expresses a genuine gratitude, meant, of course, for Kenny, whom she likely will never meet. She, though, has met Kenny’s kindness through me.

Kindness went from Edinburgh to Rome, 1549.7 miles away from each other. Forgiveness work followed the same route. Kindness and forgiveness can spread across hearts and across countries. Long live kindness and forgiveness.