Is it ok to engage in escapism rather than the hard road of forgiveness when I have emotional pain because of another’s unfairness?
Temporary escapism is reasonable. It is similar to the psychological defense of denial. Psychological defenses in the short-run are good because they keep us from severe anger or anxiety. In the long-run, if all we do is use denial or escapism, then this is not allowing us to deal with the heart of the problem, which is to heal from what happened. As an analogy, if you have torn muscle tissue in your knee, and this requires surgery, you are not healing the knee by denying the extent of your injury. To forgive is to face the reality of deeply unfair treatment, the dangers of resentment, and your need of healing.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
How can I say, “I forgive you” to a system that has oppressed my people for a long time. I am a “person of color” and it is my understanding that to forgive involves a concrete, flesh-and-blood other person. This is not the case with a system.
You are correct that you are unable to say directly to a system, “I forgive you.” It sometimes is the same with concrete, “flesh and blood” other people. For example, you can forgive from your heart without words to a person who abandons you, whom you now cannot see. When you forgive a system it can be from the heart and from the actions you take toward that system. After all, systems are made up of people and people create norms that can be hurtful to some groups in that system. So, you are able to forgive the system if this is your choice. It is more abstract than forgiving one concrete, “flesh and blood” other person, but you can extend kindness and generosity to the unseen others who established and continue with unfair norms. Of course, this does not mean that you give up the quest for justice. Forgiveness and justice exist side by side.
For additional information, see How to Forgive.
My boss abruptly and without warning dismissed me from my position last week. Since then, I have had thoughts of revenge, not to actually do anything, just fantasy. Is this part of forgiveness or is this a symptom that I am unforgiving?
Fantasies of revenge show you that you are highly resentful of your boss’ actions. An initial period of anger, even intense anger, is common when there is severe injustice. The key now is what you want to do with that anger. Do you want to keep that anger and nurture it or do you want to be rid of it? If you want to be rid of it, then this may be the beginning of forgiveness.
A next step in forgiving is this: Are you engaging in forgiveness only to be done with the resentment or are you actually exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness by wishing your boss well? When you get to the point of wanting good for the boss, then you are engaging in the deep issues of forgiveness.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
Dr. Robert Enright boarded an international jetliner today to take his scientifically-verified Forgiveness Therapy and Education programs onto the world stage as he does at the start of each New Year. The 2019 excursion includes presentations and working sessions in Israel, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Northern Ireland.
Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned in Israel
The founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), Dr. Enright kicks off his formal presentations on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a 25-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. His talk will be entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned.”
Bar Ilan University is the largest, the fastest growing, and one of the highest-rated academic institutions in Israel with more than 32,000 students. It has a well-respected history of involvement with with criminal justice initiatives, is a member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and hosted the 2006 International Conference on Violence and Restorative Justice.
Dr. Enright was asked to be a keynote speaker at the Israeli conference because of the success his forgiveness therapy methodologies have had when adapted for use with inmates in maximum-security prisons over the past five years.
“Forgiveness therapy is beginning to gain traction in prisons because counselors are beginning to see that it is one of the few approaches to corrections that actually works,” Dr. Enright wrote in a recent blog post entitled Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved my Life.”
“For many prisoners, the abuse an inmate typically experienced as a young man turned to a poisonous anger which was destroying him and his life,” Dr. Enright explains. “Through forgiveness therapy, the heart softens toward those who are cruel and one’s own inner poisons find an antidote in growing compassion. And it works.”
Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers in Slovakia
Seven days after his discussions at Bar Ilan University, Dr. Enright switches forgiveness gears with a presentation on Jan.16 entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers” to physicians and health researchers in Bratislava, Slovakia–-the capital of the Slovak Republic, which is also referred to as the “Beauty on the Danube.”
While that location in central Europe may seem like an unusual spot for a talk on cancer, it actually makes perfect sense because of work done by internationally-known organizations in Slovakia like the Cancer Research Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the St. Elizabeth Cancer Institute Hospital, both in Bratislava.
Additionally, cancer survival rates in Slovakia are significantly lower than those of most other European Union member states. That makes physicians there anxious to dialogue with Dr. Enright about his research on the improved well-being of cancer patients who have significantly reduced their anger through forgiveness–research he first started in 2008 with elderly terminally-ill cancer patients.
“There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis,” according to ground-breaking research done by Groer, Davis, Droppleman, Mozingo, and Pierce (2000). Follow-up research on unhealthy anger by Dr. Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (2015), as well as others, has confirmed the apparent connection.
“Perhaps it is time for both medicine and psychology to unite in a new angle in the fight against certain cancers by continuing to examine the anger-cancer link,” Dr. Enright wrote in his blog “Finding ways of reducing anger may be part of a regimen for cancer prevention and treatment.”
In fact, the five hospitals operated by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) now incorporate forgiveness therapy into their treatment regimen. Unforgiveness makes people sick and keeps them sick,” according to Dr. Steven Standiford, CTCA cancer surgeon.
“Anyone can get cancer. So make peace with yourself and others,” explains Rev. LaWanda Long, MDiv, Chaplain at CTCA Atlanta. “Forgive others and let go of past hurts and offenses. You do not have time to continue to invest in emotional pain that may be draining you spiritually. Let it go. Forgive and live.”
17 Years of Forgiveness Education for Belfast Students
Before returning to the US in early February, Dr. Enright will once more shift forgiveness gears by conducting a half-day workshop for educators in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” will focus on the forgiveness curriculum guides he has developed for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade which have been used continuously in many Belfast schools since Dr. Enright established his first program there 17 years ago.
That workshop is just one small part of a 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast called the 4Corners Festival that runs from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival is “Scandalous Forgiveness.” According to the event website, the Festival, “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and prosperity of all. It consists of innovative events designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends.”The 2019 event will be the city’s 7th annual Festival. It includes a range of events featuring discussion, music, prayer, drama, poetry and story-telling in venues across the city of Belfast. The Festival was conceived by a group of Christians who wanted to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of the city’s troubled past.
The widely-known “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century resulted in more than 3,600 deaths with thousands more injured during 30-years of conflict. Because of the past animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Dr. Enright selected Belfast as the first city in which he would test his forgiveness education curriculum methodology. That was 17-years ago and the Program continues to this day.
Today, Dr. Enright’s school-based forgiveness programs are operating not only in Northern Ireland, but also in the US, and in more than 30 other countries around the world. Those programs have been repeatedly tested and scientifically-supported. A recent research project with middle school students in Korea, for example, concluded that:
“The Forgiveness Education Program helped these students reduce in anger and hostile attribution, and increase in empathy. Their academic grades improved and they reduced in behavioral aggression and delinquency.”
Additional stops on Dr. Enright’s tour include: 1) Manila, the capital of the Philippines–a tropical Southeast Asian country composed of more than 7,100 islands that are home to more than 98 million people–where he will meet with non-profit and religious leaders who are proposing to expand Forgiveness Education throughout the country from its current base in Manila and neighboring Quezon City; and, 2) While in Israel, he will visit with educators in Bethlehem and the West Bank where the IFI established a program last year that teaches forgiveness to both Christian and Muslim students and young adults.♥
- Read an unsolicited article written by an inmate in the Columbia Correctional Institution at Portage, Wisconsin, who says the Forgiveness Education program “is the best program I have ever been associated with. . .” Prison Inmate Tames Anger Through Forgiveness.
- Watch a short video about the amazing power forgiveness has had on one woman’s life and her battle with cancer. “If I hadn’t learned to forgive,” says Jayne Valseca, a CTCA cancer patient who was essentially given a death sentence, “I may not even be alive today.” Watch the video here.
- Read Dr. Enright’s blog in Psychology Today: “Anger and Cancer: Is There a Relationship?”
- Read about Dr. Enright’s work with the University of Wisconsin-Carbone Cancer Center, “The Amazing Benefits of Forgiveness Therapy on Cancer Patients.”
- Read Dr. Enright’s Eight Principles Underlying Forgiveness Education that he builds into each of his programs all around the world.
When a person is ready to be forgiven, the other may not be ready to forgive.
I have stated previously that to forgive is courageous and even heroic when treated unjustly by others. As you do the hard work of being good to those who are not good to you, as you approach the other with this offer of forgiveness, it sometimes can get complicated. The complications then can lead to new hurts and even a new opportunity to forgive. Consider six issues regarding the granting of forgiveness and the seeking of it:
1. When people forgive, they go through what can be a lengthy and challenging process. They commit to doing no harm to the one who was offensive. They try to see the offending person in a much wider context than only the offending behavior. They try to see the inherent worth in the other, offer compassion, stand in the pain lest they give that pain right back to the other, and they try to be merciful. Such overtures at times can backfire as the other is not ready to seek forgiveness. Thus the forgiver might be met with such statements as: “What do you mean? I did nothing wrong. You are overly sensitive and are over-reacting.”
2. When people have offended and seek forgiveness, they, too, go through a potentially lengthy and challenging process. They try to see the offended person as wounded, as in need of some assistance to overcome the hurt. The offending people see the inherent worth of the offended, have empathy on what they are enduring, and want to reach out to make things right. Such overtures at times also can backfire as the offended one is not ready to forgive. The forgiveness-seeker might be met with these kinds of statements: “What’s your game now? You are constantly doing this and I have had it. Don’t bother me with your sob story.”
3. The take-home message for those of you either trying to forgive or seeking forgiveness is this: Try to see where the other person is in the process (of either forgiving or seeking it). Both of you may be in very different developmental places in your respective healing journeys. Getting a sense of which of you is far along and which of you is not ready is highly important so that each of you can be patient with the other and with the self. . . .
Read the final three issues of this blog on the Psychology Today website where it was posted on December 5, 2018.