Ciril Čuš, who grew up during the ’60s in Žetale, a small Slovenian parish on the border of Croatia, comes from a traditional Catholic family with two brothers and a sister. But there was nothing traditional about his childhood, his abusive father who nearly beat him to death, and his long journey down the path to forgiveness.
Ciril’s father worked as a builder and one day took a fall from 16 feet, spending a month in a coma. After the accident, he wasn’t the same. He started drinking, becoming very aggressive — and young Ciril was often the target. Between the ages of 7 and 10, Ciril’s head was fractured with a blunt object 14 times.
When his father was sober, he was a wonderful man; he taught his children a lot. But when he was drunk, he wasn’t safe to be around.
Ciril had to escape through the window several times and spent many nights in the barn. He was afraid to sleep because he had terrible nightmares. He had learning difficulties and barely finished school. When he was 10, he contemplated suicide. At 12, he took a job picking produce so he could get away from home and pay for his education. At 14, he wanted to run away from home but felt he had nowhere to go.
The abuse and distance from his father led Ciril to take up karate in school. Determined to prove himself — and protect himself — he won the national Slovenian kickboxing championship and became a kung fu coach.
After secondary school, Ciril got a job and moved to a nearby town. But, with a lot of time on his hands, he would often visit the local library. It was there that he started reading the Bible. ”I was drawn to the word of God, more and more every day.”
Convinced by a neighbor to accompany him to a Sunday church service, Ciril was revulsed by what he saw as the antics of the charismatic worshippers and he decided never to enter a church again. But his friend convinced him to try it a second time and that was when he heard a woman speaking about her husband who beat her and cheated on her, but she was still able to forgive him.
“For the first time in my life, I realized what my biggest problem was — that I was not able to forgive my father.” Ciril remembers. “I was so angry that I even considered killing him.”
In order to be able to forgive, a priest suggested that Ciril pray so he prayed a Rosary for his father every day and even made a solemn promise to God that he would pray until he could forgive his father. After a year and a half he realized that prayer alone was not enough, that he had to go to his father and tell him he forgave him.
Although he was somehow able to generate the courage to go meet with his father, there was no mutual forgiveness but from that point on Ciril prayed two rosaries a day instead of one.
After three years of praying, Ciril approached his father again. He apologized for everything he had done wrong. He told him that he was his only father and he loved him very much. In response, his father grabbed a knife and shouted, “I will kill you like a pig!” Ciril escaped while his father ran to the garage to get a chain saw. Ciril’s response: he began praying three rosaries a day instead of two.
Nine months and more than 800 rosaries later, Ciril learned that his father was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, coughing up blood and that his doctors told him he only had a month to live. Determined to forgive him before his father died, Ciril approached him once again.
“I took his hand, looked him in the eyes, told him I forgave him, that I was sorry for everything, and that I loved him,” Ciril recalls. “I held his head close to my heart. It was the first time in my life that I hugged my father.”
From that moment on, Ciril’s father stopped drinking and peace returned to the family. For the first time ever, Ciril saw his father embrace his mother and heard him tell his brothers and his sister that he loved them. His father lived another 16 years.
”Once I forgave, I was happy, joyful. This real encounter with God is more powerful than any hatred, curse, suffering or distress,” says Ciril. He never stopped praying, either. Today he is a parish priest in a small Slovenian town.
Ciril now says he realizes that he had to walk his path of suffering to be able to understand and help people who go through similar experiences. His life bears a powerful witness. He travels a lot around the world, witnessing about his experience of forgiveness.
”If we do not forgive, we stop God’s blessing from entering and God cannot work within us” Ciril says. “Forgiveness means establishing a new relationship with another person. And that is a great gift from God. But everyone has his own path. Sometimes it takes a long time.”
Read the full story: His father abused him, fracturing his skull 14 times, but he was still able to forgive – Aleteia, June 6, 2018
Aleteia (aleteia.org) is an online publication distributed in eight languages (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Slovenian). Its website “offers a Christian vision of the world by providing general and religious content that is free from ideological influences.” With more than 430,000 subscribers to its newsletter and more than 3 million fans on Facebook, Aleteia reaches more than 11 million unique visitors a month.
I understand that part of forgiving is to reduce anger. Yet, I am concerned about this. If I deliberately reduce my anger toward the person who hurt me, am I at the same time reducing my motivation to seek justice?
It is important to realize that the moral virtues should not be practiced in isolation from the other moral virtues. Forgiveness and justice should occur side-by-side for you. As you forgive, try to deliberately cultivate a sense of justice or the seeking of what is fair. In this way, your forgiving and becoming less angry should not diminish your quest for justice. In fact, without deep anger, what you seek in justice may be qualitatively different (and actually more fair) than what you seek when fuming with anger.
According to an editorial in the February issue of an international humanities journal, forgiveness interventions like Dr. Robert Enright’s 20 Step Process Model, should be employed on a much broader basis and, in fact, national leaders should be assessing “when or how it might be appropriate to cultivate forgiveness on national and international scales.”
The influential American Journal of Public Health, continuously published for more than 100 years, further editorialized that:
“If forgiveness is strongly related to health, and being wronged is a common experience, and interventions. . . are available and effective, then one might make the case that forgiveness is a public health issue. . .
“Because being wronged is common, and because the effects of forgiveness on health are substantial, forgiveness should perhaps be viewed as a phenomenon that is not only of moral, theological, and relational significance, but of public health importance as well.”
“Forgiveness promotes health and wholeness; it is important to public health.” AJPH
The editorial cites Dr. Enright’s Process Model (also called his Four Phases of Forgiveness) as one of only two “prominent intervention classes” now available. “Interventions using this model have been shown to be effective with groups as diverse as adult incest survivors, parents who have adopted special needs children, and inpatients struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
“Forgiveness is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and hostility; reduced nicotine dependence and substance abuse; higher positive emotion; higher satisfaction with life; higher social support; and fewer self-reported health symptoms. The beneficial emotional regulation (results in) forgiveness being an alternative to maladaptive psychological responses like rumination and suppression.”
Read the rest of this compelling editorial: Is Forgiveness a Public Health Issue?
Learn more about Dr. Enright’s Four Phases of Forgiveness
“Introducing Forgiveness Counseling to the Schools”
If you do an electronic search for anti-bullying programs, you will see three prominent approaches, the 3 P’s:
- Peer mediation
- Persistent norms. (This is a “no-bully zone;” we do not tolerate bullying in this school)
What makes people so angry that they:
a) retain the anger for a long time, sometimes years;
b) find no solution to that anger; and,
c) give the never-say-die anger to others?
We find that unfair treatment from other people is the source of so much anger in this world (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). Anger as a source of inner disruption in the form of anxiety, low-self esteem, and pessimism all too often goes unrecognized. After all, if a person with high anxiety comes to a mental health professional, it is natural to focus on the presenting symptom. Yet, our research and the clinical work connected to it suggest that toxic anger, the kind that is deep and long-lasting, often is at the heart of many psychological symptoms for those who have a history of being treated unfairly.
Forgiveness therapy, as an empirically-verified treatment, reduces and even eliminates the toxic anger (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). This is a paradoxical psychotherapy. As the client discussed the unfair behaviors coming from others, the treatment focus shifts from the client’s symptoms to an exploration of who the offending person is, what emotional wounds this person has, the vulnerabilities and doubts and fears that person brought to the painful interactions with the client.
As the client realizes that to forgive is not to excuse or forget or abandon the quest for justice or necessarily even reconcile with the other, then forgiveness therapy can proceed without distortion of what, exactly, it means to forgive. To forgive is to offer goodness to those who have not been good to the client. It is the offering of a virtue that has been around for thousands of years across many philosophies and religions and worldviews. To forgive offers the client a way to eliminate resentment by offering goodness…and it works (see, for example, Lin, Mack, Enright, Krahn, & Baskin, 2004).
When a student in school begins to aggress onto others, those who use the lens of forgiveness therapy start to ask these questions:
- Does the one showing the bullying behavior seem to be particularly angry?
- What is the source of this anger? Might it be unfair treatment from others in the past, perhaps at home or in school or in the peer group?
- Might this student be in pain, which emerged from the injustice, and might that pain now have turned to a toxic anger?
- Might this student be willing to examine who perpetrated the injustice and the subsequent hurt and ask, “Can I forgive this person (or persons) for what they did to me?”
School counselors now have a resource for taking this kind of therapy directly to those who bully (Enright, 2012). Rather than focus on the symptoms of aggression, disobedience to school expectations, or even the student’s own anger, the treatment shifts: Who hurt you? Is this person hurting and vulnerable and confused? Do you know what forgiveness is and is not? Would you be interested in trying to forgive the one who caused you so much pain? This kind of therapy can take up to 12 or more weeks, but that is the blink-of-an-eye relative to anger that can last for years.
As the student’s pain subsides by seeing the inherent worth in the one who was cruel and by fostering compassion toward that person (not because of what was done but instead because of whom the other is as a person), so too does the anger within the one who bullies start to fade, and this takes away the incentive to bully. The focus is not on the symptoms exclusively any more, nor is it on only creating school norms (which are all too easily ignored by those who bully when they are nurturing a rage inside).
To reduce bullying, we need to see the anger inside those who bully and have a plan to reduce it. Forgiveness therapy, as empirically shown, already has done its job. Now it is time to transport such therapy from the clinician’s office into the school setting for the good of those who bully and for the good of those who are the unwitting recipients of their pain.
Posted in Psychology Today December 17, 2016
- Enright, R.D. (2012). Anti-bullying forgiveness program: Reducing the fury within those who bully. Madison, WI: International Forgiveness Institute.
- Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Gambaro, M.E., Enright,R.D., Baskin, T.A., & Klatt, J. (2008). Can school-based forgiveness counseling improve conduct and academic achievement in academically at-risk adolescents? Journal of Research in Education, 18, 16-27.
- Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.
- Park, J.H., Enright, R.D., Essex, M.J., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Klatt, J.S. (2013). Forgiveness intervention for female South Korean adolescent aggressive victims. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20, 393-402.
- Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929.
A Guest Blog by Dr. Suzanne Freedman
Editor’s Note: Forgiveness for sexual abuse survivors is a sensitive and controversial subject that is being addressed by Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Dr. Freedman has studied and conducted forgiveness research with Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology on Forgiveness with Incest Survivors. This is a summary of a blog Dr. Freedman wrote that was posted earlier this month on the website “And He Restoreth My Soul.”
To view the complete blog, click here.
The idea of forgiveness for sexual abuse survivors is often met with surprise, skepticism, and even horror. However, past research with forgiveness illustrates that forgiveness education and/or forgiveness counseling can be healing for those who have experienced past sexual abuse.
Freedman & Enright (1996) conducted an individual educational intervention using forgiveness as the goal with 12 incest survivors. Results illustrated that post intervention individuals were more forgiving toward their abusers, had decreased anxiety and depression and increased hope for the future as well as greater self-esteem compared to those who had not experienced the forgiveness education and themselves preintervention (see Freedman & Enright, 1996). Research with other populations who have experienced deep hurt also illustrates increased forgiveness as well as greater psychological well-being post intervention.
When discussing the topic of forgiveness for survivors of sexual abuse, it is important to be clear about what exactly is meant by forgiveness, specifically what forgiveness is and is not. . . According to Enright (2001) and North (1987), forgiveness can be defined as “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and negative behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and sometimes even love toward him or her”.
Notice in the definition that one has a “right” to feel resentment because of the way she or he was injured and that the offender does not “deserve” our compassion and generosity based on his or her actions. Forgiveness can also be more simply defined as a decrease in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward an offender and perhaps, over time, a gradual increase in more positive thoughts, feelings and sometimes even behaviors toward an offender can occur.
Why Forgive? Many survivors of sexual abuse often ask, “Why do I need to forgive? Why do I need to do all the work? I didn’t do anything wrong.” Of course, this is true but when one forgives, they are personally benefiting by freeing themselves of anger, bitterness, and resentment. . . . Forgiveness allows one to free themselves of negative feelings as well as find meaning in the worst of life’s event. It is also a selfless and compassionate act as one who forgives is helping to stop the cycle of revenge and hatred. Using a compassionate and generous heart to meet deep pain and hurt is one of the most difficult things to do. However, by doing so you are freeing yourself from the prison of anger and power the abuser has over you.
The points below illustrate how forgiveness is not the same as accepting or pardoning the sexual abuse, reconciliation, being weak, denying one’s anger or giving up, nor does it mean that justice cannot occur:
- Forgiveness does not mean that you deny or excuse the offender of the wrongdoing. . . .
- Forgiveness takes time. . . .
- Forgiveness is a choice one makes for her or himself. . . .
- Forgiveness does not mean Reconciliation. . . .
- Forgiveness can occur in the absence of an apology. . . .
- Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive. . . .
- Forgiveness does not mean Forgetting. . . .
Research supports forgiveness education and therapy as an effective form of treatment for those who have endured deep hurts such as sexual abuse and incest. Forgiveness leads to decreases in stress, anger, anxiety and depression (Enright, 2001). People who are able to forgive also are more hopeful, optimistic, and compassionate towards others. Forgiveness has physical heath benefits as well. Research illustrates decreased blood pressure, muscle tension and headaches in those who have forgiven.
I wrote this blog to describe how forgiveness can be healing for individuals who have been deeply, personally and unfairly hurt by acts of sexual abuse and incest. Forgiveness is an individual choice, and as such, we need to offer that choice to survivors of sexual abuse by accurately informing them about what it means to forgive, including what forgiveness is and is not, as well as respecting and supporting them when they choose to forgive.
For more information on how to go about forgiving and the benefits of forgiveness please check out the following resources:
Enright, R.D. (2001). Forgiveness Is a Choice. Washington, D.C. APA Life Tools.
Enright, R. D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2000). Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Washington D.C., American Psychological Association.
Freedman, S. & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal With Incest Survivors. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 64, 983-992.
Smedes, L. B. (1996). The Art of Forgiving. Nashville, TN: Moorings.
Malcom, W., DeCourville, N., & Belicki, K. (2007). Women’s reflections on the complexities of forgiveness. New York, New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.