A key here is to apply these new thinking perspectives, which you have offered to others as you forgive them, now to yourself. For example, try to see that you have inherent (built-in) worth, not because of what you did that was offensive, but in spite of this. Try to see that you share a common humanity with others. While not excusing behavior in need of change, try to see that you are much more than those behaviors. As you engage in this kind of thinking, this may help you to forgive yourself.
Meagan Napier and her best friend, Lisa Jo Dickson, were driving to Meagan’s home after an outing in Pensacola, FL on May 11, 2002. They never reached their destination.
Around 2:30 that morning (the day before Mother’s Day), a drunk driver hit the car Dickson was driving and rammed it into a tree. Both of the 20-year-old women were killed instantly. The 24-year-old drunk driver who caused the crash, Eric Smallridge, was eventually found guilty of DUI manslaughter (Driving Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol) and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Unlike many too-often-repeated drunk driving crashes that result in deaths, the sentencing in this case was not the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning of an amazing story of commitment, forgiveness and lives saved. Please read on.
Shortly after Smallridge was sentenced, Meagan Napier’s heart-broken mother, Renee, made a commitment that something positive would result from the deaths of her daughter and her daughter’s friend Lisa.
So Renee began traveling to schools in her community to warn students about the dangers of drunk driving. As word of her compelling DUI presentations spread, she began receiving speaking requests from groups outside Pensacola and soon her part-time local commitment turned into a full-time nation-wide educational mission to prevent more unnecessary death’s like Meagan’s.
Still, as speaking engagements consumed more and more of her time, Renee felt there was something missing. She decided to visit the imprisoned man who was responsible for her daughter’s death. That initial meeting with Eric turned into a second meeting, and a third, and many more after that. What Renee discovered during those visits was that Eric was not the monster she had been imagining but was just like so many other hurt people who try to drown their anger and resentment in alcohol, in drugs, or whatever make-it-feel-good vice is available to them.
At the same time, Renee began learning about the healing power of forgiveness and eventually she forgave Eric–not because she felt sorry for him, but because she needed to release the pent-up anger and emotions in her own heart and mind that were taking their toll on her health and well-being.
“I could be angry, hateful and bitter,”Renee says. “But I didn’t want to live my life that way. There was no way I could move on and live a happy life without forgiving Eric.”
Renee said that prior to finding the courage to forgive Eric, she felt like she was the one in prison and that forgiveness “freed me from the darkest place I have ever been.”
Not only did Renee forgive Eric, she even approached the judge who had sentenced him to prison. Through a series of meetings and petitions (and with the strong support of the Dickson family), she somehow convinced the judge to cut Eric’s sentence in half–from 22-years to just 11 years–and to allow Eric to join her (bound by shackles and handcuffs) on many of her DUI presentations in order to also share his powerful testimony.
Even though Renee has forgiven him, Eric says he doesn’t know if he will ever be able to forgive himself. He says he is certain, however, that he will not drink alcohol ever again. Still on probation, Eric works at a Goodwill store and as a personal trainer. His mother serves as his unofficial chauffeur because his driver’s license, of course, was revoked.
“I was so selfish because I never considered what effect drinking and driving could have on someone other than me,” Eric tells audiences. “I made a bad decision, and now two young people are dead because of it.”
Though they admit that their relationship may confuse many, Renee and Eric agree that sharing their life-saving cause has helped them heal. They conclude each presentation with a compelling embrace.
Renee, who has become an award-winning speaker, is also the Founder and President of The Meagan Napier Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed for two purposes: 1) to raise awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol; and, 2) to promote forgiveness and healing. It operates under the banner of “Promoting Forgiveness • Mending Hearts • Saving Lives.”
“We live in a world with a lot of pain and heartache,” Renee says. “I want to promote love and forgiveness and help break that cycle of hatred.”
It is not unusual for a person to not let the self “off of the emotional hook” even after knowing that the other forgives. Why? It is because we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on others. So, I recommend chapter 7 on self-forgiveness from my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
There is a difference between being selfish and being self-focused. Suppose you have a throbbing knee after a workout. Is going to the sports medicine clinic selfish? No; it is an issue of self-care. Being motivated to be psychologically more healthy upon forgiving is similar. Your motivation of self-focused care may change to a different motivation as you proceed with the forgiveness process. Your motivation may then include the other person, as you develop a concern for this person’s well-being.
Editor's Note:This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on former students of Dr. Robert Enright who have continued their forgiveness research activities after graduation and who have made their own mark on the forgiveness movement.
Dr. Jichan J. Kim is a South Korean native who studied under Dr. Enright for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned both his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Educational Psychology while at the same time pursuing research projects that led Dr. Enright to call him “one of the most prolific graduate assistants I’ve ever instructed.”
During those four years, the two researchers worked together to conduct numerous forgiveness-related research projects including a study that explored how graduate-level theology students in South Korea perceived the difference between divine forgiveness and human forgiveness. The results of that project were published just last month in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.
After graduation, Dr. Kim left UW-Madison to become Assistant Professor of Psychology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA–a world-class Christian university founded by Dr. Jerry Falwell who gained international fame as an advisor to world leaders and who was named one of the 25 Most Influential People in America by U.S. News & World Report in 1983. Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world with more than 15,000 students attending classes on campus and more than 94,000 students taking courses through Liberty University Online.
At Liberty University, Dr. Kim teaches Introduction to Research, Directed Research, and Psychology and Christianity. In Spring 2020, he is teaching a
semester-long, special topics course in forgiveness,
for which he is very excited. He is also leading a Psychology Study Abroad Trip to South Korea in June 2020 where students will learn about: 1) the aspects of a collectivistic culture in contrast to an American individualistic culture; and, 2) how that culture views forgiveness and reconciliation.
The full course load complements Dr. Kim’s research activities. Since leaving UW-Madison three years ago, Dr. Kim has become even more intricately involved in forgiveness research and forgiveness education both in the US and in his home country of South Korea. His research and studies, for example, have:
Examined the relationship between forgiveness and compassionate love;
Explored the idea of the school as the Just and Merciful Community;
Evaluated, together with his undergraduate research team at Liberty University, the effectiveness of a family-based forgiveness program with more than a dozen volunteer families; and,
Explored the relationship between interpersonal, self-, and divine forgiveness.
“I give special thanks to Dr. Enright for introducing to me the beauty of forgiveness. I owe him a great deal and I will try my best to follow in his footsteps through a life dedicated to driving out hatred through forgiving love.” Dr. Jichan J. Kim
In addition to his UW-Madison degrees, Dr. Kim has received degrees from Harvard University (Cambridge, MA), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA), and City College of New York. He also has extensive ministry experience in Madison, New York City, and Boston (serving various age groups in Korean immigrant congregations).
Dr. Kim and his wife, Jieun, have three children–Yewon (Arianna), Juwon (Aiden), and Sungwon (Joseph). For the past several years, Dr. Kim has financially supported the International Forgiveness Institute with an automaticmonthly donation through PayPal. He says he has two favorite quotes he tries to live by:
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
Forgiveness is offering love to a person in the face of injustice and at a time when that person is most unlovable. (Dr. Robert Enright)
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.
Yes. As people realize that they have broken their own standards, it is common that they also have offended other people. For example, even if someone was intoxicated, was speeding alone in the car, crashed and broke a leg, this is not an isolated event. Family members may have to drive the person to work for a while. The employer may be inconvenienced because of days missed in rehabilitation of the leg. The insurance company now has to pay for this intemperate action. So, as you self-forgive, consider who has been hurt by your actions. You might want to go to at least some of them (family members, for example) and ask for forgiveness.