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.
Forgiveness can be misunderstood and dismissed for the wrong reasons.
A colleague, Megan Feldman Bettencourt, has written an important article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “How Forgiveness Has Been Weaponized Against Women.” The gist of the article is that as people misunderstand the actual meaning of forgiveness, they can so discourage people from forgiving that emotional healing is blocked. In the case of sexual abuse of women, as Ms. Feldman Bettencourt points out, the “forgiver” is supposed to refrain from reporting the abuse and is expected to go back into the unwanted relationship.
In her article, Ms. Feldman Bettencourt gives stark examples of women who, in the name of forgiveness, think that they must keep the abuse against them secret, thus personally pardoning the offender. One woman who did stand up for justice (not condoning or pardoning) was shunned by her support group because that group misunderstood what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not abandon the quest for justice. The author’s call is for a clear and accurate definition of forgiveness so that it can exist side-by-side with justice-seeking and not block emotional healing. True forgiveness can enhance the forgiver’s well-being.
Another Example of Weaponizing Forgiveness:
I once was asked to help an organization set up small groups focused on forgiveness in the workplace because there was high tension among the workers. A Human Relations specialist in the company was convinced that adding a level of forgiveness into the workplace would be one strong way of diminishing the conflict and increasing productivity. When we met with the owner of that company, it took him less than five minutes to dismiss the specialist’s idea. “No. Forgiveness is inappropriate here,” he said with cold confidence. “Forgiveness asks too much of my workers,” was his reply.
When we asked him how this is so, he quickly responded, “Look, when there is conflict in our workplace, this is an emotional pain. Forgiveness adds another layer of pain to my workers and so why would I impose this second pain on them? Forgiveness is quite a struggle and we don’t need that at this time.” And that was the end of the specialist’s idea, which as of this writing has not been implemented… and the conflicts at that company continue with no end in sight. What the owner did not understand is this: When there is physical injury, sometimes surgery is needed. Yes, the surgery is an added burden, but it is temporary and restores what is broken. It is the same with forgiveness: When the heart is broken, we sometimes need surgery of the heart to restore emotional health.
Ms. Feldman Bettencourt sees how the weaponizing of forgiveness can actually hurt women who are trying to heal from sexual abuse. I have seen firsthand how the weaponizing of forgiveness can keep workers from reducing acrimony and striving toward greater cooperation.
The moral of this essay is that to misunderstand forgiveness is to keep people from a scientifically-supported way of reducing resentment and getting on with life in a healthier way. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at our own peril. We misunderstand forgiveness sometimes at the expense of others. It is time simply to define our terms — in this case forgiveness — and lay down the weaponizing against it.
This blog originally appeared in Psychology Today on October 08, 2018.
Good Housekeeping (UK); London, England, UK – Figen Murray’s emotions were suspended in limbo for more than 24-hours after the Manchester Arena bombing before she was officially notified that her 29-year-old son Martyn Hett had been killed in the May 22, 2017, suicide bombing attack. Here is how she responded to his death, as reported in Good Housekeeping (UK), part of the Hearst UK Fashion & Beauty Network:
My son Martyn touched a lot of hearts. He was fun, kindhearted, and he always stood up for the underdog. As a child, he was a little imp, with boundless energy. He had a really quirky side, and loved practical jokes, social media and Coronation Street. . . .
Grief manifests itself in many different ways. I didn’t cry – I couldn’t. I’m a counsellor and psychotherapist, and for over 20 years I’ve spent my working life helping people through mental-health issues and psychological obstacles. In my professional career I developed resilience in order not to dissolve into tears in front of clients.
Now, I realise that this ingrained resilience is how I go on. I’m not being deliberately strong, and I’m not in denial. I’m undone inside, permanently damaged from what’s happened. The only way I can describe it is I feel like a piece of paper that someone has shredded, only to realise they’ve done so by accident. They try to tape it back together, but it’s too late. It can never be whole again.
When I saw the bomber’s face on television, the first thing I thought was, ‘You foolish boy’. That’s all he was – not a man, but a boy who had been brainwashed so much that he was able to walk into a crowded concert and detonate a bomb.
I could choose to be angry, to harbour resentment and blame. But I can honestly say that I feel no rage towards Salman Abedi. In that moment, he believed that he was doing the right thing. That’s why I’ve made a conscious choice to forgive him – hate only breeds hate. Now more than ever, this world needs humanity and kindness.
Out of bad, good has to happen. When that boy detonated the bomb, he achieved the opposite of what he wanted – he caused an explosion of love. Family, friends and strangers have come together in solidarity and courage.
Martyn’s death has changed my family for ever, but I will not allow it to destroy us. When the most awful, unthinkable things happen, we all have the power to overcome.
Editor’s Note: In addition to Martyn Hett and the 21 others killed in the Ariana Grande concert bombing in Manchester, we now know that more than 800 people suffered physical and/or deep psychological injuries from the attack. Undoubtedly, their lives have been altered forever.
Read the full story in Good Housekeeping (UK)
Screen Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa – Unflinchingly accurate in its depiction of South Africa’s tumultuous political history, The Forgiven is a powerful film that one critic described as “the ultimate testament to the power of forgiveness and finding common ground in our humanity.”
While it has been two decades since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focused international attention on South Africa’s violent history of racial segregation, director Roland Joffé’s new film returns to that time to grapple with the terrible truths of apartheid and its legacy.
Based on Michael Ashton’s play The Archbishop and the Antichrist, The Forgiven is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts as the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an attempt to heal and unite South Africa. It was released worldwide in October.
Explaining the reasoning behind the film, Joffé says: “This is a subject that’s both social and political but also rather personal, because let’s be honest, we’ve all done things in our lives that we need forgiveness for, that we haven’t come to terms with. We’re all prisoners of our history, whether it’s social, cultural or family.”
The drama follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu, masterfully portrayed by Forest Whitaker, and his struggle – morally and intellectually –with brutal murderer and member of a former apartheid-era hit squad Piet Blomfeld (Eric Bana), over redemption and forgiveness. The film was shot completely in and around Cape Town, including at one of the world’s most dangerous prison facilities, Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.
“The film is a tribute to the remarkable and healing power of forgiveness and the outstanding compassion and courage of those who offered love and forgiveness as an antidote to hate and inhumanity.”
The Archbishop himself has given the project his blessing, saying: “This timely, compelling and intelligent film, movingly, and above all humanely, captures what it felt like to be working with those selfless members of the TRC who strove, often against the odds, to help bring both truth and reconciliation to the ordinary people of South Africa. This is not only a film about a certain time and place, it is a pean of hope to humanity at large.” ♥
- Read the full story at ScreenAfrica.com.
- Watch the Official Trailer (2 min., 17 sec.).
- Watch the full movie on Prime Video (1-hr., 55 min.) or YouTube Movies.
- See the movie’s Photo Gallery (29 pictures).
“I was angry, livid. . .” Murakami admitted. “I said to myself, ‘Let me find the punk, I’m gonna take care of him.’”
When Cabezas was not initially charged with causing the crash, Murakami’s life went into a tailspin of depression.
“I was a walking zombie. I sold my business, sat on the beach every day. I put my Bible down. I didn’t want anything to do with God. Nothing”
Three years later, Cabezas was finally charged with 2 counts of vehicular manslaughter. But something happened when Murakami finally saw Cabezas in court. He wasn’t the monster Murakami had envisioned. That’s when this father’s fight for justice turned into a father’s fight to forgive.
“I started preaching to myself on forgiveness. Even though I never met this kid, I started forgiving him for what he did,” Murakami says. “After we met, I knew he was suffering as much as I was.”
Cabezas was facing up to 30 years in prison if convicted. Murakami shocked the court, however, by asking the judge not to send Cabezas to jail.
“If he goes to prison for 30 years, everyone’s going to forget about him. Everyone’s going to forget about Cindy and Chelsea,” Murakami said to the judge. “What if he and I went out to schools and talked to young people?”
With the court’s consent, the two men went to hundreds of schools across the country, speaking to more than a half-million kids about the dangers of speeding. But Murakami also used those presentations to help kids understand that even after tragic mistakes, they too could find redemption like Cabezas.
“I didn’t want to waste his life. He came from a good family. We’ve all made mistakes,” Murakami added.
Murakami and Cabezas also founded a not-for-profit organization called Safe Teen Driver that includes a unique driver education program offered free to teens who learn by driving actual professional go-karts on a professional track while practicing skills that could save their lives. Parents are required to participate and learn the importance of their role in developing a safe teen driver.
Cabezas went on to become a successful real estate agent in Texas before dying of cancer last summer. Murakami went to the funeral and spoke from the pulpit about the importance of forgiveness.
Read the full story: Tampa man’s quest for justice instead becomes lesson in forgiveness
Watch a short video from WPST-TV 10News, Tampa, FL about Bruce Murakami’s life-changing decision to forgive.