Tagged: “forgiveness with incest survivors”
In reflecting lately on forgiveness, I am left with a certain hopelessness and powerlessness regarding society. I feel this way because, in thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that those who have been brutalized by others, such as incest survivors, really have no other choice than to forgive if they are to save themselves from a life of deep resentment and all that negatively goes with that. What do you think about my thinking?
I agree that forgiveness can be a bold, courageous, and even controversial response to brutality. Yet, for those who choose to forgive, they can become much more psychologically resilient and the science supports that conclusion. I am wondering why this makes you hopeless. You, yourself, see one solution to the anger and even hopelessness of the victims. I agree that not all who are brutalized will forgive, but for those who do, they can reverse the psychological damage done even when it is impossible to reverse the offense itself. This, to me, is a cause of hope, not hopelessness.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
This will depend on how recently you were hurt, how deeply you were hurt, who hurt you, and your experience with the forgiveness process. Our research shows that if you can work on forgiving for about 12 weeks for serious offenses against you, then relief from excessive anger and anxiety can begin to occur. As a perspective on time, Dr. Suzanne Freedman and I did a study of incest survivors and it took about 14 months for the women to experience emotional relief. Although this may seem like a long time, please keep in mind that some of the women were struggling with anxiety and depression for years before they started to forgive.
For additional information, see Intervention with Incest Survivors.
Art Linkletter was a Canadian-born entertainer whose CBS radio and television show called House Party first aired shortly after the end of World War II and ran 5-days per week continuously for more than 25 years. The show’s best-remembered segment was a feature called “Kids Say the Darndest Things” in which Linkletter interviewed schoolchildren whose candid remarks provided some of his shows most precious, and hilarious, moments.
Like Linkletter, educational psychology professor Dr. Suzanne Freedman gathered lots of cute and insightful anecdotes when she recently taught two classes of 5th graders about inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect, and generosity—the five basic components of forgiveness. Here are some of their unedited comments:
- Forgiveness has made me more calm and given me more chances in life instead of death.
- We are all the same when we take our skin off.
- Don’t be mean to others. Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them.
- Forgiveness is one step closer to healing. When you forgive you can put it in the past.
- I like forgiveness because it taught us how to not wait till it’s too late to forgive.
- Forgiveness helped me be nicer to my brother and friends.
During the 27-year run of “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” Linkletter interviewed an estimated 23,000 children. The popularity of the segment led to a TV series with the same title, seven books (including Linkletter’s first book by the same title), spin-off TV shows in seven countries, and a number one record hit by country music superstar Tammy Wynette called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
On one of his more inspirational programs, Linkletter asked a four-year old if she knew how to pray. She immediately began saying the Our Father which included this nugget: “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”
Here are more of the darndest things kids like that little girl told Dr. Freedman:
- You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend.
- Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them.
- It doesn’t matter if you are a different religion or have different colored eyes because everyone is the same person underneath.
- When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel.
- Revenge is not part of forgiveness.
Dr. Freedman, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, gathered those anecdotes while conducting a forgiveness education research project with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. She instructed each class for one 30-minute lesson each week for 10 weeks with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Each class was composed of 25 ten- and eleven-year-old students representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.
The forgiveness education curriculum that Dr. Freedman used with those students was based on the four phases of Dr. Robert Enright’s scientifically-proven 20-unit process model and used children’s literature to illustrate the basic components of forgiveness. Dr. Freedman studied under and conducted research with Dr. Enright while earning her Masters Degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology on Forgiveness with Incest Survivors.
Quantitative results from Dr. Freedman’s research project demonstrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender and showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.
Qualitative results from the study illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked what they learned about forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education “helped them learn to forgive someone.” Other comments included: “I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them;” and; “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices.”
“This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum,” according to Dr. Freedman.
“Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts. This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.”
One could add that the study proves kids do indeed say the darndest things. . .♥
- Dr. Freedman’s guest blog and her personal comments about her forgiveness research with 5th Graders.
- The Impact of Using Children’s Literature to Teach 5th Graders about Forgiveness–the unedited full study.
- Dr. Freedman’s full Curriculum Vita.
Editor’s Note: Art Linkletter had a degree in teaching and was the author of 17 books. He was married to his wife Lois for nearly 75 years and he died in 2010 at the age of 97.