Archive for June, 2018
“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.
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
I have been forgiving my ex and all of a sudden I am finding that I have bigger problems with my father. What do I do now? Do I continue with my ex or turn to forgiving my father?
Who has caused you more hurt, your ex or your father? I would recommend dealing with the one who is causing you less pain because it is easier to forgive those with whom you are less angry. This will give you a chance to learn the forgiveness process well. You then can turn to the more challenging situation.
Humans characteristically use psychological defenses to keep them from pain for which they are not ready. Thus, temporary denial can be a protection for people before they are ready to confront an unpleasant or threatening situation. If the denial goes on too long, say, for years, then this may prevent the person from working on healthy ways of dealing with one’s own weaknesses or the injustices from others.
When I began 30 years ago to apply social scientific methods to the ancient moral virtue of forgiveness, my students and I ran into a rather large problem. People were afraid to forgive. When we probed this fear, we began to realize a common theme across the fearful. They equated forgiving with automatically and dutifully going back into abusive situations. “My spouse denigrates me. If I forgive, then I go back for more……but I do not want to go back for more. Thus, I will not forgive.”
It took us a while, but eventually we saw that to forgive is not the same as to reconcile. Forgiveness, as with justice and patience and kindness, is a virtue, originating inside people as an insight (I can be good to those who are not good to me) and as a feeling of empathy and compassion for the offending other, not because of the offense but in spite of it. Forgiving behaviors flow from the insight and compassion.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a behavioral negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust. You can forgive and not trust a person in their weak areas (you do not lend money to the compulsive gambler even though you can try to be good to the person in other ways as a sign of forgiving). You can forgive and not reconcile at all if the other remains abusive.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. This insight opened the door for social scientific work on forgiveness for us because to forgive is not to create unsafe situations for the forgiver.
We now turn to two, what I call, Modern Misconceptions, the latest critiques of forgiveness, particularly Forgiveness Therapy, a new form of psychotherapy which emerged from the research journey begun three decades ago (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). These Modern Misconceptions are quite different from the early misconception because they target forgiveness itself—not fear—and are highly critical of this potentially life-changing virtue, even if practiced well and with patience.
Modern Misconception 1 goes something like this: You who advocate for Forgiveness Therapy or Forgiveness Education with students (Enright, Rhody, Litts, & Klatt, 2014) ask way too much of forgivers. You ask them to bear the burden of their own healing and that is not fair. They already have been hurt so why ask them now to struggle after forgiveness?
Two burdens are theirs: the original offense and now Forgiveness Therapy. Yet, as with the equating of forgiveness with reconciliation, this Modern Misconception has an error embedded within it. It is not at all an added and unnecessary burden to help a person, whose heart is broken, to forgive.
Take a physical analogy to make the point clear. Suppose James pushes Jeremy to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Is it unwise now to ask Jeremy to enter into a rehabilitation process to repair the shoulder? Is it an added burden we should never ask because he is hurting? It would seem that the unfairness lies, not in the encouraging of medical treatment, but the reverse—discouraging it because it will be rigorous and painful.
Is it not the same with Forgiveness Therapy for those who choose it? The heart is broken, yes, because of the original unfairness. If the person chooses rehab of the heart—Forgiveness Therapy—isn’t this repair good even though rigorous and painful? The Modern Misconception might keep people from rehab of the heart and so it needs to be challenged.
Modern Misconception 2 has emerged from my giving 13 invited forgiveness talks in an area of the world plagued by a land dispute that is disrupting individual, family, community, and political peace. The misconception unfolds this way: You say that forgiveness is good, but how will it get my land back? It will not get my land back. Therefore, forgiveness is weak and ineffective. I will have nothing to do with it.
My response is to give a multiple choice question to the skeptic. Which of these two would you rather have:
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you also live with a deep anger that disrupts your inner life and the life of those around you; or,
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you are free of the deep anger that disrupts you, your loved ones, and your community?
Which do you choose? In every case across the 13 lectures, the skeptic ends up choosing answer (B), living without the debilitating resentment. It is at that point that the person is willing to explore the subtleties of forgiveness without dismissing it. Such exploration could, in the long run, save lives from psychological devastation. The error in Modern Misconception 2 occurs when the person focuses exclusively on the original problem (land dispute) without even realizing that a second, just as serious, problem has emerged because of the land dispute—resentment entrenched in the heart. Forgiveness can cure this second problem while not being able to solve the original problem. Without seeing this, the person rejects forgiveness as weak.
Misconceptions…..they can drive a person away from forgiveness or become a stimulus for more thoroughly exploring what forgiveness has to offer. Left unexplored, the Modern Misconceptions could leave some people without a path of healing that could have been theirs……if only they had explored more deeply.
Posted in Psychology Today February 18, 2017
- Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Enright, R.D. , Rhody, M., Litts, B., & Klatt. J.S. (2014). Piloting forgiveness education in a divided community: Comparing electronic pen-pal and journaling activities across two groups of youth. Journal of Moral Education, 43, 1-17.
I have been thinking about people who have acted very badly in this world. Do you think most of them have backgrounds that include trauma from others? I am wondering if being treated badly leads many to behave badly, even to break the law.
Yes, there is a large literature, for example, with people in prison that shows many have suffered trauma from other people prior to their crimes and imprisonment.
Here are some references (click on the highlighted text to read the abstract and/or the complete report:
- Brinded, P., Alexander, M. J., Simpson, I. F., Laidlaw, T. M., Farley, N., & Fiona, M. (2001). Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in New Zealand prisons: A national study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 35, 166-173.
- Collins, J. J., & Bailey, S. L. (1990). Traumatic stress disorder and violent behavior. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3(2), 203-220.
- Enright, R.D. Erzar, T., Gambaro, M., Komoski, M.C., O’Boyle, J., Reed, G., Song, J.,Teslik, M., Wollner, B., Yao, Z., & Yu, L. (2016). Proposing forgiveness therapy for those in prison: An intervention strategy for reducing anger and promoting psychological health. Journal of Forensic Psychology, 1:116.
- Masuda, M., Cutler, D. L., Hein, L., & Holmes, T. H. (1978). Life events and prisoners. Archives of General Psychiatry, 35(2), 197-203.