“The self-help books target women; research sometimes targets women. Forgiveness is asking women to tolerate men’s injustice; men would not be asked to do this toward women. Therefore, forgiving is playing out the power differential in the new societal struggle (which, to Marx, belonged once to ownership and labor in industry), which is the battle of the sexes.” Lamb (2002) made this point.
The argument is helpful if clinicians and researchers focus attention on only men or only women. In actuality, however, the pioneering research and interventions have been concerned about both. For example, Al-Mabuk, Enright, and Cardis (1995) educated both college men and women in forgiving deep hurts. The first empirical study on person-to-person forgiving published in psychology included both men and women (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989).
Although it is true that some self-help books are geared toward women only, most talk to both genders (see, e.g., Smedes, 1984, 1996). Our studies on participants with postabortion emotional effects (Coyle & Enright, 1997) and on those with coronary artery disease were exclusively with men. Our studies of participants in drug rehabilitation (Lin, Mack, Enright, Krahn, & Baskin, 2004) and of adult children of alcoholics (Osterndorf, Enright, Holter, & Klatt, 2011) include both men and women.
One cannot help but see a particular assumption in the argument that targeting women for forgiveness is a gender bias. The argument seems to imply that forgiving is a way for the offender to keep a sinister control over the forgiver. If forgiving led automatically to reconciliation, then the argument would have weight. We already saw, however, that forgiving an offense and reconciling with an offender are two separate issues. The argument has a false first premise, that forgiveness and reconciliation are synonymous.
If, on the other hand, forgiving is a choice freely made and, once made, releases one from a host of psychological problems, then a predominant focus on women would actually be a bias against men. In actuality, however, forgiveness therapy and research target both genders. ♥
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5182-5198). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
I forgave someone a year ago, but I still have these random moments in which I feel some anger. What is my next step here?
When we forgive, the anger does not necessarily go away completely. This does not necessarily imply that you have not forgiven. Are you in control of that anger or is the anger controlling you? You say the anger comes “randomly.” How often does this happen? If it occurs infrequently, say once a month, then I think you have forgiven and are experiencing the natural and imperfect parts of being hurt and forgiving. If the anger is more intense and comes more frequently, say once a week, then I recommend going back through the forgiveness process with this person.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
Mad In America Foundation, Cambridge, MA – The more forgiving people are, the fewer symptoms of mental disorders they experience, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology. The researchers suggested that teaching forgiveness, particularly at an early stage in one’s life, may be a valuable mental health early intervention strategy.
A team of four psychologists led by noted forgiveness researcher Loren Toussaint recruited 148 young adults from a Midwest liberal arts college for the 2014 study. The team’s analysis essentially confirmed the rationale and methodology being used by Dr. Robert Enright for the past 17 years to teach his Forgiveness Education Programs to children in countries around the world.
The researchers wrote that their findings “show for the first time that forgivingness is a strong, independent predictor of mental and physical health…” Specifically, regardless of the types and levels of stresses the participants reported, the researchers found greater forgiving tendencies linked to fewer negative mental health symptoms. “Forgivingness” is a general tendency to forgive; it does not assess the degree of actual forgiving toward people who acted unjustly. . .
“[W]e found that lifetime stress severity was unrelated to mental health for persons who were highest in forgivingness and most strongly related to poorer mental health for participants exhibiting the lowest levels of forgivingness,” wrote the researchers.
The researchers did not study how or why this correlation may exist, but hypothesized that “forgiving individuals may have a more adaptive or extensive repertoire of coping strategies and that forgivingness may facilitate healthier behaviors in the aftermath of major life stress.”
“To the extent that forgiveness training can promote a more forgiving coping style, then these interventions may help reduce stress-related disease and improve human health. Such interventions may be particularly beneficial when delivered as a prevention strategy in early life, before individuals are exposed to major adulthood life stressors,” the researchers concluded.
Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, began teaching Forgiveness Education 17-years ago in six grade-school classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While that program is still operating in Belfast, the Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright and his associates for students in Pre-School through 12th Grade, are now in use in more than 30 countries around the world including Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria (West Africa), Kenya and Rwanda (Africa), Colombia and Brazil (South America), Israel, Palestine, and Iran (Middle East), China and the Philippines (Asia), Greece and the Czech Republic (Europe), as well as Canada, Mexico and the US. ♥
Learn more about the study: Effects of lifetime stress exposure on mental and physical health in young adulthood: How stress degrades and forgiveness protects health (Toussaint, Loren et al. Journal of Health Psychology. Published online before print August 19, 2014, doi: 10.1177/1359105314544132).
The Mad in America Foundation is a not-for-profit organization whose “mission is to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States (and abroad). We believe that the current drug-based paradigm of care has failed our society, and that scientific research, as well as the lived experience of those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, calls for profound change.”
Resources on the International Forgiveness Institute website:
- Learn more about Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Programs.
- Learn more about Dr. Enright’s Curriculum Guides and read the first three chapters of the 1st Grade Curriculum Guide.
- Read an inspiring blog by internationally-known writer-producer Patrick Wells: Embracing Forgiveness Education to Reshape our World.
I have positive feelings toward my sister who was mean to me. Does this wrap up forgiveness for me then? In other words, are positive feelings the gist of forgiving or is there more to it?
Positive feelings by themselves are not the end of the forgiveness process. If you think about it, positive feelings by themselves can be passive. For example, you feel positively toward your sister as you sit on the couch and never make a positive move toward your sister. As a moral virtue, forgiveness includes thinking, feeling, and behaving (within reason) toward the one who hurt you. When you forgive, you are open to the possibility of reconciliation with the other. This openness toward reconciliation is not an automatic coming together again. The other has to be trustworthy for the reconciliation actually to occur.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
This is one of three ways (personal, global, and cosmic perspectives) of thinking about the one whom you want to forgive. For the global perspective, we ask you to see the common humanity that you share with the one who offended you. You both need a little air to breathe; you both need good nutrition to stay healthy; if either of you are cut, then you bleed. Both of you have unique DNA so that when either of you dies, there never will be another person just like you on this planet. This makes each of you special, unique, and irreplaceable.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?