Why would anyone want to forgive when another has traumatized you?
I would like to suggest a different perspective on trauma and forgiveness. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating the sense of fear or disgust or danger or moral evil. Instead, it is the grave emotional wounds which are leading to these thoughts and feelings about forgiveness. When people are wounded they naturally tend to duck for cover. When someone comes along with an outstretched hand and says, “Please come out, into the sunshine, and experience the warmth of healing,” it can be too much. We then blame the one with the outstretched hand or the warmth of the sun or anything else “out there” for our discomfort when all the while the discomfort is what is residing inside the person, not “out there.” And this reaction is all perfectly understandable, given the trauma.
If you experience a blown out knee while working out, and it is gravely painful, is it not difficult to go to the physician? There you face all the sharp white-lights of the examining room, and the nurses scurrying about, and the statements about surgery and recovery and rehabilitation. It all seems to be too much. Yet, it is not the physician or the nurses or the thought of the scalpel or the rehab that is the ultimate cause of all the discomfort. That ultimate cause is the blown-out knee. Isn’t it the same with forgiveness? You have within you a deep wound, caused by others’ injustice, and now the challenge is to heal.
Forgiveness is one way to heal from the trauma which you did not deserve. Like the blown-out knee, the trauma needs healing. So, I urge you to separate in your mind the wound from forgiveness itself. My first challenge to you, then, is this: Is it forgiveness itself that is the basic problem or is it the wound and then all the thoughts of what you will have to do to participate in the healing of that wound?
Forgiveness heals. Forgiveness does not further traumatize. To forgive is to know that you have been treated unjustly and despite the injustice, you make the decision to reduce your resentment toward the offending person and eventually work toward mercy for him or her. That mercy can take the form of kindness, respect, generosity, and even love. Do you want that in you life—kindness, respect, generosity, and love? Forgiveness can help strengthen these in your heart or even begin to have them grow all over again for you.
– Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 2.
CNA/EWTN News, Cleveland, Ohio, USA- They had to endure it all on Easter Sunday–grief over their father’s brutal killing, anguish because of a video of the actual killing posted on Facebook by the killer himself, and the agony of an ongoing nation-wide search to find that killer.
But through it all, the children of Robert Godwin Sr. still say they forgive the man who murdered their father.
“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines, one of Godwin Sr.’s 10 children. She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive. “The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”
On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from an Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network removed the video three hours later.
Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified by an alert McDonald’s employee on Tuesday morning that Stephens’ car was in the restaurant’s parking lot near Erie, Pa. After a brief pursuit by police, Stephens shot and killed himself while still in the driver’s seat.
Godwin Sr.’s children agreed to a live interview on CNN Monday night while Stephens was still on the run. Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.
“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie Godwin said about Stephens. “We want him to know that, first of all, we forgive him. We forgive him because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what daddy taught us. It’s the way we was raised…”
“You know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him,” Debbie Godwin added. “It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved and there’s worth in him.”
“Cleveland victim’s family: We forgive killer” – CNN news online.
“Easter in Cleveland” – KTSA Radio, San Antonio, TX.
“Family of Facebook murder victim: We forgive the killer” – CNA/EWTN News.
“How to Forgive“ – International Forgiveness Institute website.
Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright, PhD.
Editor’s Note: Forgiveness has matured into a world-wide movement, including in India. This article is excerpted from a more lengthy news story in one of India’s largest business publications.
LiveMint.com, New Delhi, India – In his 2015 book, 8 Keys To Forgiveness, psychologist Robert Enright cites research to demonstrate the power of forgiveness. In a study conducted with fellow psychologist Suzanne Freedman, he found that incest survivors who underwent a 14-month programme to forgive their perpetrators were free of depression one year after the programme ended. The study was published in the Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology in 1996.
In another study, published in the Psychology & Health journal in 2009, Enright and his colleagues worked with men who were admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems. After undergoing forgiveness therapy, which involved 10 weekly sessions of identifying and forgiving those who had wronged them, the men not only exhibited reduced levels of anger but also had healthier hearts.
Intriguingly, Enright has even found that students who were unable to concentrate in school owing to anger issues benefited from forgiveness counselling, so much so that they actually raised their grades from D to C, were able to focus better and had more amiable relationships with others. This study was published in the Journal Of Research In Education in 2008. Thus, forgiveness can have a positive ripple effect, wherein mercy extended to one person radiates to others.
If forgiveness, then, can have such a positive impact, how can we practise it more often? As Enright says, forgiveness goes beyond saying “I forgive you”. In fact, the words do not even have to be uttered; rather, they have to be felt. In its essence, forgiveness entails “extending goodness towards those who have hurt you”. It involves acknowledging the inherent worth of every human being. And, as we all know, this can be hard even at the best of times, and can become a Herculean task when we have been wronged grievously.
Enright, however, says that we can become “forgivingly-fit” with practice. By first forgiving people whom we love for minor misdemeanours, we can gradually graduate to forgiving those who have injured us in more heinous ways.
Finally, forgiveness should not be mistaken for weakness. As Mahatma Gandhi aptly put it, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Aruna Sankaranarayanan, the author of this article, is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, India. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College and acquired her doctorate in developmental psychology at Harvard University. Both schools are in Massachusetts, USA.
Mint is one of India’s premium business news publications and the clear No.2 among business papers in terms of readership. LiveMint.com is Mint’s online portal and is among the fastest growing news websites in India.
To explore more of Dr. Enright’s compendium of peer-reviewed forgiveness research from the past 30+ years, visit the Research Section of this website.
Forgiveness is the process of uncovering and letting go of anger at someone who has caused pain. This process can be the path to healing in many situations, as anger is frequently at the core of a client’s issues and may be the center of a number of disorders.
The forgiveness therapy model is flexible enough to be integrated into any therapeutic approach. Fostering forgiveness in therapy involves uncovering the depth of the client’s anger, obtaining commitment to forgive, and working on being able to forgive. The final phase of this therapy is the discovery of meaning in what has been suffered, finding a new purpose in life, and exploring one’s own faults and the need to be forgiven by others.
In this 100-minute video program, Dr. Enright demonstrates his approach to forgiveness therapy with a female client who feels hurt by her mother.
This video, produced by the APA, is not available for sale on this website.
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Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them.
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.