Archive for November, 2019

I know that self-forgiveness follows a similar path as occurs when forgiving another person for unjust behavior. Do you think there is more to self-forgiveness than this?

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.

For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.

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I have a follow-up question regarding the study you cited earlier by Reed and Enright (2006) in which divorced women forgave their ex-husbands. The findings showed that the women decreased in Post Traumatic Stress. Why do you think this positive result happened?

I think this positive result happened for the following two reasons: First, in forgiving others, people begin to see the inherent worth of those who offended. As this occurs, the forgiver begins to see that the self also has inherent worth. This tends to raise the self-esteem of the forgiver. Second, as people forgive, they begin to develop compassion for the offending person which tends to reduce anger in the forgivers. This reduced anger can lead to a reduction in anger, anxiety, and depression, all of which are associated with Post Traumatic Stress.

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.

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Your critic has another issue on which I would like you to respond, please. He is a mental health professional who said this: One of his clients who was angry about her divorce sent a strong letter to her ex-husband asserting how unfair he was. This made her feel much better. There was no need for forgiveness. How would you respond?

The technique employed above is what we call catharsis, or “letting off steam.” Yes, this can help in the short-run. As you ask someone who just sent such a letter, you might get a report of feeling empowered or relieved. Yet, there is a 25-year longitudinal study by Judith Wallerstein who found that many people who felt unjustly treated in the divorce are still suffering from considerable anger 10 years after the divorce. In other words, the short-term catharsis may not last and may require a stronger approach to reduce unhealthy anger. Forgiveness may be more effective in the long-run, if the client willingly chooses forgives and is not pressured into it.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

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I was talking recently with a skeptic toward your work. He said this: If I asked family members to forgive, they would develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How would you respond?

I first would want to know his reason for saying this. If you notice, there is no explanation. I can only guess, but perhaps he thinks that forgiveness itself is so stressful that it leads to emotional disorder. He is correct in this: Forgiveness is not passive. It takes work, sometimes painful work, but as an analogy, so does surgery if a person’s knee needs repair. The surgery is painful, but not as painful as living with a compromised and painful knee for the rest of one’s life.

Our science actually contradicts the assertion that forgiveness leads to Post Traumatic Stress. A study in which Gayle Reed led divorced women through a forgiveness intervention (about 32 sessions per person) actually resulted in a statistically-significant reduction in Post Traumatic Stress after the program ended relative to a control group that did not have the forgiveness treatment. Thus, the conclusion is the opposite of my critic. The reference to that study is here:

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.

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Abortion Survivor Forgives Her Mother and Father

Melissa Ohden’s mother was 19 years old, unmarried, and eight months pregnant in August 1977 when she went to a hospital in Iowa for the first step in what the medical profession calls a “hypertonic saline abortion.” Five days later, and unknown to her mother, Melissa was born alive and the staff left her to die in a pile of medical waste.

Melissa Ohden, abortion survivor.

Soon after the birth, however, another nurse entered the delivery room, heard a faint rustling noise, and discovered Melissa still alive. The nurse rushed Melissa to the neonatal intensive care unit where the 2 lb. 14 oz. child was treated for jaundice, respiratory distress, and seizures but miraculously survived.

Melissa was released from the hospital three months later to the care of a loving couple in a nearby community that adopted and raised her alongside their own children. Years later, when Melissa learned that she was adopted, she began a quest to find–and forgive–her parents.

After seventeen years of fruitless searching, Melissa was finally able to track down her father who did not respond to her queries prior to his death. Through her father’s relatives, however, she was able to get enough information to find her mother who had married another man. Her mother, who had no idea her daughter had survived the abortion attempt, said she had felt guilty every day since then about what she had done.

In an interview with the Daily Mail (a daily newspaper in London, UK), Melissa shared her incredible story and explained how she has forgiven her mother and father–as well as her grandmother who was apparently the major catalyst for the abortion. 

“It’s been a long and painful journey from shame and anger to faith and forgiveness. But I refuse to be poisoned by bitterness — that’s no way to live,” Melissa told the reporter. “Through my Catholic faith I have learned to forgive. It doesn’t make what happened okay, but it releases you from the pain. We are all human and we all make mistakes. I have only forgiveness in my heart. . .”

Melissa, now 42 years old, is married with two children of her own. She has a master’s degree in social work , is an accomplished motivational speaker, and has also started an organization called the Abortion Survivors Network. She wrote an engaging book about her life: You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir, and is the subject of the 2011 award-winning documentary, A Voice for Life.

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VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR RESEARCH PROJECT

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