A team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Enright has taken forgiveness from its traditional focus on individuals to a higher magnitude by concentrating on group forgiveness—an area of intervention that has dramatic implications for its ability to enhance peace efforts in the world.
Dr. Enright’s team, composed of 16 experienced researchers who collected data from 595 study participants in three different geographic and cultural settings of the world, developed and confirmed the veracity of a totally new measure of intergroup forgiveness—The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory (EGFI). Additionally, the team created and piloted a unique group administration process that operationalized the EGFI in a structured way.
“Our concept of intergroup forgiveness for this study was rooted in what groups, as opposed to the individuals who compose them, have the capacity to do,” says Dr. Enright, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. “The study supported the conclusion that this new measure had strong internal consistency, as well as convergent and discriminant validity.”
In other words, to paraphrase Dr. Enright’s synopsis of the EGFI, it works. That is the conclusion reached by Dr. Enright’s 16-member research team in their study report, Measuring Intergroup Forgiveness: The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory. The study was published earlier this year in Peace and Conflict Studies Journal (Vol. 27, No. 1), as the lead article for that issue of the journal.
To realistically test the measure, the team selected groups of people within countries that have historical conflicts that remain salient today. One group of participants was recruited from Asia with subsamples from Mainland China and from Taiwan. Another group of participants was recruited from Slovenia that contained subsamples from two different political parties with a history of violence toward each other. A third group of participants was recruited from the United States with subsamples that included a group of White Caucasian participants and a group of African American participants.
The new Inventory has 56 items across seven subscales and each subscale has eight items. Those subscales measure a group’s motivation and values regarding forgiveness, peace, and friendliness toward the other group. Similar to the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI)—developed in 1995 and now the worldwide measurement tool of choice for assessing one person’s forgiveness of another—the EGFI has five questions at the end of the scale that are intended to assess pseudo-group-forgiveness or false forgiveness.
For this study, the inventory was translated into Mandarin Chinese and Slovene by native speakers of each language. The Inventory was then administered and assessed with individual participants as well as with the designated groups of participants. That strategy allowed the project team to compare a group-based assessment of forgiveness with traditional self-report assessment of forgiveness.
That assessment was a crucial element of this latest study because the bulk of past research has simply extended measures of forgiveness between individuals to groups. In fact, Dr. Enright et al. produced a study in January 2015 (Journal of Peace Psychology) entitled “Examining Group Forgiveness: Conceptual and Empirical Issues” that was one of the first to propose: 1) a benchmark definition of group forgiveness; and, 2) specific concepts for developing a group forgiveness measuring tool.
Incorporating that earlier work, the newly-developed EGFI scale of intergroup forgiveness is based on a definition of forgiveness between groups and is operationalized using group behaviors rather than individual cognition and emotion.
“Our findings suggest the EGFI is a reliable and valid measure of intergroup forgiveness,” the study group concludes in its final report. “This new measure can facilitate the work of peace advocates and researchers.” The study also indicates the Inventory could be used to:
- Assess where and when to intervene with conflicting groups;
- Evaluate the effectiveness of conflict resolution efforts;
- Assess where groups have been unjust to one another and, therefore, where they could benefit from conflict reduction efforts;
- Assess group forgiveness interventions;
- Evaluate progress when groups go through interventions such as peace and reconciliation commissions;
- Assess change in forgiveness from pre to post intervention; and,
- Advance our understanding of effective interventions.
Meet the Group Forgiveness Study Team:
- Robert D. Enright, University of Wisconsin-Madison and International Forgiveness Institute
- Julie Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Matthew Hirshberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- John Klatt, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Benjamin Boateng, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Preston Boggs, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Chelsea Olson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Peiying Wu, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Baoyu Zhang, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Fu Na, Beijing Normal University – Beijing, China
- Mei Ling Shu, Beijing Normal University – Beijing China
- Tomaz Erzar, University of Ljubljana – Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Tina Huang, National Chung-Cheng University – Taiwan (officially the Republic of China)
- Tung-En Hsiao, National Chung-Cheng University – Taiwan
- Chansoon (Danielle) Lee, National Council of State Boards of Nursing – Chicago, IL
- Jacqueline Song, International Forgiveness Institute, Madison, WI (native of the Philippines)
A recently-published compilation of forgiveness research being called “the authoritative resource on the field of forgiveness” includes an appraisal of Dr. Robert Enright’s Process Model of Forgiveness—the four-phase procedure now being used and recommended worldwide as “the pathway to forgiveness.”
The Handbook of Forgiveness, Second Edition, consolidates research from a wide range of disciplines and offers an in-depth review of the science of forgiveness. The 394-page book includes 28 pages of references to forgiveness research evaluations and a 16-page index listing virtually every imaginable topic on the subject. It is edited by well-known forgiveness researchers Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (Virginia Commonwealth University), and Nathaniel G. Wade (Iowa State University).
Chapter 25 of the 32-chapter anthology is entitled “A Review of the Empirical Research Using Enright’s Process Model of Interpersonal Forgiveness.” It is authored by Dr. Suzanne Freedman (University of Northern Iowa) and Dr. Enright who have a long history of collaborative forgiveness exploration. The review chapter describes the Process Model, provides a summary of the empirical (verifiable) findings, and details the latest application of the model: forgiveness education with children and adolescents.
The Process Model of Forgiveness was first outlined by Dr. Enright and the Human Development Study Group in 1991. It was first empirically tested in 1993 by Dr. Enright and fellow-researcher Msgr. John Hebl. Through randomized experimental and control group clinical trials, the Process Model has shown to improve emotional well-being in multiple settings across diverse cultures around the globe.
“For information ranging from the biological roots to the psychological fruits of forgiveness,this is, hands down, the single-stop, go-to source.”
David Myers, Hope College (Holland, Michigan)
Co-author, Psychology (12th Edition) and Social Psychology (13th Edition)
The Handbook of Forgiveness also includes a chapter written by John Klatt (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and two researchers from the Federal University of Paraíba (in the city of João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil)–Eloá Losano de Abreu and Julio Rique. That chapter is an 11-page review of forgiveness philosophies, concepts and practices in South America and Latin America. Dr. Enright has co-authored numerous multi-national forgiveness research projects with both Klatt and Rique.
For additional information:
- Learn about the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness
- Preview The Handbook of Forgiveness including the Table of Contents and abstracts of all 32 chapters
- Read editorial reviews of The Handbook of Forgiveness
- Read more about Dr. Freedman and her forgiveness research
“2020 brought plenty to be angry about. There’s been a global pandemic, a national reckoning with racial injustice, an economic crisis and a presidential election – all of it debated each day on social media. But University of Northern Iowa (UNI) education professor Suzanne Freedman, who has specialized in forgiveness research over nearly three decades, says now may be a good time to remember the benefits of forgiveness, empathy and understanding.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Offsetting his dreary assessment of this unusual year with a final note of optimism, writer Steve Schmadeke used the paragraph above to set the stage for an informative article about the benefits of forgiveness that was printed last week in the online periodical INSIDE UNI. The article featured the forgiveness philosophy of Dr. Suzanne Freedman, a UNI professor of human development who is also a former graduate student and long-time research associate of Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. Here are some of Dr. Freedman’s pronouncements as quoted in the UNI article:
What are the benefits of forgiveness?
I am often asked, “Why should I forgive?” and my response is always the same: “What’s the alternative?” Although forgiveness cannot undo the injury or damage, it allows us to move forward in our lives free from the negative effects of anger, hatred and resentment. It offers us a way to heal while still acknowledging that what happened to us was wrong, unfair and extremely hurtful.
Research has found that benefits of forgiveness for children, adolescents and adults include greater psychological and physical well-being, including decreases in anger, anxiety and depression. It also shows increases in hope, self-esteem, feelings of peace, improved relationships and academic achievement for students in school, as well as decreases in blood pressure, headaches and stress.
How does forgiveness deal with anger?
We have a right to feel resentment and anger. Many people criticize forgiveness because they mistakenly believe that anger is not part of the process. In fact, the opposite is true. We need to express our anger before we can forgive. Forgiveness involves admitting that one has been hurt, working through the feelings related to that hurt and then moving beyond them. The other important point is that the offender does not deserve our compassion because of their hurtful actions. However, we give it nevertheless.
Is self-forgiveness a real thing?
Self-forgiveness is a real thing. We have a model of self-forgiveness that is similar to our model of forgiving another. Self-forgiveness occurs when we have to forgive oneself for committing a deep, personal and unfair hurt. However, like in forgiving others, it occurs in the context of deep, personal and unfair hurt.
This can be hurt you have suffered due to your own actions. People who find self-forgiveness may be less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior or even hurt others.
Our society needs to do a better job of helping people realize that they can move on from their worst pains or actions. When individuals view themselves from the lens of only their hurtful behavior, they are not recognizing the fact that all human beings have inherent worth. Forgiving yourself will make it easier for individuals to become more forgiving of others, too.
Read the full UNI article: The Value of Forgiveness
ABOUT DR. SUZANNE FREEDMAN:
A professor of human development at the University of Northern Iowa, Dr. Freedman earned both her Masters Degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied under and conducted research with Dr. Robert Enright. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal with Incest Survivors.
At the University of Northern Iowa, Dr. Freedman teaches a variety of development courses including Studies in Forgiveness–an online, continuing education course designed primarily for upper-class psychology, counseling, and clinical students preparing to work with clients as helping professionals.
Dr. Freedman can be reached at email@example.com
MORE FORGIVENESS COMMENTARY FROM DR. FREEDMAN:
- Kids Say the Darndest Things — About Forgiveness
- The Impact of Using Children’s Literature to Teach 5th Graders About Forgiveness
- Forgiveness: The Path to Restoring Your Emotional and Physical Health After Sexual Abuse
- The “F Word” for Sexual Abuse Survivors: Is Forgiveness Possible?
- It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: The Importance of Admitting and Expressing One’s Painful Emotions in Everyday Life and When Forgiving
A hot-off-the-press instructional manual recommends that mental health professionals adopt and employ the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness when counseling individuals who profess Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian beliefs. Those two movements together make up about 27% of all Christians and more than 584 million people worldwide, according to the Pew Research Center.
The new book, Counseling and Psychotherapy with Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, was written by Geoffrey Sutton, a licensed psychologist and prolific author who has experience providing services to Christians from many traditions. Born in London, England, Sutton is a Professor of Psychology (Emeritus) at Evangel University in Springfield, MO, who has 14 books available on amazon.com.
“Clinicians would be advised to learn a specific approach such as the Enright Model. . .” Sutton recommends in his book. “Both of the major forgiveness intervention programs (Enright and REACH) are supported by scientific evidence of effectiveness.”
Sutton’s endorsement of the Enright Model of Forgiveness is actually a complete turnaround from his earlier positions on Christian counseling. For example, Sutton wrote a paper for the Christian Association for Psychological Studies that said a “well -articulated, comprehensive, and integrated approach to Christian counseling does not exist today.” That was at the organization’s 2015 annual meeting.
In his latest book, Sutton begins by providing an overview of religion, spirituality, and Christianity before focusing on the Pentecostal-Charismatic Christian movement that he traces back to the early 1900s. He then provides six chapters on patient assessment, counseling techniques, and interventions with special emphasis on the forgiveness interventions he now embraces because he believes they are adequately supported by empirical evidence.
“For committed Christians, spiritual identity is a substantial component of the self,” Sutton writes. “The purpose of this book is to help mental health professionals increase their cultural competence to better serve Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians who are congregants in the world’s fastest-growing religious movement.”
- Christian Movements and Denominations Defined
- Read selected portions of Sutton’s new book
- Pentecostal Cultures: Classic, Evangelical, Progressive, Renewal – Geoffrey Sutton Slide Presentation
As we all know, a new idea can sometimes be difficult to introduce and advance. Here, for example, is the story behind Dr. Robert Enright’s very first attempt to help people in prison learn to forgive:
The year is 1985 and Dr. Enright has advanced to become a “full professor of educational psychology” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fresh off a sabbatical leave during which he crystalized his ongoing forgiveness research strategy, the young professor learned about an organization that funded forward-looking scientific research projects so he submitted a proposal–one that would help imprisoned people learn to forgive.
That proposal was, literally, his very first grant attempt in the science of forgiveness. Up to that point in the social sciences, there had been no journal articles ever published with an empirical emphasis on person-to-person forgiving. Dr. Enright was obviously a pioneer in that field.
The intake worker from the granting agency not only called Dr. Enright in for an interview but ended that interview by saying, “This is a great idea. I am going to rate your proposal as #1.” Thinking the grant business was going to be easier than he had thought, the applicant went back to his university office to await the inevitable check in the mail.
About a month later, Dr. Enright received a very nondescript rejection letter from the organization. Confused by the contradiction between high praise and quick rejection, he phoned the person who rated his project #1 and asked why the grant was rejected.
“Professor Enright,” the interviewer answered with disdain, “you embarrassed me! I went into the funding meeting with enthusiasm for your work but the rest of the group was incredulous and said, ‘Give Enright money to help prisoners forgive?? Why, they should be asking forgiveness from us!! Proposal rejected!!'”
While rejections obviously hurt, Dr. Enright did not give up. He fine-tuned his proposals and spent more time analyzing potential funding organizations. Since that first refusal, he has successfully generated significant dollars for his scientific research projects on forgiveness and forgiveness therapy that he has conducted in venues around the world.
Five years ago—30 years after this initial rejection—-he was approached by counselors at a men’s maximum security prison. They asked him if it might be a good idea to start a forgiveness therapy program to assist the imprisoned men to forgive those who had hurt them when they were children or adolescents.
“That sounds like a pretty good idea to me,” Dr. Enright replied, as he smiled to himself………. It only took three decades for people to catch up with the idea that learning to forgive may be an important next-step in correctional rehabilitation. That conversation now has started forgiveness therapy research programs in correctional institutions within the United States with plans to expand into Brazil, Pakistan, and possibly Israel.
Moral of the story: Sometimes good ideas are worth a 30-year wait.