When I began 30 years ago to apply social scientific methods to the ancient moral virtue of forgiveness, my students and I ran into a rather large problem. People were afraid to forgive. When we probed this fear, we began to realize a common theme across the fearful. They equated forgiving with automatically and dutifully going back into abusive situations. “My spouse denigrates me. If I forgive, then I go back for more……but I do not want to go back for more. Thus, I will not forgive.”
It took us a while, but eventually we saw that to forgive is not the same as to reconcile. Forgiveness, as with justice and patience and kindness, is a virtue, originating inside people as an insight (I can be good to those who are not good to me) and as a feeling of empathy and compassion for the offending other, not because of the offense but in spite of it. Forgiving behaviors flow from the insight and compassion.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a behavioral negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust. You can forgive and not trust a person in their weak areas (you do not lend money to the compulsive gambler even though you can try to be good to the person in other ways as a sign of forgiving). You can forgive and not reconcile at all if the other remains abusive.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. This insight opened the door for social scientific work on forgiveness for us because to forgive is not to create unsafe situations for the forgiver.
We now turn to two, what I call, Modern Misconceptions, the latest critiques of forgiveness, particularly Forgiveness Therapy, a new form of psychotherapy which emerged from the research journey begun three decades ago (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). These Modern Misconceptions are quite different from the early misconception because they target forgiveness itself—not fear—and are highly critical of this potentially life-changing virtue, even if practiced well and with patience.
Modern Misconception 1 goes something like this: You who advocate for Forgiveness Therapy or Forgiveness Education with students (Enright, Rhody, Litts, & Klatt, 2014) ask way too much of forgivers. You ask them to bear the burden of their own healing and that is not fair. They already have been hurt so why ask them now to struggle after forgiveness?
Two burdens are theirs: the original offense and now Forgiveness Therapy. Yet, as with the equating of forgiveness with reconciliation, this Modern Misconception has an error embedded within it. It is not at all an added and unnecessary burden to help a person, whose heart is broken, to forgive.
Take a physical analogy to make the point clear. Suppose James pushes Jeremy to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Is it unwise now to ask Jeremy to enter into a rehabilitation process to repair the shoulder? Is it an added burden we should never ask because he is hurting? It would seem that the unfairness lies, not in the encouraging of medical treatment, but the reverse—discouraging it because it will be rigorous and painful.
Is it not the same with Forgiveness Therapy for those who choose it? The heart is broken, yes, because of the original unfairness. If the person chooses rehab of the heart—Forgiveness Therapy—isn’t this repair good even though rigorous and painful? The Modern Misconception might keep people from rehab of the heart and so it needs to be challenged.
Modern Misconception 2 has emerged from my giving 13 invited forgiveness talks in an area of the world plagued by a land dispute that is disrupting individual, family, community, and political peace. The misconception unfolds this way: You say that forgiveness is good, but how will it get my land back? It will not get my land back. Therefore, forgiveness is weak and ineffective. I will have nothing to do with it.
My response is to give a multiple choice question to the skeptic. Which of these two would you rather have:
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you also live with a deep anger that disrupts your inner life and the life of those around you; or,
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you are free of the deep anger that disrupts you, your loved ones, and your community?
Which do you choose? In every case across the 13 lectures, the skeptic ends up choosing answer (B), living without the debilitating resentment. It is at that point that the person is willing to explore the subtleties of forgiveness without dismissing it. Such exploration could, in the long run, save lives from psychological devastation. The error in Modern Misconception 2 occurs when the person focuses exclusively on the original problem (land dispute) without even realizing that a second, just as serious, problem has emerged because of the land dispute—resentment entrenched in the heart. Forgiveness can cure this second problem while not being able to solve the original problem. Without seeing this, the person rejects forgiveness as weak.
Misconceptions…..they can drive a person away from forgiveness or become a stimulus for more thoroughly exploring what forgiveness has to offer. Left unexplored, the Modern Misconceptions could leave some people without a path of healing that could have been theirs……if only they had explored more deeply.
Posted in Psychology Today February 18, 2017
- Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Enright, R.D. , Rhody, M., Litts, B., & Klatt. J.S. (2014). Piloting forgiveness education in a divided community: Comparing electronic pen-pal and journaling activities across two groups of youth. Journal of Moral Education, 43, 1-17.
Editor’s Note: The significant benefits of forgiveness are of little use to you if you aren’t around to embrace them. That’s where self-care comes in. Here are some basic tips from Brad Krause–self-care guru, writer and life coach–on taking better care of yourself.
Self-care encompasses all the actions you do every day to keep yourself in good health, such as exercise, eating well, and brushing your teeth. However, it also includes the smaller, overlooked things you can do to help with your mental health. These are not always obvious to us, so it is useful to reevaluate our habits and routines to gear them toward a happier, less stressful life.
Take Time to Relax
This is perhaps the most important act of self-care you can do for your mental well-being. Set some time aside every day for unwinding but be mindful of what you choose to do. For many people, relaxing means binging a TV show, playing a video game, or browsing the web, which does not allow us to truly unwind.
This is why taking just 15-20 minutes to sit in absolute silence and focus on your breathing can be extremely beneficial for your well-being. If you can, create a dedicated space in your home for this, away from distractions and other people. Make it as comfortable and soothing as possible and make sure no one can interrupt you during your mindfulness practice. More information at: How to Design the Perfect Meditation Room.
Get Enough Sleep
For years, doctors have seen insomnia as a symptom of many mental health disorders, but according to Harvard Health, it could be the other way around. A lack of sleep can lead to mental health issues, and yet many of us continue to neglect our sleep habits.
Take the time you need to wake up and subtract eight hours. That is the time you should be getting into bed. From that point, all electronics should be banned because they can make sleeping difficult. For an extra touch, use a relaxing pillow mist or aromatherapy oil to lull you to sleep.
Learn to Say “No”
If you are a classic people-pleaser, consider whether your eagerness to help others is affecting your mental health. Being generous, helpful, and unselfish is a wonderful thing, but not to the detriment of your well-being.
Before saying “yes” to any request, consider the following:
- Do I want to do this?
- Do I have the time and energy to do this?
- Is this person taking advantage of me by asking this?
- Could this person easily solve the problem themselves?
- Is this a one-off favor?
Depending on your answers, you may have to say “no.” Be firm but polite and do not let other people guilt you into changing your mind. A friend who tries to do this is not a good friend.
Let Go of Emotional Baggage
If you are holding onto past grudges, let them go. Leading thinkers throughout history have espoused the value of forgiveness in their lives, and for good reason, as Dr. Peter Breggin outlines in “How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life.” Studies have shown that forgiveness can have a positive impact on our physical and emotional health (see “Why Forgive?”), as well as helping us get into a more positive mind space.
According to Time Health, negativity bias is a phenomenon in which we tend to be drawn to news that will upset us. When you combine it with the decline of print media, it’s no wonder our Twitter and Facebook feeds seem overrun with terrible, anxiety-inducing news. At the same time, we tend to compare ourselves to the highly curated lives we see on sites like Instagram, which leaves us feeling terrible.
In this day and age, it can seem impossible to fully get offline, so just aim to consciously reduce your consumption of news and social media. When you catch yourself scrolling mindlessly through a feed, force yourself to stop and go do anything else.
Many of these bad habits have become ingrained in our daily lives and in the way we interact with the world. It takes some introspection to identify these negative patterns, and a lot of hard work to change them. However, the effort is well worth it.
Commit to taking better care of your mental and emotional well-being, work on forgiving anyone who has ever harmed you, and you will find yourself happier and more open to exciting new opportunities.
More self-care articles from Brad Krause:
- What is Self-Care?
- This is Why Self-Care is So Important
- The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Self-Care
- Taking Care of YOU: Why It’s OK to Focus on Self-Care
- Self-Care Strategies for Cancer Patients
About Brad Krause:
After four years in the corporate world working 15-hour days, 6 days a week, Brad Krause demonstrated the ultimate act of self-care by leaving his draining, unfulfilling job behind. He now spends full-time helping others as a self-care guru, writer and life coach (SelfCare.info). He sums up his vision by saying, “We all have the potential to be the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, but it comes down to prioritizing our own wellness through self-care. And that’s what I’m here to help people discover!”
You can contact Brad at Brad@selfcaring.info.
The Washington Post, Montreat, NC – Just months away from his 100th birthday, William Franklin Graham Jr. (Billy Graham) died on Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, NC. An American evangelist known to millions around the world, Graham was buried beside his wife Ruth who died in 2007. His casket was made by inmates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary where Graham often ministered to death-row inmates.
As a preacher, Graham consistently espoused a message of patience, love, respect, and forgiveness of others. He hosted large indoor and outdoor rallies for more than 60 years that he called “crusades.” Because of those crusades, Graham preached his message to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. According to his website, Graham preached to live audiences of 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories.
“In these days of guilt complexes, perhaps the most glorious word in the English language is FORGIVENESS.”
Including radio and television broadcasts, Graham’s estimated lifetime audience tops 2.2 billion people world-wide. Graham was on Gallup’s list of most admired men 61 times, more than any man or woman in history. According to the book Billy Graham: American Pilgrim, “Billy
Graham stands among the most influential Christian leaders of the twentieth century. He belongs on the Mount Rushmore of greatness in American religion.”
For Graham, an important and often repeated part of his message was that “we need to have patience with others and their shortcomings. Don’t hold on to your bitterness and anger any longer — for they’ll become a poison to your soul.”
Here are some other forgiveness quotes made famous by Graham:
- “Forgiveness does not come easily to us, especially when someone we have trusted betrays our trust. And yet if we do not learn to forgive, we will discover that we can never really rebuild trust.”
- “Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.”
- “Every human being is under construction from conception to death.”
- “Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”
The New York Times – Billy Graham, 99, Dies; Pastor Filled Stadiums and Counseled Presidents; Feb. 21, 2018
The Washington Post – How an aging Billy Graham approached his own death; Feb. 21, 2018
The Washington Post – Here are details for Billy Graham’s funeral: A viewing at the U.S. Capitol and a private service in N.C.; Feb. 22, 2018
“Let’s heal the world through forgiveness.
Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness.”
Those are the words of Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust who, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Both of her parents and two older sisters died at the camp; only she and Miriam survived the near-starvation, illness, and other indignities of the camp.
In one of her many interviews following her release, Eva told the anecdote of how she once sat in her room, imagining that Joseph Mengele was sitting right next to her. .
Hi Dr. Enright, I’m enjoying your 8 steps book. I’ve also been enjoying learning about self-compassion from the works by Kristin Neff. She has a 20 minute self-guided meditation which I often practice. I wonder if you have something similar for forgiveness? I really appreciate the work you’ve done!
While we do not have a specific 20-minute reflection for forgiveness, we do have exercises that can be done on a regular basis in the self-help book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, an Amazon.com best seller. There are further exercises in the two other self-help books, The Forgiving Life and 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
Additional information about all three books is available in the IFI Store.