A guest article by author Darlene J. Harris.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Hell will freeze over before I forgive that person for what they did to me.”? Read that statement again. Can you feel the anger, rage, resentment, and revenge in those words? Are you willing to consider giving up the emotions that fuel feelings like those? Are you willing to consider forgiveness in order to trade your bitterness for joy?
Consider the Cost
Anything worthwhile comes with a cost. You and I must decide if forgiveness is worth the effort and risk.
I asked several friends what forgiveness cost them and what their life was like before they found forgiveness. This is what they said:
- Estelle said, “The cost to me was releasing my need to control. It was also the uncontrollable desire to be angry, bitter, and hateful. I was always ready to remind the person how they hurt me. I never forgot the betrayal. I delighted in those feelings. I had no plan to give them up. Who would I be if I gave in?”
- Connie said, “I lost myself, daily accepting negative reminders and perspectives of who I thought I was. Some days I felt my energy drain from me and my broken spirit cried out. Because I felt narratives were true, I gave into their description of who I was. If I gave them up, who would I be?”
- Randy shared, “I felt the injustice and unfairness of the pain. I was anchored to the past. Holding on to it gave me a sense of security against the pain. The poison of bitterness and anger ran through my veins. I was on edge every day.”
Pain is the emotional risk with forgiveness. It causes us to question ourselves. Who will you be if you give up bitterness and pain? Will you be accepted, or rejected and abandoned? Will you be welcomed and loved? These are questions that every human yearns to know.
Forgiveness is frightening because you expose the hidden parts of yourself. You move from the known to the unfamiliar aspects of your heart. It is risky and often hard! But it works!
The Forgiveness Journey
Forgiveness is not forgetting the wrong done to you—you don’t seek an apology; you don’t have to reconcile. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge or justice. It is not living in the past.
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to live without resentment and anger. It offers the one who hurt you what they don’t deserve. Forgiveness brings peace and joy.
It is a continuous journey to maintain peace and joy. It’s hard. You will experience disappointment and discouragement. Processing these feelings, caring for yourself, and growing in wisdom is essential. It doesn’t mean you will always be happy. Instead, happiness is a by-product of the journey.
I’ve learned that you should not go on the forgiveness journey alone. As a Christian, I receive God’s grace through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is close to me when I am in pain. He cries for me when I can’t cry for myself. You might find that going it alone is not the best way for you. You can invite God into your journey, too.
A Higher Power
While I refer to God, you may refer to a Higher Power. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other Twelve-Step Programs use this term to refer to a supreme being, deity, or a different perception of God. They have found it therapeutic to aid a power higher than yourself. Step Two of the Twelve Step Program is: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Most people find they need someone who can come alongside and be there for them. You want someone who will listen to your pain. Someone who will cry with you and for you. Someone who can love and protect you. You want a love that feels safe. Someone you can go to no matter what.
A child in pain goes to their parent, hoping they will comfort them. We also want to know God, our Creator will do the same for us.
Freedom Is Worth It
Forgiving for the first time was difficult for me. It might be for you, too. But forgiveness propels us towards new choices and a hunger for life.
I traded unforgiveness for joy. While it seems risky, it is a risk you can manage. Freedom and peace are the results when you do the work. I don’t know if freedom or peace are vital to you, but I know you won’t encounter them until you forgive. Gather your courage. Start your forgiveness journey today! It is worth the risk to obtain joy!
Learn to forgive at the International Forgiveness Institute.
Editor’s Note: This article was written exclusively for the International Forgiveness Institute by Darlene J. Harris–a sought-after speaker, author, and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women, primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation.
An abuse survivor, Darlene was raped twice before she reached the age of 18. Read her amazing story in her own words at My Forgiveness Story. Through her faith, an enlightening counselor, and forgiveness, Darlene turned her world around and reached out to help others. The mantra that drives her is: “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did.”
To learn more about those emotional topics, visit the website Darlene created and manages: And He Restoreth My Soul Project. Her anthology book And He Restoreth My Soul, is designed to equip professional counselors, religious leaders, and concerned individuals with the tools to help and protect the abused.
Tim Markle, a contributing writer and speaker for the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), has teamed up with Stoughton Health to create a series of informational podcasts on the basics of forgiveness.
Markle is a multi-talented and versatile professional who says his two major aspirations in life are helping individuals with developmental disabilities and educating people about the benefits of forgiveness. The podcasts are part of the hospital’s Stoughton Health Talk series hosted by Melanie Cole. The ever-expanding program lineup featuring Markle includes:
- Forgiving Yourself ( 10 min. 42 sec.) – “You’d be surprised at the number of people who come to my course on forgiveness and realize that the person that they have the most resentment against is themselves.” Markle says. “This is something so many people are struggling with.”
- Swimming in Unforgiveness (17 min. 58 sec.) – Markle discusses resentment, anger, and forgiveness, and how the world encourages us to deal with it as opposed to how we should deal with it.
- Preparing to Forgive (9 min. 20 sec.) – “One of the core parts of forgiving is that there has been a hurt, somebody has violated our concept of right or wrong. They have hurt us. There is an actual injury that has been done” according to Markle. “One of the steps in forgiving is admitting that and acknowledging it. And then, looking at how has that hurt changed my life?”
- Doing the Work of Forgiveness (10 min. 54 sec.) – “How do you actually go about forgiving someone?” Markle asks. “Using Dr. Enright’s forgiveness model, we talk about the path you can take and actions you make to really forgive.”
- The Art of Forgiveness (11 min. 15 sec.) Research has shown that by forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you, you gain positive health benefits by letting go of resentment and the urge to seek revenge. In this podcast, Markle describes how forgiveness creates a higher quality of life, a healthier body, and a more positive attitude.
The Stoughton Health Talk Podcast series reflects the growing popularity of podcasts. According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, more than 104 million Americans listen to podcasts on at least a monthly basis. Stoughton Health is one of more than 100 leading hospitals and health systems using the DoctorPodcasting production system. The facility is located about 20 miles east of Madison, WI.
For the past 11 years, Markle has been an Outreach Specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Waisman Center. His current roles there include: 1) Director of the Southern Regional Center for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs; 2) Family Discipline Coordinator for the WIsconsin Maternal and Child Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities–the WI LEND Program; and, 3) Senior Outreach Specialist with the Youth Health Transition Initiative and Genetic Systems Integration Hub.
In those various capacities, Markle works to improve the lives of children and adults with developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases, some of life’s most challenging conditions. He also develops curriculum for a variety of audiences, provides training for both children and adults, and is a prolific speaker.
Markle has a Masters in Counseling (MC) from John Carroll University (a Jesuit Catholic University in Cleveland, OH) and a Master of Arts in Christian Studies (MACS) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School north of Chicago. He also studied at Bowling Green State University (Bowling Green, OH), where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Philosophy.
As the capstone project for his MACS degree, Markle developed a six-week course that focused on how to forgive and why forgiveness is indispensable for dealing with anger, depression, anxiety and trauma. The course is based on the ground-breaking work of Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the IFI. Stoughton Health, along with two local churches, has thus far hosted five sessions of the course. Markle is also the founder of a forgiveness education organization called Forgiveness Factor.
- Access all of Stoughton Health’s 68 podcasts covering a variety of health and wellness topics.
- Read Tim Markle’s autobiography.
- Contact Markle through his Contact Page.
While “perseverance” and “grit” may be apt descriptors for what turned out to be perhaps the most peculiar year in modern history, forgiveness researcher Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, has a different take on 2020: “Without question, it turned out to be our most productive year since I began studying forgiveness three decades ago.”
Scientific Research Studies:
To illustrate his point, the man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer,” rattled off the 11 scientifically-based manuscripts he and various team members completed and had published or accepted for publication during the year. Covering a wide range of cultural diversity, and encompassing studies in seven countries with both adult and child participants, those studies included (click title to read more):
- Compassionate love and dispositional forgiveness: Does compassionate love predict dispositional forgiveness? (Conducted in the United States) – Published in Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health.
- Measuring intergroup forgiveness: The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory. (China, Taiwan, Slovenia, United States) – Peace and Conflict Studies.
- Effectiveness of forgiveness education with adolescents in reducing anger and ethnic prejudice in Iran. (Iran) – Journal of Educational Psychology.
- A philosophical and psychological examination of “justice first”: Toward the need for both justice and forgiveness when conflict arises. – Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology [in press].
- An addition to peace education: Toward the process of a Just and Merciful Community in schools. (China and the United States) – Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology [in press].
- Evaluation of the effectiveness and satisfaction of the Learning to Forgive Program for the prevention of bullying. (Spain) – Electronic Journal of Educational Psychology [in press].
- Trauma and healing in the under-served populations of homelessness and corrections: Forgiveness therapy as an added component to intervention. – Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy [in press].
- Validating the Enright Self-Forgiveness Inventory. (United States) – Current Psychology [in press].
- A randomized controlled trial of a forgiveness intervention program with female acid attack survivors in Pakistan. (Pakistan) –Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy [in press].
- “A Review of the Empirical Research Using Enright’s Process Model of Interpersonal Forgiveness” (International) – Handbook of forgiveness .
- “Forgiveness Within Psychotherapy” (International) – The Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences: Models and Theories.
In addition to his first love (scientific research on forgiveness, as evidenced by the list above), Dr. Enright developed and delivered targeted forgiveness presentations in the U.S. and around the world during 2020. His more noteworthy audiences included:
- Staff and imprisoned people at Her Majesty’s Prison – Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Doctors and medical specialists attending an online conference on polyclonal immunoglobulins in patients with multiple myeloma – Bratislava, Slovakia.
- Pediatricians, oncologists, and cancer treatment specialists attending the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Educational Conference – Madison, Wisconsin.
- Faculty and research associates at the Pan-European University – Bratislava, Slovakia.
- School administrators and teachers – Belfast, Northern Ireland.
- Students and faculty of Liberty University – Lynchburg, Virginia.
- Rotary Club members – Richmond, California.
Media Interviews, Podcasts, Video Productions:
As a highly-sought-after media personality, Dr. Enright’s 2020 media interviews included:
- A 67-minute podcast hosted and broadcast by Dr. Alexandra Miller, a popular family relations psychologist, on Rehabilitating those who are ‘Forgotten’: People in Prison. The podcast was downloaded by individuals in 225 US cities and 22 foreign countries in just the first three weeks after it was recorded in July.
- A multi-segment forgiveness video produced for Revolution Ventures, Bangalore, India.
- A “therapeutic music-discussion video” with song-writer/performer Sam Ness that was produced for those struggling with anguish caused by COVID-19. The therapeutic video, called “How to Beat the Coronavirus Lockdown Blues,” was distributed worldwide through venues including YouTube.
- A video interview at the International School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.
- Interview for DER SPIEGEL/Spiegel online, a German weekly news magazine that has the largest circulation of any such publication in Europe.
- Interview with author Aaron Hutchins for Maclean’s—a current affairs magazine with 2.4 million readers based in Toronto, Canada.
- Interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH, Germany’s largest daily newspaper.
- Podcast interview with Dr. Peter Miller, Sport and the Growing Good: 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
- Live interview, The Drew Mariani Show (national), Relevant Radio.
- Interview with Dr. Max Bonilla, International Director, Expanded Reason webinar, Madrid, Spain.
BLOGS AND MORE:
The activity doesn’t stop there. During 2020, Dr. Enright:
- Authored 12 new forgiveness-related blogs for Psychology Today and 12 more for “Our Forgiveness Blog” on the International Forgiveness Institute website.
- Provided written responses on the IFI website for 208 “Ask Dr. Forgiveness” questions.
- Together with Jacqueline Song, IFI researcher and creator of the IFI’s Driver Safety Campaign, distributed more than 5,000 “Drive for Others’ Lives” bumper stickers requested by website visitors and funded by a grant from the Green Bay Packers Foundation.
During his 30 years of studying the moral virtue of forgiveness, Dr. Robert Enright has become convinced that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. While recording major milestones in pursuit of that peace premise throughout his career, Dr. Enright is now complementing those extensive efforts by pursuing “peace education” initiatives designed to inform, inspire, and engage educators who are working to enhance peace efforts around the world.
Peace education hopes to create in the human consciousness a commitment to the ways of peace. Just as a doctor learns in medical school how to minister to the sick, students in peace education classes learn how to solve problems caused by violence. Peace educators use teaching skills to stop violence by developing a peace consciousness that can provide the basis for a just and sustainable future.
As “the forgiveness trailblazer” (TIME magazine), Dr. Enright’s most recent peace education efforts include these three just-published studies:
Published in the Aug. 6, 2020 issue of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology®, this qualitative research study with teachers in the US and China demonstrated that justice and mercy need to be partners in school disciplinary policy:
“Peace education may be more complete if both justice and mercy are part of the disciplinary process of schools. Justice by itself, as a traditional method of discipline in schools, will not necessarily address the resentments that can build up in both those offended and those offending. Mercy offers a second chance and the recognition and acknowledgment that many carry emotional pain which must be addressed for thriving in the school setting.”
Authors: Lai Y. Wong, Linghua Jiang, Jichan J. Kim, Baoyu Zhang, Mary Jacqueline Song, Robert D. Enright.
A philosophical and psychological examination of “justice first”: Toward the need for both justice and forgiveness when conflict arises
Published in the April 16, 2020 issue of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology®, this study examined justice and forgiveness between communities in conflict:
“The idea of ‘justice first’ between communities in conflict may be insufficient and therefore is depriving people within communities of emotional healing through the exercise of forgiving. The concern here is with the build-up of resentment or unhealthy anger as justice is not realized, especially over a long period of time. Yet, this resentment, and the psychologically-negative effects of this resentment, can be substantially reduced through the practice of forgiving, which has empirically-verified evidence for reducing such anger and significantly improving mental health. Learning to forgive and to put forgiveness into practice can start, not across communities, but instead within one’s own family and community for emotional healing.”
Authors: Mary Jacqueline Song, Robert D. Enright.
Effectiveness of forgiveness education with adolescents in reducing anger and ethnic prejudice in Iran
Published in the August 24, 2020 issue of Journal of Educational Psychology, this study (along with other similar studies) demonstrates that forgiveness education can be an important means of reducing anger and ethnic prejudice in Eastern and Western cultures.
“This research investigated the effectiveness of a forgiveness education program on reducing anger and ethnic prejudice and improving forgiveness in Iranian adolescents. Participants included 224 male and female students (Persian, Azeri, and Kurdish) in 8th grade who were selected from 3 provinces: Tehran, Eastern Azerbaijan, and Kurdistan. The results indicated that the experimental group was higher in forgiveness and lower in ethnic prejudice, state anger, trait anger, and anger expression compared with the control group. This difference was statistically significant in the follow-up phase.”
Authors: Bagher Ghobari Bonab, Mohamad Khodayarifard, Ramin Hashemi Geshnigani, Behnaz Khoei, Fatimah Nosrati, Mary Jacqueline Song, Robert D. Enright.
NOTE: Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology® is a publication of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 48–Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology Division.
Fred McFeely Rogers, also known as Mister Rogers, was an American icon to generations of children–television host, producer, children’s television presenter, actor, puppeteer, singer, composer, author, educator, environmentalist, and Presbyterian minister. Most famously, he was the creator and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired nationally for more than 30 years (1968 – 2001) on public television.
The series was aimed primarily at preschool children ages 2 to 5 but was loved by television viewers of all ages because of the messages of love and wisdom liberally administered by its host. Fred Rogers believed and conveyed his conviction that every child has importance, every child has potential, and every child is deserving of love.
Without question, Fred Rogers (almost always clad in the signature zip-front red cardigan sweater knitted for him by his mother) was a champion of forgiveness. Here is some of what he said and believed:
“Forgive while you can. Forgiveness is so powerful but do it while you can because life is extremely short to just stay angry at someone.”
“Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”
“The only thing evil can’t stand is forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness is mandatory; reconciliation is optional.”
Fred Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) pioneered the use of television to nurture and educate young children. His 30-year-long collaboration with child psychologist Margaret McFarland reinforced the strong universal values he delivered to untold millions of children who now make up much of the American public. His programs were critically acclaimed for focusing on children’s emotional and physical concerns, such as death, sibling rivalry, school enrollment, divorce, and compassion.
The values he integrated into all his activities included all of the five moral qualities most important to forgiving another person– inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity.
“Love seems to be something that keeps filling up within us.
The more we give away, the more we have to give.”
“There’s no person in the whole world just like you,
and I like you just the way you are.”
“You are special. It’s you I like.”
“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”
A shy, somewhat awkward, overweight, and sometimes bullied child growing up in the 1930s, Fred Rogers wasn’t comfortable at all with anger. Although he shied away from conflict, he also knew anger’s enormous power for good. Because of that, he wanted to help children to feel anger, to be willing to name it, to do something with it. Anger, he knew, when used well, can build entire neighborhoods of care. Interestingly, that’s the same sentiment that Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, incorporates into his Forgiveness Therapy interventions.
Fred Rogers graduated magna cum laude from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1962 with a Bachelor of Divinity and was ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in 1963. He often commented that his mission as an ordained minister, instead of being the pastor of a church, was to minister to children and their families through television. In carrying out that ministry, he left a legacy of love that reached millions of children and adults alike.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time.”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood emphasized young children’s social and emotional needs, and unlike another very popular public television program, Sesame Street, did not focus on cognitive learning. Writer Kathy Merlock Jackson, author of two books about Fred Rogers, wrote, “While both shows target the same preschool audience and prepare children for kindergarten, Sesame Street concentrates on school-readiness skills while Mister Rogers Neighborhood focuses on the child’s developing psyche and feelings and sense of moral and ethical reasoning.”
Mister Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003 at age 74 leaving behind his wife of 50-years, Joanne, and two sons, James and John. For his body of work, he received virtually every major award in television and education including a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian award in 2002. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. The Smithsonian Institute has a permanent Fred Rogers exhibit that includes one of the red cardigan sweaters he wore on his TV show.
An amazingly productive educator and entertainer, Fred Rogers also:
- Recorded more than 300 videos that are available on the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood YouTube Channel including 13 videos on anger and forgiveness;
- Authored some 150 books and publications including “It’s You I Like,” and
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a timeless treasure full of his own instructions for living your best, kindest life;
- Wrote more than 300 songs including one of his favorites “You Are Special” that he regularly performed; and,
- Created a non-profit production company, now called Fred Rogers Productions that carries on his legacy in memoriam.
Fred Rogers was known for his creativity, kindness, spirituality, and commitment to the well-being of children. He used his many diverse talents to inspire, nurture, and educate. As TIME magazine lamented, “It’s sad that we no longer have Rogers, who died in 2003—but how lucky we were to have him at all.”
- Visit Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the official site of the company he founded.
- Read reviews of The World According to Mister Rogers, a New York Times Bestseller.
- Watch the official trailer of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the top-grossing biographical documentary ever produced and named one of “The 10 Best Movies of 2018” by Time magazine.
- Review Thirteen Films That Highlight the Best in Humanity, a 2019 Greater Good movie list that names “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as film of the year.
- Visit the The Neighborhood Archive, the most comprehensive website on everything Mr. Rogers including more than 18,000 memorabilia items like trading cards, hats, buttons and pins, mugs, posters, shirts, socks, stickers, toys and games, and more.
- Find out what Mister Rogers and Prince (pop/funk/R&B/rock music idol) have in common. Hint: They are both nominated for a 2021 Grammy Award in the Best Historical Album category.
- Order an iconic Mister Rogers Red Cardigan Sweater (“designed in the USA and handcrafted in Peru from warm, soft, and durable 100% pure alpaca wool yarn”) for only $194.99.