BBC (UK) World Service Website, Carrollton, Texas – When Nancy (Shore) Howard drove home from church one day in August 2012, she was confronted in her garage by an armed masked man who grabbed her around the neck and demanded her purse. As she struggled to get free, the man shot her. The bullet traveled through her head and pierced her left eye before lodging in her right lung.
When she recovered consciousness, Nancy could barely breathe and was in excruciating pain. Somehow, miraculously, she struggled into the house and was able to call emergency services.
At the hospital, police were able to contact Nancy’s husband– John Franklin Howard, known to everyone as Frank–who quickly flew home from an out-of-town trip. The three children the couple had raised during their 30-year marriage were also soon at their mother’s bedside.
While Nancy is undergoing painful repairs to her face, throat, and paralyzed right arm, detectives aggressively pursue suspects, including Frank. They first discover that Nancy’s husband has been having a three-year affair. A few days later, they uncover connections between her CPA husband and a group known as the East Texas gang. The story becomes increasingly bizarre as evidence surfaces of a murder-for-hire conspiracy initiated–to Nancy’s horror–by her husband.
Investigators eventually uncover evidence that Frank has been paying large sums to the criminal gang–apparently to kill his wife–and that gang members were exploiting him for more and more money. The money source is Frank’s rich client, from whom he has extorted over six-million dollars, some of which he has used to give his mistress extravagant gifts. Frank is arrested and charged with attempted capital murder.
At Frank’s trial, the jury took only two hours to find him guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison and will have to serve 30 years before he will be considered for parole. By then he will be about 85 years old. A year later, the shooter is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to sixty years.
“I have forgiven him,” Nancy says of her husband. “The Bible says that if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us then we are unable to be forgiven and I couldn’t afford not to forgive him because I couldn’t live with bitterness.”
She goes on to say, “It’s because I still loved him at the time, and you know I have to say I still love him, not in a romantic love, but in a love that he’s the father of my children, and there’s always going to be a love there.”
Nancy says she “vigorously” celebrates every birthday she has had since the shooting and still experiences joy singing in the church choir. Nearly six years after the horror of the attack on her doorstep, she is moving on.
“I’m able to be thankful once again for how God has saved my life and the healing that’s happening in my children’s lives, it’s awesome,” she says. “I’m excruciatingly happy.”
“Past hurts can lead to a lack of trust which can block intimacy.”
Sometimes there is a pattern that one begins to see in oneself: A relationship starts and is filled with hope, only to end all too soon. If this happens to you, may I suggest 5 reasons why this might be the case and make some suggestions for breaking the pattern?
The first reason why relationships may fail is that we all bring in what we might call “excess baggage” from our family of origin. This includes both your partner and you. It may be a good idea, when the time is right, to gain insight into any hurtful patterns that either your partner or you have brought into the current relationship. For example, was it a norm to show a hot temper in the family? If so, this could be spilling over into your current relationship in that your partner (or you) never had such a norm which is offensive to the other. Solution: Try to see the norms that have formed early in your life, discuss those that are stressful to your partner or you, and make the necessary adjustments. Second, try practicing forgiveness toward family-of-origin members who have created some less-than-healthy norms for you (see Enright, 2012 for an approach to forgiving).
A second reasonis that we can bring in this “excess baggage” from past relationships that have failed. The particularly hazardous issue is damaged trust. If you have had a harsh breakup, or even a divorce, there is a tendency not to trust a new partner even if this person is good to you. On a 1-to-10 scale, what is your trust level in general toward any potential partner? If the scores are below 5, you may need to work on trust. Here is what you can do:
First, try to forgive the past partner(s) for damaging your trust.
Second, let trust now build up inch-by-inch in you as you forgive others from your past. Try to see the goodness in the new partner.
Third, bring out into the open your challenge with trust so that the new person can help you work this through. You may have to do all of this for your partner if there is a trust issue from the past.
A third aspect of “excess baggage” is low self-esteem or believing the lie that you are not worthy of a lasting relationship. This kind of low self-esteem can creep up on you until you are not even aware that your self-worth is low. On the 1-to-10 scale, how worthy do you think you are to have a happy, lasting relationship? Solution: Cognitively resist the big lie that you are not worthy. Second, forgive yourself if you have played a part in hurting past relationships because of either a lack of trust or low self-esteem.
A fourth point is this: Do not let yourself fall into the trap of defining yourself exclusively by the past. Solution: Be aware of who you really are as a person. As you bear the pains of the past through forgiving, then ask yourself: Who am I as I forgive? Am I stronger than I thought I was prior to forgiving? Am I more compassionate than I had realized? As you do these kinds of reflections, it is my hope that you realize this: I have a lot to offer a good partner who can benefit from my presence and support.
A fifth and final point is this: Try not to let your new partner fall into the trap of defining the self exclusively by the past. This person, too, may need the strength of forgiveness with the renewed view that “I, too, am a person of worth who has good things to offer you.”
Perhaps it is time for a new start in relationships. Some of the 5 points above may help move you in the right direction.
“Healing the emotional and relational wounds for couples.”
Life is hard enough without the added layer of conflict with those who are supposed to be good to us, which can lead to resentment which can lead to misery. One’s own inner conflict can spread to others and when a person is in a close relationship, it is all too easy for that inner conflict to become the other’s conflict as well.
Current statistics tell us that such conflict is all too common today. According to the American Psychological Association, about 50% of those who marry end up divorced and second marriages break up at an even higher rate. How can one start now to reduce the inner conflict that can lead to couples’ conflict? I would like to suggest the following five forgiveness exercises, which can be started today, as a way of addressing both inner conflict, resentment, and misery and relational misery. .
The first ground-rule for these exercises is this:You are not doing this to change your partner. Your task is to change yourself and to do your part to improve the relationship. The second ground-rule is this:Your task is not to pressure your partner into these exercises. It is better if both of you are drawn to them, not cajoled into them.
With these ground-rules in place, let us go to the first exercise. Together, talk out what it means to forgive another person. You might be surprised to learn that you are not in agreement as to what forgiveness actually is because such a discussion of its meaning is rare. Common misconceptions are these: To forgive is just to move on from difficult situations; to forgive is to forget what happened; to forgive is to excuse what happened; to forgive is to stop asking something of the other by no longer seeking fairness. Yet, to forgive is none of these. To forgive is to offer goodness to those who have not been good to you. To forgive is to be strong enough to offer such goodness through your emotional pain for the other’s good. Take some time to discuss each other’s views and please do so with respect. Learning what forgiveness actually is takes time and effort primarily because we have not been schooled enough in this important concept.
The second exercise is to talk out the hurts that you received in your family of origin, where you grew up. Let the other know of your emotional wounds. This exercise is not meant to cast blame on anyone in your family of origin. Instead, the exercise is meant for each of you to deepen your insight into who your partner is. Knowing the other’s wounds is one more dimension of knowing your partner as a person. As you each identify the wounds from your past, try to see what you, personally, are bringing from that past into the relationship. Try to see what your partner is bringing from the past to your relationship. Who, now, is your partner as you see those wounds, perhaps for the first time?
For the third exercise,together, and only if you choose this, work on forgiving those from your family of origin who have wounded you. Support one another in the striving to grow in the process of forgiveness. The goal is to wipe the resentment-slate clean so that you are not bringing those particular wounds to the breakfast table (and lunch table and dinner table) every day. You can find direction in the forgiving process in my book, The Forgiving Life (American Psychological Association, 2012). Walking this path of forgiveness takes time and should not be rushed. Assist one another in this path. Be the support person for the other. Each one’s personal forgiveness journey is made easier when it is a team effort.
For the fourth exercise, when you are finished forgiving those family members from the past, work on forgiving your partner for those wounds brought into your relationship, and at the same time, seek forgiveness from your partner for the woundedness you bring to your relationship. Then, see if the relationship improves.
Finally, the fifth exercise: persevere in your forgiveness discussions. As an analogy, you do not become physically fit by four weeks or even four months of effort that then is abandoned. You have to keep at it. To become forgivingly fit, you need to set aside even a little time, perhaps 15 minutes a week, to discuss the injustices impinging on either or both of you, from inside the relationship, inside the family, or outside of it……..and then forgive and help the other to do so. You do not have to let the injustices of the past and the current inner miseries dominate you or your relationship. Forgiveness offers a cure for the misery and, at the same time, hope for a renewed and strengthened relationship. . Posted in Psychology Today March 11, 2017
The Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for the Renewal of Individuals, Families, and Communities–the first forgiveness conference ever held in the Middle East–was organized and produced by the International Forgiveness Institute and held on July 12 and 13, 2017. Now you can view the videotapes of all 22 sessions at no cost to you.
Day 1 of this 2-day conference included speakers from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam discussing what it means to forgive, the importance of forgiveness, and how to better interact with others through forgiveness.
Day 2 focused on how to bring forgiveness to children and adolescents in school and at home. The program included presentations by educators who are implementing forgiveness education, personal testimonies, and opportunities for everyone to contribute their ideas.
Now you can view every presentation of the entire conference whenever you wish. TelePace, an Italy-based telecommunication service, professionally video-recorded all 22 sessions.They are available to you at no charge here.
1984. The Orwellian year of change, but in the novel by the same name it was a year of forced conformity, the chaining of ideas to the Big Brother agenda. It was the worst of times in the mind of George Orwell.
In my own case, 1984 was a time of finally breaking free of conformity, unlocking the chains of imprisoned ideas and learning for the first time how to fly. I am an academic and academics live and die by ideas, ones that they research and publish and try to spread to others.
I had a sabbatical in that fated year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where my ideas centered on moral development, which was centered on how youth become fair, which was centered on two thinkers, Jean Piaget of Switzerland and Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard. Like sheep, the rest of us fell into line behind these thinkers’ ideas and we bleated out the same old story: there are stages of development in how youth think about justice and the more complex their thinking, the better off the youth are. And when I studied the progression of ideas on this theme during my 1984 sabbatical I faced a frightening reality: We are all recycling the same old story decade after decade after decade…..from 1932 to the present. 1984. Yes, I was horrified that I was about to spend the rest of my career in the pasture of old ideas, following shepherds who had brilliant original ideas. Yet, why should I keep going to that same pasture again and again…….and again?
I decided to get out of the line and flee that pasture. I threw over the academic cliff all of my writing and research on these two luminaries’ ideas…….and I never have gone back, over 30 years now, to read even one of my journal articles on youths’ justice-thinking that helped me receive both grants and tenure. I did not go back because the ideas were choking the life out of me. Why live in the shadow of luminaries when their ideas already have been brought to pasture so often by so many?
So, here I was in a publish-or-perish university without an idea……and academics live and die by ideas. So, I asked myself this question: What in the area of moral development might impact — — — truly impact on a deep level — — every person on the planet? Well, I thought, everyone who has ever lived and in the future will live on this planet must confront the opposite of Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s life-callings: injustice. How do people respond to injustice so that they can emotionally heal from the effect of cruel, undeserved injustice? Forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. If people can learn to forgive, perhaps this could aid people in casting off resentment and unhealthy anger and discouragement. Yes, forgiveness is worth studying even though it seems so….so… unreasonable, being good to those who are not good to you.
Yet, when I went to the library and asked the librarian to do a literature search (there were no Google searches back then) for all studies in all of the social sciences focused expressly on people forgiving other people, she came back with a blank piece of paper. Sorry, but there are no such studies on the planet. A friend of mine, at the same time, did such a search in the library at a Kansas university and he, too, was met with a blank sheet. No published studies on forgiving existed.
I decided to start a think-tank at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin asking these questions: What does it mean to forgive others? What is the pathway that people typically walk when they decide to forgive? What outcomes can we measure when people choose to forgive? The Friday Forgiveness Seminar was born in the spring semester of 1985 (and continues to this day) and consisted of a wide range of cultures and faiths and no-faiths, people from Saudi Arabia, Greece, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States…….Muslims, Jewish, Christian, agnostics, and the religiously indifferent. We all sat around a table every Friday, discussed the questions, did the research, and found very good things in that research. When people forgive, even when hurt gravely such as by incest or emotional abuse, there is a tendency for the forgivers to reduce in anger and anxiety and even in depression. They get their lives back.
Nonetheless, academia is not so forgiving as to forgive me for stepping out of the sheep line and thinking independently. Academia talks the talk of academic freedom, but offers its support only within the parameters of what is considered acceptable at that point in time in that cultural context. I now like to say that academia, if we are not careful, grooms us for the sheep’s meadow where we can live out our lives under the careful watch of the academic shepherds who will tell us what is and what is not an acceptable thought. And the study of forgiveness in 1985 was not one of those ideas.
A firestorm erupted about our studying forgiving. It is unacceptable, I was told. It is too soft an idea for hard-headed academia, I was told. You are ruining your career and so you will ruin the career of your unsuspecting graduate students. Desist! Desist with your ideas! 1984.
I did not listen, nor did my brave graduate students, so many of whom now are in solid and tenured academic positions…….because the original nay-sayers were wrong. As soon as we started to publish work on Forgiveness Therapy, showing the reduction of depression, and even its elimination in people who had suffered for years, many academics began to change their ideas about our ideas. The American Psychological Association played a large part in this turn around, as the Editor of APA Books, Mary Lynn Skutley, took her own risk by publishing one of my books, Helping Clients Forgive with the psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, then another and then another. 5 books in all at APA and this helped to put the social scientific study of forgiving on the map of acceptability.
The risks continue. My colleagues and I have given talks in war-torn areas, areas where governmental overseers warn us not to go. Yet, the ideas beckon. We are planning the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for July 12 and 13, 2017 because, well, Jerusalem is a very hurting city and so it is a symbol of the need for forgiving, so off we go.
Within the past month, the Rotary Club of New York has taken the risk with us. We now have created the joint Declaration for Peace and Community Renewal, centered on bringing forgiveness education to as many war-torn communities across the world as we can over the next 24 years. That Declaration is on the Rotary Club of New York’s website as I write this. We are planning a conference on forgiveness education at the United Nations. We are taking a risk together.
Risk. Without it, my ideas die in the academic pasture. With it, I fly because forgiveness flies…..into broken hearts, into broken families, into broken communities. APA and Rotary are risk-takers. We have flown and are flying together……and the world is better off. Taking that risk has allowed many researchers to fly with us and has allowed hurting people to cast off the chains of resentment in their own hearts. Risk can save lives.
I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.
Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.
Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.
Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.
Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little. As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.
We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.
Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.
Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them.
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.