Tagged: “forgiveness journey”
Tony Hicks was a 14-year-old eighth grade gang member who tried to rob a pizza delivery driver in 1995. That driver, 20-year-old San Diego State University (California) student Tariq Khamisa refused to hand over the pizza so Hicks, at the urging of older gang members, pointed a 9mm handgun at Khamisa and fired—killing him instantly.
Hicks spent the next 24 years in prison for his crime but is now a free man thanks largely to the forgiveness of Khamisa’s father, Azim Khamisa, who says he saw victims on both ends of the gun. In a remarkable story of restorative justice, compassion, and forgiveness, Azim and his daughter Tasreen spoke on behalf of Hicks during his 2018 parole hearing that resulted in his release.
That amazing testimony came about after Azim Khamisa reached out in an act of extraordinary grace and forgiveness to console Hicks’ guardian and grandfather, Ples Felix. When the two men visited a penitent Hicks in prison—a meeting during which Khamisa hugged and forgave Hicks—all three agreed to work together to promote the goals of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) that Azim founded shortly after his son’s death.
The mission of the Foundation is to create safer schools and communities by “educating and inspiring children in the restorative principles of accountability, compassion, forgiveness, and peacemaking.” Its Core Values include Integrity, Compassionate Confrontation, and Forgiveness.
“At TKF, we see forgiveness as a process, starting with the acknowledgement that we have been harmed,” says Khamisa. “Through this pain, we tap into the power of forgiveness, the release of resentment. Ultimately, we reach out with love and compassion to the offender.”
TKF services and programs include:
- Peacemaker Assembly – Powerful, interactive school presentations about the consequences of violence and the importance of accountability;
- Restorative Workshops – A 10-session educational series that teaches children how they can manage emotions while practicing compassion and forgiveness;
- Peace Educator Mentoring – One-on-one student mentoring for a school’s most vulnerable students;
- Training Institute – Parent workshops, peace clubs, and others .
According to the TKF website, the organization has delivered more than 500 school presentations, has partnered with more than 300 schools, and is annually reaching more than 10,000 students. Its mentoring program has served more than 2,500 students resulting in a 72% decrease in truancy and a 67% decrease in school disciplinary problems where the program has been implemented.
“Forgiveness brings more balance, peace, compassion and harmony into your life.
As you move beyond the negative experiences of your past you will begin to open up and
create more room to receive more love, joy, happiness, contentment and peace.”
Forgiveness is an important part of all TKF services, according to Tasreen Khamisa who is now the executive director of TKF. She says that while she has forgiven her little brother’s killer, forgiveness did not come either quickly or easily for her.
Although Tasreen’s father, Azim, met and forgave Tony Hicks in 1999, Tasreen was not ready to do so until 2015 — 20 years after her brother’s slaying—when she agreed to meet Hicks at Centinela State Prison (near San Diego). Since that initial meeting, she says, she has forgiven Hicks and has come to see him as a brother.
“I was not there when my father was. And I think that’s OK. Forgiveness is a personal journey,” Tasreen said of her 20-year journey that ended with forgiveness. “I will always love Tariq but I can simultaneously love Tony.”
While Azim Khamisa continues his work with TKF, he has written a book Azim’s Bardo – A Father’s Journey from Murder to Forgiveness. (Editor’s Note: “Bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept Azim came upon shortly after the murder. It is a gap between the end of one life state and the onset of another.) Khamisa has also developed an educational audiovisual program called “Forgiveness – The Crown Jewel of Personal Freedom” in which he writes:
“The forgiveness choice I made in the aftermath of my son’s tragic death has healed me, my family and loved ones. As a result of this work – I enjoy an abundance of personal freedom and am able to contain much joy and compassion in my life. My stress level has almost disappeared. I am confident that this work – followed diligently – can create the same results for you. My best wishes to each of you – who have chosen to courageously embark on this journey and I offer my sincere prayers that the Universe grants you the blessing of forgiveness as it did me!”
Khamisa has also ushered in an extensive “Resources” section on the TKF website that includes links to several of Dr. Robert Enright’s articles promoted through the Great Good Science Center including his step-by-step strategy called “Introducing Kids to Forgiveness” and “How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages.”
Newly free from prison, a man who killed at age 14 atones for his past and looks to his future – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Why We Need Forgiveness Education – Psychology Today
Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace – Corrymeela Magazine (Northern Ireland)
We did a study in which we asked some of the participants to go only to our Decision Phase of forgiveness. We asked other participants to advance through our entire Process Model of Forgiveness, which includes the Work and Discovery Phases. Those who stopped at the Decision Phase did not achieve the same psychological benefits as those who went through the entire forgiveness program. This was expected because to decide to forgive is not the same as exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness in its entirety. Here is the reference to that research:
Al-Mabuk, R., Enright, R. D., & Cardis, P. (1995). Forgiveness education with parentally love-deprived college students. Journal of Moral Education, 24, 427-444.
I told my partner that I forgave him. He did not accept it and told me he did nothing wrong. This rejection has increased my pain. I now have the pain from the original offense and now this. How do you suggest I deal with this doubling of my pain?
Yes, his rejection of your gift of forgiveness is another pain for you. If you think he is being unjust in this, you can deliberately forgive him for the original offense and then you can begin forgiving him for this second offense of denying any wrongdoing. This double injustice does make the forgiveness journey harder, but it will be worth the effort if you are motivated to forgive both actions by your partner.
Guest Blog by Gianna Elms, LCSW
My experience as a psychotherapist who has specialized in helping clients resolve unconscious anger through forgiveness for nearly a decade has been a mission of healing. Forgiveness is the most powerful therapeutic method that I have found because it is the answer to what underlies the psychological conflicts that produce psychiatric symptoms in many, yet the medical model would prefer that we believe differently. Forgiveness is the antidote to anger, which is difficult for people to release because the world teaches us that “getting back” at someone for hurting us or at least desiring revenge is healthy and a sign of strength.
Beyond everything else that I have learned, there’s an important factor that must be in place before I recommend working with forgiveness therapy.
In the case of forgiveness therapy, the role of the psychotherapist is to help the client to abandon their anger towards the offender and adopt agape love for the offender. Some clients are not ready to even hear words that are common in forgiveness therapy like forgiveness, love, fear or even anger. I have learned that some other psychotherapeutic interventions are necessary to help these clients to be ready to accept that they are angry, and forgiveness can help them heal.
The greatest challenges that I have witnessed clients face when working towards forgiveness is an unwillingness to let go of the illusion of strength or control that they believe they have when they hold onto their anger and maintain a lack of healthy boundaries, which often leads to continuing or renewing a relationship where there is no forgiveness, trust, apology, or justice between the parties. It’s another attempt to hold onto another illusion that they have achieved forgiveness or reconciliation. Many times, it’s more about learning to let go of what is familiar, such as a belief system that they had prior to beginning psychotherapy or an unconscious defense mechanism (e.g., denial). After all, unconscious defense mechanisms have an original protective purpose. It can be hard for clients to believe that forgiveness, which is so new and unfamiliar, is going to offer them greater freedom and protection.
The journey to learning how to forgive is often challenging and rewarding as clients work through their pain. I have learned that it is important to always demonstrate that I understand by being genuinely empathetic and compassionately normalizing the client’s pain, fear, and other emotions. I also provide teaching and reasoning as a therapeutic intervention about how healthy boundaries, for example, serve as a means of self-protection from future abuse and how it is consistent with healthy self-love and agape love for others.
If a client decides to receive or continue treatment while communicating with the offender, I provide supportive therapy and help the client to identify how the relationship is healing or causing more pain. Clients are typically able to figure out on their own, with the help of this type of psychotherapeutic intervention, that the relationship is unhealthy, and they will ultimately abandon their false belief that somehow they can make a relationship work with the person who is unwilling to change, which then increases their willingness to accept the new, healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, to include the primary goal of forgiveness.
“I believe that forgiveness should be used more in therapy because it promotes wellness and it’s good for the soul.”
Gianna Elms, LCSW
There are some cases when clients choose not to forgive and the effects are simply the same as when they started treatment, or in some cases, worse. I believe that forgiveness should be used more in therapy because it promotes wellness and it’s good for the soul. The secret to forgiveness though is that once a person learns how to forgive…the person can forgive immediately, even while the injury is happening because they’ve learned the meaning of forgiveness beyond just the therapy model. It comes from their heart that was healed and they adopt it as a new belief system that protects them from anger as long as they put it into practice. It’s like a muscle memory in the unconscious that connects to the heart, which needs to be exercised regularly, so that they never forget. That’s something that I learned one night, and I now teach it to others.
I hope that you will consider your state in life and how forgiveness will be of value to you and others who you have the opportunity to help. We all need forgiveness because we have hurt others, but we need forgiveness to heal us when others hurt us too.
About Gianna Elms:
Gianna Elms, LCSW is a mental health and disability advocate who has been practicing for twelve years and is currently based in Flagstaff, AZ where she provides tele-therapy, spiritual counseling, consultations, and on-site services when travel permits. She has been a passionate ambassador of forgiveness since completing the International Forgiveness Institute’s Helping Clients Forgive course (now called Forgiveness Therapy). She has an MSW in Social Work and has a valid license to practice as a Clinical Social Worker in Arizona and Missouri. She is also a qualified clinical supervisor in Arizona.
Before her MSW, Gianna earned an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology and a B.S. in Disability Studies and has a valid certification to practice and supervise as a Rehabilitation Counselor nationwide. After receiving her MSW, she completed a Post-Graduate Fellowship in Psychoanalytic Thought and an ADA Coordinator Certification. Her clinical experience includes crisis intervention, treatment of past abuse, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES); evaluation and treatment of mood, anxiety, alcohol and substance use disorders and chronic pain; career counseling, case management, advocacy, accommodations of people who experience disabilities, blindness and visual impairments; and training clinicians and others.
Editor’s Note: Exactly 10-years ago this week, in this very same website section, Dr. Robert Enright urged his blog followers to consider adopting a New Year’s resolution to “have a strong will as a forgiver.” Given the unprecedented hyperawareness of forgiveness and forgiveness interventions that has developed since then, his 2012 essay “A Reflection on Resolutions” merits an encore. Here is part of what he wrote:
“This New Year’s Day, my challenge to you is: resolve to have a strong will as a forgiver. . . By that I mean your inner determination and behavioral manifestation of staying the course, finishing the race. . . We talk in society about free will and good will, but rarely about the strong will that helps us stay the course.
“To forgive requires a free will to say yes to the path of mercy and love, a good will to embrace mercy in the face of unfair treatment, and a strong will so that you do not stop persevering in forgiveness. To persevere in forgiveness is one of the most important things you can do for your family, your community, and for yourself.
“Without the strong will, you could easily be like the rowboat, once tethered to the dock, now loosened from the moorings as it slowly drifts out to sea. As the cares of the world envelope you, the opportunity to cling to the forgiving life may slowly fade until you are unaware that the motivation to keep forgiving is gone.
“Having a strong will means that you will remember what you resolved; you will follow through with the resolution. You have the opportunity to make a merciful difference in a world that seems not to have a strong enough collective will to keep forgiveness alive in the heart. The choice is yours. The benefits may surprise you.”
Dr. Robert Enright, Ph.D., who pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness, is co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. He is also a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a licensed psychologist. The various titles and labels that have been bestowed on him during his 37-year career devoted to forgiveness include:
- Dr. Forgiveness. . .
- Dr. Bob. . .
- The forgiveness trailblazer. . .
- The father of forgiveness research. . .
- The man who pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness. . .
- Creator of a Pathway to Forgiveness. . . (the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness)
- The guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness. . .
- Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science. . .