Author Archive: directorifi
On December 16 this year, I had an interview with Justin Ballis, writer for the London-based magazine, What the Doctors Don’t Tell You, that aims to provide evidence-based holistic solutions to illness. Mr. Ballis was one of the most informed interviewers on the topic of forgiveness whom I have ever encountered. The interview covered an impressively wide range of topics on forgiveness, one of which centered on criticisms leveled against the practice of forgiving those who hurt us. In his researching the skeptical views, Mr. Ballis came across a journal article on “the dark side of forgiveness” by Dr. James K. McNulty:
McNulty, J.K. (2011). The dark side of forgiveness: The tendency to forgive predicts continued psychological and physical aggression in marriage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 770-783.
This discussion with Mr. Ballis got me thinking: If well-informed journalists are aware of Dr. McNulty’s article, then it is important to have a thoroughgoing critique of that work, which is flawed in many ways. So, with this in mind, here is an excerpt (chapter 14) from my book with Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, Forgiveness Therapy (American Psychological Association, 2015), in which we examine the science behind this work:
McNulty (2011) claimed to have found scientific support for the view that forgiving within marriage perpetuates injustice. Seventy-two first-married couples took part in a survey in which they responded to hypothetical situations regarding forgiveness. For example, one of the partners asks the other to mail a very important package which the other partner then forgets to do. On a 1-to-7 scale, the respondent reports the degree of forgiveness that he or she would offer to the forgetful spouse. We have four criticisms of the study’s conclusions: a) The questionnaire was very short (five items); b) the questions were all hypothetical and not actual situations in the marriage; c) only one of the hypothetical scenarios is actually serious (an alleged affair), and d) the questionnaire simply asks the participant if he/she would forgive without ever defining the term. The forgetful spouse who failed to mail the package did not act with intent to harm. The one choosing to have an affair did. In other words, some respondents may be confusing genuine forgiveness with excusing or “letting go.” This is a serious flaw to the work (failing to distinguish related but quite different terms) that could have been overcome by asking people what they mean when they use the word forgiveness. The findings could reflect this: Those who score high on this scale are doing the most excusing or condoning, which could make them vulnerable to further abuse. In other words, those who excuse may not seek a proper justice solution upon “forgiving.”
So, there is our critique. My conclusion? It is this: If there is a “dark side” to forgiveness, the above study is not the one to show it.
Editor’s Note: This Guest Blog was written by Roberta Baumann, Managing Editor of the Waunakee (WI) Tribune, and originally appeared in that newspaper on Dec. 31, 2020.
This past year has been so difficult that perhaps, more than any other time, we’re all looking forward to its end, to starting 2021, a year filled with hope.
With the promise of a vaccine and an end to the pandemic, we hope our lives will return to normal, we can send children back to school in person, and our economy can begin to recover.
In some ways, rather than bringing us together, COVID-19 has rendered deep divisions. Another hope for 2021 is forgiveness.
Several years ago, University of Wisconsin social sciences professor Robert Enright spoke about this topic at a Waunakee Rotary meeting. With his examples of remarkable acts of forgiveness — cases in which a rape victim forgave the rapist, and individuals from war torn countries made peace with those who killed their loved ones — his talk was unforgettable.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. It requires empathy, recognizing the person behind the act. And it does not benefit that person who has done harm. Instead, it benefits the one holding the grudge.
Holding onto anger increases stress and anxiety, and neither is healthy emotionally or physically. Experts say forgiveness can result in lowered blood pressure, improved mental health and even a stronger immune system. We all know how important a strong immune system is right now.
Also, when we carry that resentment, it can spill over and affect our relationships with others. When we bring it home and say, yell at the dog, we just create stress in our families’ lives and feel worse.
Forgiveness starts with recounting the wrong you feel has been done, trying to understand the reasons behind it, and then moving on. For some, meditation or prayer helps with this process.
One article from the Mayo Clinic suggests, “Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.”
Forgiveness also differs from reconciliation. In some cases, the person who has done harm feels no remorse or takes no responsibility. Yet essentially, it’s not about the wrongdoer, but the person who feels resentment and how harboring that feeling affects them.
As we look ahead to a year full of hope, let’s do so in a way that brings greater unity and peace. We are all stronger together as a community and a nation, and we will soon face the task of healing and rebuilding from the tremendous losses we’ve faced in 2020.
“I wrote this piece during what may have been the darkest time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baumann says. “In retrospect, I believe isolation and fear gave rise to anger — a much more empowering feeling — among many in the Waunakee community. My hope was that in 2021, divisions in the community could begin to heal.”
An award-winning writer, Baumann has been the Managing Editor of the Waunakee Tribune for 26 years. She graduated from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in English. Waunakee is a village of 15,000 residents just outside Madison, WI.
The tragedy that broke the heart of a nation has led one mother from her journey of suffering for the loss of her child to what many consider unthinkable — forgiveness of the one who had taken so much from her.
Jennifer Hubbard’s 6-year-old daughter, Catherine, was one of the 20 students and 6 teachers who were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, nine years ago this month (Dec. 14, 2012). In one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, the 20-year-old shooter ended his rampage by killing himself outside one of the classrooms.
The unimaginable horror of the tragedy and the raw emotion of losing her red-haired kindergartener caused virtually everything in Hubbard’s life to crumble around her.
Like parents of the other 19 students who never returned home from Sandy Hook, Hubbard found it difficult to consider recovery and healing. Still, she had to move forward to nurture Catherine’s second-grade brother, Freddy, who was also grieving, and to fulfill her pledge to make something positive out of the tragedy.
“On a purely human level, it is impossible to imagine being able to heal from the devastation of kneeling on the frozen earth beside your baby’s grave,” according to Hubbard. Relying on her Catholic faith and an outpouring of donations from supporters across the country, Hubbard slowly was able to grapple with her unthinkable pain and eventually to consider forgiveness.
“Surrendering debts takes time and does not mean forgetting,” she recently explained. “Forgetting would return us to where we started. … Forgiveness releases another from the debt you feel owed and gives your heart permission to heal rather than keep score and has more to do with us than them.”
Before Catherine died, Hubbard says, she could not understand people forgiving those who had inflicted unthinkable pain upon them. But now, by practicing forgiveness herself, she says she is able to experience peace and personal tranquility.
“Forgiveness is where we are changed, both in forgiving those who have launched assaults and in forgiving ourselves,” Hubbard writes in her recently published book Finding Sanctuary: How the Wild Work of Peace Restored the Heart of a Sandy Hook Mother. Each chapter in the book is dedicated to one step in Hubbard’s journey toward “wholeness” along with reflection questions and action steps for application in the reader’s own life.
Through her story, Hubbard shows readers how they can embrace grief and vulnerability to help heal their heart. As Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., writes in the book’s Forward: “Jennifer Hubbard’s achingly beautiful book takes us to the heart of horror and leads us out to an otherwise unimaginable hope.”
Catherine’s memory is kept alive in Newtown by donations from across that country that led to the creation of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary that provides learning opportunities related to all the things Catherine loved—bugs, birds, pets, farm animals and nature. Hubbard also does that through speaking, including radio interviews and appearances on national television news shows.
With Thanksgiving now under our belt and Christmas already being unwrapped, readers of the New York Times are being encouraged to make forgiveness an ongoing part of their holiday tradition.
An article in the Nov. 24 edition features Dr. Robert Enright and explains why forgiveness could be anyone’s “2021 holiday miracle.” The article, “This Thanksgiving, Please Pass the Forgiveness,” was written by four-time New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan who is also host of the popular interview series Tell Me More on PBS.
“Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, which develops curriculums for schools, defines forgiveness as simply ‘choosing to be good to those who are not good to us,’” according to the article. “He does not recommend adjudicating the hurt. Better to skip the picking over, the enumerating, the case-making. Direct your energy to this transformative move: recognizing the inherent worth in the other.”
To support her forgiveness-for-the-holidays premise, Corrigan says “there’s research showing a link between facing our own flaws and finding our way to forgive others.”
The research she sites is a 2013 study conducted by psychology professors at Sakarya University in Sakarya, Turkey, that liberally references the work of Dr. Enright and many of his forgiveness research associates including:
- The Human Development Study Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison) formed by Dr. Enright in 1994.
- Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who co-authored Forgiveness Therapy with Dr. Enright.
- Catherine Coyle, who with Dr. Enright focused on pregnancy and abortion.
- Joanna North, a forgiveness pioneer and philosopher who co-authored Exploring Forgiveness with Dr. Enright.
- Gayle Reed whose work with Dr. Enright focused on forgiveness with emotionally abused women.
According to Corrigan, the painful conflicts that pass between family members over a lifetime often become inflamed during the holidays—but they don’t have to. She ends her article this way:
“If you’re looking for a 2021 holiday miracle, here’s a big one: At every Thanksgiving table, there are people who have managed to look past all kinds of wrongs, people who engage in a voluntary amnesty that marries an acceptance of our own flawed ordinariness and the truth that every last one of us is more than our most unjust behaviors. At every table, people are breaking bread, raising a glass, letting go.”
With more than 5.65 million paid subscribers to its digital (online) edition, the New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. It has been a fixture of American print news for more than 150 years and has won far more Pulitzer Prizes (130) than any other media company in U.S. history.