First, what is a “forgiveness landscape”? This is an expression first used in my book, The Forgiving Life, to refer to all of the people who ever have been seriously unjust to you. When people first construct their forgiveness landscape, they often are surprised at: a) how many people are on the list and b) the depth of the anger left over, even from decades ago.
When we are treated deeply unfairly by others, the anger is slow to leave. If we push that anger aside, simply thinking we have “moved on” or “forgotten all about it,” sometimes this is not the case. The anger can be in hiding, deep within the heart, and the only way to get rid of it is surgery of the heart—forgiveness.
Would you like to examine your own forgiveness landscape to see how many people in your life are still in need of your forgiveness? You might want to write down your answers to the following questions.
First set of questions: Think back to your childhood. Is there anyone who was very unfair to you and if so, what is your anger level now on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 signifying no anger left over and a 5 signifying lots of anger when you reflect on this person and the actions toward you.
More specifically from your childhood, are there any incidents from your father that still make you angry? From your mother? A sibling?
What about from peers or teachers; is your anger still high when you recall the incidents?
Second set of questions: Let us now focus on your adolescence. Follow the pattern from the first set of questions. Then let us add any coaches, employers or fellow employees, and romantic partners to the list. Are there people who still make you angry in the 4 or 5 range of our scale?
Now please rank order all of the people from those who least offended you to those who most offended you. Now look at that list to see your forgiveness landscape. There is your work, right there in the list.
I recommend starting with people lower on the list. Forgive them first because they in all likelihood are the easiest to forgive because the anger is less. As you work up the list, you will gain in your expertise to forgive, which is good preparation for forgiving those on the top of the list—those who are the most challenging for you.
Enjoy the challenge. Enjoy the journey of forgiveness, which can set you free in so many ways.
“Bullying will not be tolerated in this school.”
“You are entering a no bullying zone.”
Consciousness raising is good precisely because it challenges each of us to be our best self, to do good for others.
Yet, sometimes some students are so emotionally wounded that their anger overwhelms the attempt at consciousness raising. The students are so very wounded that they cannot listen well. Some are so wounded that they refuse to listen. Even others are so mortally wounded that they find a certain pleasure in inflicting pain on others. It is when it gets to that point—others’ pain equals pleasure for the one inflicting it—that we have a stubborn problem on our hands. No signs, no consciousness raising, no rally in the gym, no pressure to be good is going to work…..because the gravely wounded student is now beyond listening.
Yet, we have found a hidden way to reverse the trend in those who are so hurting that they derive pain from hurting others. It is this: Ask the hurting students, those labeled so often as bullies, to tell their story of pain, their story of how others have abused them.
You will see this as the rule rather than the exception:
Those who inflict pain over and over have stories of abuse toward them that would make you weep. In fact, we have seen the weeping come from the one who has bullied others, the one who has inflicted serious pain onto others. He wept because, as he put it, “No one ever asked me for my story before.” His story was one of cruel child abuse from an alcoholic father who bruised him until he bled. And no one ever asked him about this. And so he struck out at others. Once he told his story, he began to forgive his father and his pain lessened and thus his need to inflict pain on others slowly melted away.This is what our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program does. It aids counselors and teachers in bringing out the stories in the pain-inflictors so that their own pain dramatically decreases. As this happens, through forgiveness, bullying behavior is rendered powerless……because in examining their own hurt they finally realize how much hurt they have inflicted…..and with their own emotional pain gone, they have no desire to live life like this any more.
Come, take our anti-bullying curriculum and save the life of at least one child and help prevent inflicted pain on countless others.
From Dr. Robert Enright –
“I come to you today with an idea. Ideas can lift up or tear down. They can be conduits for good or for great evil. Having studied the idea of forgiveness for the past 33 years, I am convinced that to date, the world has missed one of its greatest opportunities: to understand, nurture, and bring forth the idea of forgiveness within the human heart, within families, schools, workplaces, houses of worship, communities, nations, and between nations.
“Given the scientifically-supported findings across a wide array of hurting people across the globe, it is now obvious to me that forgiveness is an answer to the darkness, the injustice, the evil that can suddenly cascade down upon a person, overwhelming, devastating the inner world of that person who is caught off guard by the unfair treatment. When this happens, resentment can burst forth in the human heart, grow there, and become the unwanted guest that sours outlooks and relationships.
Resentments destroy; forgiveness builds up.
“Forgiveness is the strongest response against the ravages of resentment that I have ever seen. Forgiveness as an insight that all people have worth can stop the march of the madness, the cruelty, the acrimony dead in their tracks. Forgiveness as a free choice to offer goodness when others refuse to offer it back can shine a light in the darkness and destroy evil. Yes, forgiveness can destroy evil because the light of forgiveness is stronger than any darkness and while some scoff and laugh at that, those who have the courage to try tell me that forgiveness is the over-comer, the defeater of a life being lived with bitterness and revenge-seeking.
“Forgiveness is an answer to injustice. Forgiveness is a cure for the potentially devastating effects of injustice. Forgiveness holds out the hope of living with joy.”
Forgiveness can change the world–and YOU. How will you now contribute to this new idea? Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s “big picture” blog essay in the current issue of Psychology Today then send us your comments.
I have a friend who has been deeply hurt in a family situation. She keeps telling me that she can lead a perfectly healthy and happy life even if she puts forgiveness aside. Is she correct?
She is correct if she truly can live a healthy and happy life without forgiving in the face of grave injustices. A problem with ascertaining a healthy life is this: Ill health does not necessarily come on quickly. Instead, in many cases, resentment can chip away at health such as poor eating habits that eventually take their toll on the body, or reduced energy that eventually leads to being out of shape physically. Thus, people saying that they are healthy without forgiving is not so easy to discern. With regard to happiness, she will see as she continues in life whether or not she has joy. If she does, and finds this without forgiving, then she is correct. If, on the other hand, she concludes that she is not joyous, then perhaps it is time to at least consider forgiving as an option.