True Forgiveness Is an Act of the Heart

Editor’s Note: Eileen Barker is an internationally recognized mediator, facilitator, and forgiveness teacher. She is also a pioneer in the movement to integrate emotional healing and forgiveness in conflict resolution. She wrote this essay for our website:

I’ve met plenty of people who told me they ‘thought’ they had forgiven. What they mean is they formed the mental intention to forgive, only to later discover that the judgment and resentment were still there.  Does this sound familiar? I call this “forgiving from the neck up” or “emotional bypass.” It may provide temporary relief but it is not lasting. I also frequently encounter people  intent on analyzing their experience. They seem to believe if they fully understand the situation, it will enable them to forgive, but this is not the case. True forgiveness cannot be intellectualized.
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You can say the words “I forgive” and have the thought “I forgive” until the cows come home, and still not have actually forgiven. The mind can only take us so far. At some point we must enter the arena of feelings in order to release the anger, blame, resentment, and so on. They must be addressed. Of course feelings are vulnerable and possibly unfamiliar, which is why we might want to avoid them, but the only way to heal is to walk through them. Feelings are the true pathway home.

So, how do you enter the emotional realm?  How do you forgive from the neck down?

One of the keys for me is guided meditation.  I start with the breath and then bring awareness to the body step by step. This creates the foundation for all the other work. For some, it might feel uncomfortable and even unsafe at first to bring awareness  into the body, so we go as slowly as necessary to create safety. When we can feel our body and not push our feelings away, we discover that the body has vitally important information for us, information  far more reliable than that acquired from the mind alone.

Here is a powerful passage on the topic of embracing our emotions and forgiving, written by Eckhart Tolle in his book
The Power of Now:

Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance serves no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life — to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering, a greatly restricted flow of life energy, and in many cases physical disease.

The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. Non-forgiveness is the very nature of the mind, just as the mind-made false self, the ego, cannot survive without strife and conflict. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.

A potent reminder that we are so much more than our minds, thoughts, beliefs and words.


Eileen Barker is a San Francisco Bay Area (CA) litigation lawyer who rejected the traditional adversarial role. Instead, she has focused her practice on mediation and conflict resolution for the past twenty years, helping thousands of people resolve disputes outside of court. This work led her into a deep exploration of forgiveness as it relates to resolving conflict and making peace, both with others and oneself.  She is the author of the Forgiveness Workbook and Forgiveness Meditation CD.  In 2016, Eileen received the Champion of Forgiveness Award from the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance (along with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Visit her website: The Path of Forgiveness.

“THE ANTI-BULLYING FORGIVENESS PROGRAM” — FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Initiated in 2006 by the PACER Center, it is the designated 31-day period each year when schools, organizations, and communities across the country–and in more and more countries around the world–join together in their battle to confront and stop bullying and cyberbullying. 

As its contribution to that initiative, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) is making its groundbreaking guide, The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program, available free of charge for a limited time. Developed by Dr. Robert Enright, this program is an invaluable tool for school counselors, social workers, teachers, and homeschooling parents.

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bulling may be verbal, social (hurting someone’s reputation or relationships), or physical. Cyberbullying is that which takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets–often called “online bullying.”

Bullying is a problem that can derail a child’s schooling, social life, and emotional well-being. According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 1 of every 5 students ages 12-18 reported being bullied at school during the 2017 school year. While some adults have a tendency to ignore bullying and to write it off as a normal part of life that all kids go through, bullying is a real problem with serious consequences.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s website Stopbullying.gov, being bullied can lead to negative health and emotional issues, including:

  • Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities the person used to enjoy. These issues may, and often do,  persist into adulthood.
  • Health complaints and mental health issues.
  • Decreased academic achievement (both GPA and standardized test scores) and school participation. The bullied are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
  • Negative behavioral changes including substance abuse and, in extreme cases, suicide. 

Countless anti-bullying techniques and programs have been developed over the past several years with administrators and teachers reporting varying levels of effectiveness. The IFI program is significantly different than most of those because it is not based on confrontation and/or disciplinary action. Instead, Dr. Enright’s approach focuses on the behavior of the one doing the bullying because “hurt people hurt people.”

That pithy observation is more than a clever phrase; it’s a sad truth. Dr. Enright’s scientifically-conducted research projects have repeatedly confirmed his contention that “hurt people hurt others because they themselves have been hurt. We’ve all been hurt in one way or another and those hurts cause us to become defensive and self-protective. We instinctively may lash out at others so that hurting becomes a vicious cycle full of pent-up anger.”

"Unless we eliminate the anger in the hearts of those who bully, we will not eliminate bullying."
                                              Dr. Robert Enright

Forgiveness can be a powerful way of reducing pent-up anger, Dr. Enright says about his strategy of incorporating forgiveness education into his anti-bullying approach.

“It is our contention that bullying starts from within, as anger, and comes out as displaced anger onto the victim,” according to Dr. Enright. “Forgiveness targets this anger and then reduces it, thus reducing or eliminating the displaced anger which comes out as bullying.”

The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program is for children in grades 4 (age 9) through grade 9 (age 14). It includes 8 lessons, each taking from 30 to 60 minutes. All of the material needed to teach these lessons is self-contained in this guide; there are no other textbooks or materials to purchase. The manual is now being offered free for a limited time and is available only in the electronic version. To order, email your request to the IFI Director at director@internationalforgiveness.com. Indicate whether you would like the Standard or Christian version. ⊗


Additional Information:

In Chapter 5 of your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you talk about overcoming anger. I am wondering: Do I overcome the anger **before** I forgive, or is the anger diminished as I go through the process of forgiveness?

Your anger diminishes as you go through the process of forgiveness. If you think about it, how would you overcome the anger **before** forgiving? There are no known psychological approaches to reduce the anger and keep it away for a very long time other than forgiveness, in my opinion. As an example, relaxation training can reduce anger, but once you are no longer in the relaxed state, and you think about the injustice, the anger can return. Relaxation focuses on anger as a symptom and covers over that symptom in a temporary way. Forgiveness has you confront that anger and heal from it so that when you recall the unjust event and the person, the anger is diminished. This does not mean that all anger vanishes, but it does mean that the anger no longer is in control.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am encouraged by your statement that I can reduce my sadness and anger even if I have held these for many years. Yet, I have another question. These feelings now are part of my own identity, who I am as a person. I know that might sound a little odd, but it is scary to think of changing. Can you help me with that?

Change can be scary, especially when it breaks a long-standing pattern. We have seen that people find it hard to make a commitment to forgive because of change; the change itself is the initial challenge. Yet, my question to you is this: What might your new identity be like as you forgive and change? You might change to these kinds of views of yourself:

  • I am someone who does not harm others;
  • I can be a conduit for good in my family;
  • I can bear pain and as I stand up to that pain, I am strong;
  • I am beginning to love more deeply.

These kinds of views of yourself can assist you in a healthier identity and in aiding others in their pain. The new identity, you may find, is more friendly than the old one.

For additional information, see The Forgiving Life.

Don’t Miss This Opportunity of a Lifetime: Learn How to Forgive from Dr. Robert Enright Himself

Forgiveness: A Pathway to Emotional Healing

Based on his 30+ years of peer-reviewed, empirical scientific research, Dr. Robert Enright will help you discover and learn a step-by-step pathway to forgiveness in this one-day workshop. This intense learning session will enable you to develop  confidence in your forgiveness skills and learn how you can bring forgiveness to your family, school, work place and community for better emotional health.

“Forgiveness is a process, freely chosen, in which you willingly reduce resentment through some hard work and Joyoffer goodness of some kind toward the one who hurt you,” according to workshop presenter Dr. Enright. “This gives you a chance to live a life of love, compassion and joy.”

Dr. Enright outlines during this workshop how to learn and use that process to help yourself and others. He explains, for example that:

  •  Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation, forgetting, excusing or condoning.
  •  Forgiveness does not get rid of the injustice but the effects of the injustice.
  •  Forgiveness cuts across many different philosophies and religions.
  •  The benefits of forgiveness are significant: scientific analyses demonstrates that considerable emotional, relational, and even physical health benefits result from forgiving.


FORGIVENESS: A PATHWAY TO EMOTIONAL HEALING

When: Nov 11, 9am-4pm  (on-site registration 8:30am)
Where: Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison, WI
Fee: $195
Instructor: Dr. Robert Enright, PhD
Continuing education (CE) hours: 6, 6 CHES®  contact hours
Level: Intermediate to  Advanced
Questions: Barbara Nehls- Lowe, barbara.nehlslowe@ wisc.edu, 608-890-4653
To register or for  more informationForgiveness: A Pathway to Emotional Health



If you’ve ever thought about learning a systematic approach to forgiving that will enhance your emotional and physical health, this workshop should be one that you must attend. Dr. Enright, the man Time magazine called “the Forgiveness Trailblazer,” will teach you how to harness the amazing power of forgiveness for yourself.

According to the respected health website WebMD.com, if you can bring yourself to forgive, you are likely to enjoy lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and a drop in the stress hormones circulating in your blood. Back pain, stomach problems, and headaches may disappear. And you’ll reduce the anger, bitterness, resentment, depression, and other negative emotions that accompany the failure to forgive.

Sign up today for this once in a lifetime
opportunity with Dr. Robert Enright that could dramatically change your life.


Testimonials:

  • “Amazing amount of powerful information presented clearly and in an easily accessible way.”
  • “What did I like most? Dr. Enright’s gentle, wise, and informed teaching style and thoughtful content.”

 

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF FORGIVENESS

This guest blog was written by Rosemary Kite, Founder and President of Forgive4Peace in Los Angeles, CA.


They say that unforgiveness is like a poison you take hoping that the other person will die! I hope that’s not you.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. The science of forgiveness. Medical experts say that forgiving those who have wronged us helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. The benefits aren’t just limited to the physical, though. Letting go of old grudges is known to reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive tend to have better relationships, be more optimistic, and overall, enjoy better psychological well-being.

So why is it so hard for us to do what is good for us to do? Well, forgiveness is about the hardest thing any one of us ever has to do. But the heart is a muscle and every muscle needs to be exercised. Forgiveness exercises the heart muscle, but not without the help of the head (and the hands for that matter), because forgiveness is above all, a CHOICE. So before moving onto the art of forgiveness, let’s try to define the word.

What exactly is forgiveness anyway? According to Dr. Robert Enright, an Educational Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, forgiveness can be defined as follows:

“Forgiveness is a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and even love toward him or her.”

See. . . Forgiveness involves the head, the hands, and the heart (the intellect, the will, AND the emotions). Let’s take a minute to look at each of these components:

1st – THE EMOTIONS….where it all starts, in the ANGER. In forgiveness, we strive to abandon our right to resentment, that “re-feeling” of the sting of injustice. Resentment is a feeling, a passion, a movement we feel in a painful way as we strive to abandon the desires for revenge, retaliation, desires of getting even, settling the accounts, the wallowing in self-pity.

2nd – THE INTELLECT. By channeling our emotions through the intellect, we invite our reason to have a say and we work toward abandoning our negative judgments (the critical spirit, the condemnation, the name calling, the depressing self-talk).

3rd – THE BEHAVIOR. Our actions that sometimes speak louder than words. We try to abandon negative behavior in our gestures, attitudes and treatment of the other (the sourpuss, the cold shoulder, the bad-mouthing, the finger, the backbiting). By integrating these three dimensions of ourselves, forgiveness makes us WHOLE. Forgiveness makes us more human.

What forgiveness is NOT is: a four-letter word, excusing, condoning (suggesting that something bad is really something good), forgetting (it doesn’t produce amnesia of the event or the hurt; forgiving and the memory of the event can coexist), or pretending that nothing happened.

So if forgiveness is a choice; it is also a process that is multi-layered and cyclical and that is where the art of forgiveness comes in. It places no conditions such as an apology or remorse or even justice for that matter.

The art of forgiveness looks something like this:

  1. We stop dancing around denial and acknowledge the injustice in order to uncover the anger.
  2. We wiggle and wobble around the need to decide to forgive. To make a tough choice. To try to end the resentment. To try to be a loving person even to the one who was unfair to us. We try to learn what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said: “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
  3. Then we dig into the hard work of taking as wide a perspective as possible to re-frame the event, the anger and the pain. Can we consider the humanity in the person; can we see his/her woundedness, stress? Can we see that we both share a common humanity? That this person is not evil incarnate? Can we begin to feel any empathy? A softening of our heart toward understanding?
  4. Finally, we unearth the peace and freedom of letting go of resentment and bitterness; we release the pent-up anger; lessening the emotional anguish. We discover a freer heart; meaning in our suffering. We come to realize that, in the words of Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  We learn the great paradox of forgiveness: as you reach out to others in love, you yourself experience emotional healing.

So the secret art and science of forgiveness suggests that the best medicine we can possibly take to improve our physical, psychological, social and spiritual health is forgiveness. Forgiveness is like the pill that offers the deepest healing of the wounds that fester in the human heart.


If you want to be happy for a moment, take revenge. But if you want to be happy forever,  forgive.
                                                                                                                                 ~ Rosemary Kite


Rosemary Kite

Rosemary Kite and Forgive4Peace have been long-time supporters and financial contributors to the International Forgiveness Institute.  Its mission is “to promote forgiveness education at home, at school and at work for the sake of world peace. Forgiveness fills the gap between our world’s unrest and world peace. All education fosters peace. Forgiveness education brings peace.” In addition to rewarding achievements in forgiveness, Forgive4Peace raises awareness of the importance and value of forgiveness in one’s everyday life. Visit the Forgive4Peace website here.

I was hurt by a stranger and so I have no clue about his past. How can I do the thinking work of forgiveness toward this person, given that I know nothing about him?

We talk about taking the personal, the global, and the cosmic perspectives when trying to understand and forgive another person. The personal perspective, which you find difficult to take, asks the forgiver to examine the past of the offending person and to see if this person suffered injustices and emotional wounds from others. Because you cannot know these issues, you can move to the global and cosmic perspectives. I will share only the global perspective for you here. If you find it helpful, then you might want to go more deeply and consider the cosmic perspective, depending on your belief system.

In the global perspective, we ask people to see the common humanity between yourself as forgiver and the one who offended you. Here are some questions centered on the global perspective: Do you share a common humanity with the one who hurt you? Do you both have unique DNA in that, when both of you die, there never will be another human being exactly like you on this planet? Does this make you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Does this make the one who hurt you special, unique, and irreplaceable? Will that person die some day? Will you die some day? You share that as part of your common humanity. Do you need sufficient rest and nutrition to stay healthy? Does the one who hurt you need the same? Do you see your common humanity? In all likelihood, even though you cannot know for sure, that person has been treated unfairly in the past by others. You very well may share the fact that both of you carry wounds in your heart.

For more information, see Forgiveness Defined.