Editor’s Note: Exactly 10-years ago this week, in this very same website section, Dr. Robert Enright urged his blog followers to consider adopting a New Year’s resolution to “have a strong will as a forgiver.” Given the unprecedented hyperawareness of forgiveness and forgiveness interventions that has developed since then, his 2012 essay “A Reflection on Resolutions” merits an encore. Here is part of what he wrote:
“This New Year’s Day, my challenge to you is: resolve to have a strong will as a forgiver. . . By that I mean your inner determination and behavioral manifestation of staying the course, finishing the race. . . We talk in society about free will and good will, but rarely about the strong will that helps us stay the course.
“To forgive requires a free will to say yes to the path of mercy and love, a good will to embrace mercy in the face of unfair treatment, and a strong will so that you do not stop persevering in forgiveness. To persevere in forgiveness is one of the most important things you can do for your family, your community, and for yourself.
“Without the strong will, you could easily be like the rowboat, once tethered to the dock, now loosened from the moorings as it slowly drifts out to sea. As the cares of the world envelope you, the opportunity to cling to the forgiving life may slowly fade until you are unaware that the motivation to keep forgiving is gone.
“Having a strong will means that you will remember what you resolved; you will follow through with the resolution. You have the opportunity to make a merciful difference in a world that seems not to have a strong enough collective will to keep forgiveness alive in the heart. The choice is yours. The benefits may surprise you.”
Dr. Robert Enright, Ph.D., who pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness, is co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. He is also a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a licensed psychologist. The various titles and labels that have been bestowed on him during his 37-year career devoted to forgiveness include:
- Dr. Forgiveness. . .
- Dr. Bob. . .
- The forgiveness trailblazer. . .
- The father of forgiveness research. . .
- The man who pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness. . .
- Creator of a Pathway to Forgiveness. . . (the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness)
- The guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness. . .
- Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science. . .
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “one million?”
- One million dollars?
- One million stars in the sky?
- One million pebbles of sand on a beach?
For Dr. Robert Enright, the psychologist who is often called “the father of forgiveness research,” the term one million gained a new significance recently when he learned that the blog column he writes for Psychology Today has surpassed one million views.
“When I first began studying forgiveness 36-years ago, it was extremely difficult to find even one single academic article on the subject,” says Dr. Enright. “The fact that my blog essays have been read more than one million times during the past few years is an extraordinary story of how important forgiveness has become in our lives.”
Appropriately called “The Forgiving Life,” (the same title as one of Dr. Enright’s most popular books), the Psychology Today column authored by Dr. Enright focuses on how forgiveness benefits individual, family, and community health. At the publication’s request, Dr. Enright wrote his first Psychology Today forgiveness essay in December 2016. Since then, he has written 93 blog entries as part of the series, all of which are available on the publication’s website.
Dr. Enright’s Psychology Today blogs have been accessed online an average of
548 times per day since he began writing them.
Here is a list of 10 of Dr. Enright’s most popular Psychology Today blogs (with hyperlinks to the actual articles):
- Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season?
- A Message for All Who Bristle at the Idea of Forgiving
- How Forgiving Are You? Take the Forgiveness Test
- 6 Things to Consider Before Reconciling with an Ex
- Whom Do I Forgive in the COVID-19 Crisis?
- Finding True Love: 7 Questions to Ask Your Potential Partner
- Are Some Acts Completely Unforgiveable?
- Why Forgiveness Is Heroic
- Five Forgiveness Exercises for Couples
- Why We Need Forgiveness Education
“My Psychology Today essays are designed to pose a challenge to everyone who reads them,” Dr. Enright says. “I want readers to consider whether they can incorporate forgiveness into their everyday interactions so that they can become more compassionate while at the same time becoming healthier. I call it becoming forgivingly fit.”
You can access all 93 of Dr. Enright’s Psychology Today blogs at The Forgiving Life.
According to the website’s Author Profile page:
Robert Enright, Ph.D., is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a licensed psychologist, and the founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc., who pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness. He is the author of over 120 publications, including seven books: Exploring Forgiveness, Helping Clients Forgive, Forgiveness Is a Choice, Rising Above the Storm Clouds (for children), The Forgiving Life, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, and Forgiveness Therapy. His colleagues and he have developed and tested a pathway to forgiveness, called Forgiveness Therapy, that has helped incest survivors, people in drug rehabilitation, in hospice, in shelters for abused women, and in cardiac units of hospitals, among others. Enright has developed Forgiveness Education programs for teachers in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Athens, Greece, Liberia, Africa, and Galilee, Israel.
Editor’s Note: Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric who helped end apartheid in his native South Africa, died Sunday at the age of 90. Called the “Man of Forgiveness” by The New York Times, Archbishop Tutu worked closely for many years with Roy Lloyd, President of the International Forgiveness Institute’s Board of Directors. Here are Dr. Lloyd’s reflections on his years with the incomparable Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a person of immense generosity, joy and courage and I was privileged to call him a friend. Desmond and I knew each other, over many years, through anti-apartheid work including sanctions against South Africa, divestment efforts and protests. I also was privileged to spend a considerable amount of time with him when he was in New York City at General Theological Seminary as a scholar in residence. Later on, when he was speaking and teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, he and I produced TV and radio spots enlisting aid for those suffering so horrifically in the Kosovo conflict. This was entirely in character. For him, caring meant acting, not just talking about it.
This was a man who stood on principle, calling out oppression of every kind, albeit with a generosity of spirit, decency and respect. Desmond believed that when people can come face-to-face with each other to speak the truth with sincerity, then it is possible to achieve closure and a more equitable outcome.
That was certainly at the heart of his leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that brought together perpetrators of violence facing people who had been persecuted. An open atmosphere was created in which participants could confess what they had done or be candid about what they had endured. The desired result of mutual responsibility for moving forward in a more positive way was achieved by facing reality, while not denying justice. Those responsible for their actions received whatever penalty was necessary. Yet, that wasn’t the end of the story. Those who were sincere in their confession were forgiven and welcomed into a higher level of meaning in interracial relationships.
It was through a commitment to these kinds of meaningful endeavors that Desmond and I became involved in the initial days of the International Forgiveness Institute. Desmond declared, at our first national conference, the message that drove his lifelong ministry: “Without forgiveness there is no future.”
This is the central message of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).
Forgiveness is an opportunity to accept that gift for ourselves, liberating us from whatever harm we have experienced and the freedom to offer it to others. Desmond knew well that this doesn’t necessarily lead to reconciliation or to the denial of justice. Those who commit harm deserve a just penalty. However, through forgiveness the equation is vastly changed. A never-ending problem of harm that challenges us can become an opportunity for growth, renewal and regeneration of life.
The Archbishop was someone who was effervescent in personality, continually joyous and always with a twinkle in his eye. This was a hero who was continually committed to walking the hard road to achieve the common good. I always found him to be looking forward rather than backward. As the saying goes, he always had his eye on the prize.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I firmly believe that Desmond Tutu provided a template for how all of us can lead a meaningful existence—one that celebrates the bonds of our humanity and grants to each we meet our thoughtfulness, consideration and esteem.
We at the International Forgiveness Institute pay homage to this marvelous man and are honored by his years of commitment to forgiveness and as an honorary IFI board member.
President, Board of Directors
International Forgiveness Institute
- Before his death, Archbishop Tutu had served as an Honorary Member of the International Forgiveness Institute Board of Directors for more than 25 years.
- In 1995, Archbishop Tutu provided the opening remarks (by recorded audio) at the historic international forgiveness conference hosted by the IFI and held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–the first academic forgiveness conference ever held at any university in the world.
- Archbishop Tutu wrote the “Foreword” to the 1998 book Exploring Forgiveness, a collection of forgiveness essays edited by IFI-founder Dr. Robert Enright and philosopher Joanna North. That Foreword is titled “Without Forgiveness There Is No Future.”
- In 2014, Dr. Enright announced to IFI website followers the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge–a free 30-day program developed by Archbishop Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, designed to teach the world how to forgive. In that article, Dr. Enright said of Archbishop Tutu: “He has lived forgiveness. He has embodied it.”
- Read “Quotations on Forgiveness from Desmond Tutu.”
- Read “Desmond Tutu Wins 2013 Templeton Prize for Forgiveness Work.”
- Called the “Man of Forgiveness” by The New York Times, Archbishop Tutu is the author of several books including: No Future without Forgiveness and The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
- Read a biographical account of Archbishop Tutu’s life and global activities in The New York Times or watch a biographical video at CNN News. Archbishop Tutu is survived by his wife of 66 years, Leah, and their four children.
About Roy Lloyd:
In addition to being the long-term President of the IFI Board of Directors, Roy Lloyd is an IFI founding director and contributing writer. He is a retired communications executive with graduate degrees in education, communications and theology. Before retiring to Springfield, MO, Dr. Lloyd was a regular commentator on all-news radio station 1010 WINS in New York City and he appeared with Desmond Tutu on Good Morning America, CNN, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Live with Regis and Kelly, and other programs. His high-profile career activities included his service as media officer for the Jesse Jackson trip to Belgrade in 1999 that gained the release of three American soldiers held by the Milošević regime. He has also served as executive producer of numerous network television programs and as producer and host of Public Television’s “Perspectives” series. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fights and disagreements are ubiquitous. At some point, even the most agreeable of us have argued with or felt betrayed by someone we love. After a major fallout, you may think you’re entitled to hold a grudge. After all, how else can you demonstrate your displeasure, hurt, and anger? But holding onto hurt feelings may hurt you more than anyone else, due to the negative effects long-term resentment can have on your mental health.
Negative Effects of Holding a Grudge
By definition, a grudge can be described as an ill feeling or resentment toward someone who has wronged you in some way. Although others may not blame you for holding a grudge, you’re more likely to suffer from your feelings of resentment than anyone else.
Grudges can lead to negative feelings such as anger, sadness, bitterness, confusion, and hatred, which may grow stronger over time. These feelings won’t improve your outlook on the situation or resolve the issues that lead to the initial resentment. They can, however, cause you physical and mental harm.
Studies show that harboring a grudge or resentment can seriously impact your physical and mental health. Negative, resentful feelings not only rob you of peace and happiness, but they can also creep into the workplace, your social life, or personal relationships. The longer you hold a grudge, the more angry, bitter, and resentful you can become, until you have little happiness or positivity left in your life.
According to Dr. Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, a professor of psychology at Hope College and a leading researcher on the mental impact of holding grudges, the negative effects of grudges outweigh the reasons you may have for continuing to harbor ill will toward offending parties. “When people think of their offenders in unforgiving ways,” she says, “they tend to experience stronger negative emotions and greater [physiological] stress responses.”
In a 2010 study documented in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, researchers reported that those who held long-term grudges had higher levels of hypertension, heart disease, ulcers, headaches, arthritis, and chronic pain than those who didn’t hold any. Holding a grudge thus seems to produce negative health consequences.
Is Forgiveness the Answer?
Forgiveness is making a conscious decision to let go of a grudge along with the negative feelings of resentment, anger, and revenge against those you feel have done you wrong and striving to offer goodness of some kind to them. You may still feel the perpetrator was at fault, but you no longer harbor negative emotions or attitudes toward him or her.
When you forgive people, you don’t necessarily excuse or condone their hurtful actions or behavior or need to “kiss and make up.” But by choosing forgiveness, you’re attempting to rid yourself of deep-seated negativity that could be keeping you from moving forward and living a happy, productive life.
Embracing forgiveness can help you restore peace, satisfaction, and positivity. You’ll no longer be defined by negativity, depression, or stress, but by your ability to rise above those feelings and move forward.
For some people, forgiveness comes naturally. For others, it requires more work. Once you’ve made the commitment to forgive, however, you might find yourself harboring fewer negative feelings and adopting a more positive outlook on life as Dr. Robert Enright details in his self-help books The Forgiving Life and 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
Anyone can choose to forgive and adopt a grudge-free lifestyle. In fact, according to a Fetzer Institute survey, approximately 62% of American adults said that they wanted more forgiveness in their lives.
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a major force for good in helping people overcome grudges and regain peace of mind. It can help release the stranglehold that resentment has on your life so that it no longer defines you or influences your decisions.
Through forgiveness, you can put negativity behind you and look forward to improved mental, physical, and emotional health as well as a brighter future. In time, you may gain a greater understanding of why people act the way they do and learn to have compassion and empathy for those who have done you wrong.
Whether you’ve been harboring a long-term grudge against someone or have developed one recently, forgiveness could be the answer you need to get over your grudge and proceed. Forgiveness can benefit you in the following ways:
- Greater happiness – Forgiving others can release the hold of depression and sadness in your life so you can experience the joy of living again.
- Improved mental health – Through forgiveness, you can replace negativity with positivity, enabling you to enjoy a positive outlook on life. Positive thoughts, mindsets, and attitudes will follow to keep you on a positive path.
- Improved physical health – Negative feelings from a grudge can impact your physical health, causing high blood pressure, increased heart rate, stress, anxiety, ulcers, and more. When you forgive, your body no longer feels the ill effects of negativity, enabling you to benefit from better health. Forgiveness can also have a positive impact on your immune system, making you less susceptible to sickness and disease.
- Better relationships – Holding a grudge undermines your desire to love and trust others. This can cause ill will between you and your friends, relatives, or spouse. Forgiveness can end this cycle and promote greater connectivity with others, so you can build more stable friendships and more loving relationships.
You can’t change the traumatic circumstances in your past that led you to hold a grudge. You can, however, create a happier, more productive future by choosing to forgive. Through forgiveness, you can let go of the past and look forward to the future.
This article was written by Pam Zuber, Editor|Author|Content Writer at Sunshine Behavioral Health. She has written similar educational pieces for various publications including Minority Nurse, Sivana East, and the UAB Institute for Human Rights.
Sunshine Behavioral Health, headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, CA, provides care, treatment, and recovery therapeutics for individuals facing substance abuse, addiction, and mental health disorders. With a network of facilities in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas, the group offers inpatient rehab centers, outpatient treatment, and sober living homes.
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.