We all know that forgiveness is neither simple nor easy. It can be a challenging process. But new tools are being developed that can help you cut through the clutter, sharpen your “forgive-ability” skills, and become a better forgiver. One of those tools was recently released by the
Greater Good Science Center (GGSC), a California organization that sponsors groundbreaking scientific discoveries.
“Eight Essentials When Forgiving“ is a simple practice technique that provides concrete guidelines while breaking down the forgiveness process into easily manageable components. The 8-step exercise is based on the “backed-by-science” work of pioneering forgiveness researcher Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison educational psychology professor and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).
- narrow and understand whom to forgive;
- name and describe your pain;
- understand the difference between forgiving and excusing or reconciling;
- think about the person who has caused you pain in a novel way so you may begin to feel some compassion for them and reduce the ill will you hold toward that person.
The GGSC forgiving exercise also attunes users to residual pain from their experience and encourages them to find meaning and some positivity in it. Step-by-step instructions are included along with scientific evidence that forgiveness works. GGSC also cautions that in certain cases it may help to consult a trained clinician, especially if you are working through a significant traumatic event.
The Greater Good Science Center is part of the University of California, Berkeley. It not only studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being but also “teaches skills that foster a happier life and a more compassionate society–the science of a meaningful life.”
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- Forgiveness Quiz: How Forgiving Are You?
I think this occurs because the forgivers begin to realize that they can face unjust treatment in the future and they now have an effective way (forgiveness) of confronting the effects of the injustice. Forgiveness allows people to move on well in life without getting immersed in bitterness.
It seems to me that this “giving of a gift” to those who hurt me is kind of ridiculous. They deserve correction, not admiration. Can you clarify this for me?
As people forgive, they are engaging in a moral virtue. All moral virtues center on goodness toward others for those other people’s sake. Part of the moral virtue of forgiveness is this gift-giving to the one who acted badly, as you point out. This gift-giving, we find in our research is a paradox in that, as forgivers reach out to the offending person, it is the forgivers who are healed.
I would say the biggest surprise was how effective forgiveness therapy is in the context of very deep trauma caused by other people’s unfairness. Forgiveness therapy seems to be even more effective in reducing clinical levels of anger, anxiety, and depression than other models of psychotherapy that preceded forgiveness therapy within the social sciences. As just one example, the Freedman and Enright (1996) study showed that incest survivors, upon forgiving, went from clinical levels of depression to non-depressed status and this continued at the one-year follow-up. The reference to this work is as follows:
Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.
You say that the biggest surprise you had when studying forgiveness therapy was its effectiveness when trauma is present in the participants. What was your second biggest surprise?
I think the second biggest surprise is that when people forgive and recover from the effects of trauma, they often develop a new purpose in life. That new purpose is to help others who also are hurting from other people’s mistreatment of them. This new purpose seems to give hope and vitality to those who were carrying a large emotional burden within them.