Pope Francis: Forgiveness Enlargens the Heart
Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, used his homily on the day after Christmas–the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr–to encourage the approximately 1.3 billion baptized Catholics worldwide to be more forgiving.
“We are called to learn from him (St. Stephen) to forgive, to always forgive, and it is not easy to do, we all know,” the 82-year-old Pope said. “Forgiveness enlarges the heart, generates sharing, gives serenity and peace.”
More than 25,000 people converged on St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 26 to hear Pope Francis talk about St. Stephen who was not only martyred for his religious beliefs but who even forgave those who were taking his life while he was being stoned to death. His last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” are recorded in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 7:54-60).
St. Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church (in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, a deacon is an ordained minister of an order ranking below that of priest). He is credited with many miracles performed during his short 34-years of life.
Read more: Pope Francis message during Christmas: A life of greater simplicity and forgiveness (a 2:48 video by Rome Reports)
How to Like Yourself After a Series of Failed Relationships
Training the mind to see one’s own inherent worth can go a long way in recovery.
So often, I see that people, who have done their best in a failed relationship, fall in self-esteem. The person might have tried hard, wanted to maintain the connection, and yet it did not work out. Despite the best of intentions, the one left behind ends up not liking……..oneself.
You would think it would be the other way around. The one who walked away or behaved badly should be on the receiving end of the dislike. Yet, it is so often toward the self that the negativism is most deeply directed.
I have six suggestions for you as a way of resurrecting a positive self-image after relationships fail:
First, take the courageous inventory of your part in the breakup. If you were behaving in destructive ways, admit this, know what is destructive about your behavior and take steps to change. You even can begin to forgive yourself for your own part in the break-up.
Second, if you did not contribute to the relationship’s demise, own that thought. We are used to hearing that it takes two to ruin a relationship, but that just is not the case. Sometimes one person can independently destroy what the other has tried to build. If you did not contribute to the destruction of the relationship, start to admit this to yourself. You were not perfect in the relationship because no one is. Yet, imperfection itself is not necessarily a cause for the actual destruction of a partnership.
Third, if you tried your best, then realize that you are not to blame for another’s difficulties or weaknesses. The other is free to make misfortunate decisions, even if these decisions hurt both of you.
A strictly biological perspective can show you this. For example, you have unique DNA so that when your time in this world is through, there never will be another person exactly like you on this earth……ever. You are…..special…..unique…..and irreplaceable. People with certain religious viewpoints can go beyond the biological to the transcendent and say, “God loves me” or “I am made in the image and likeness of God.” In other words, you are…..special……unique……and irreplaceable.
Fifth, begin to practice this idea that you have inherent or built-in worth. You can do this by extending this knowledge to others first and then to you. For example, as you pass people on the street, you can think: “This person has built-in worth that cannot be earned. That person over there may have weaknesses, but this does not detract from having worth. I, too, share this in common with them. I, too, have inherent worth.”
Sixth and finally, once you have strengthened the idea that you are a person of inherent worth, then apply that knowledge to yourself in the context of the past relationship(s): Despite the fact that this failed, I have worth. I am not defined by the success or failure of a relationship. I am more than that relationship. I will continue to be special, unique, and irreplaceable regardless of that outcome.
Be aware that you want to keep such thoughts in balance so that you do not degenerate into narcissism. The point of growing in the knowledge of inherent worth is not to puff yourself up relative to others. In fact, a clear understanding of inherent worth should be a guard against narcissism. Why? It is because the idea of inherent worth levels the playing field of life. If we all have inherent worth, then all of us have value, even if some make more money or have more talent or whatever separates us. We are united in this: We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.
“We all are special, unique, and irreplaceable.” Robert Enright
As one more caution, avoid using the thought of inherent worth to perpetuate nonsense. For example, suppose you have a gambling habit that seriously depletes the family’s funds. You do not then want to proclaim your inherent worth to yourself so that you can continue the nonsense. Yes, we all may have inherent worth, but we all are imperfect and need to work on our character flaws as we retain that sense of worth.
We are more than our actions. We are more than others’ rejection of us. We possess a worth that is unconditional. No one can take that away from us, even those who walk away from a relationship that could have been great for both of you. Hold out the hope that the next person also sees inherent worth in those with whom there is a committed relationship. One of the best ways to have a stable ongoing relationship, it seems to me, is to find a like-minded person who understands the importance of inherent worth and sees this very clearly in the self and in you.
This blog was originally posted on the Psychology Today website on Nov. 8, 2018.
My partner and I have quite different political views. I respect his position, but he definitely does not respect mine. We argue a lot. My question to you: How can I forgive him when he is so aggressive about political matters?
I think you need to talk with him about what it means to be a person. Are people more than their political positions? If so, what is this “more” that goes beyond the political? Does he see these other important qualities in you? I think he needs to broaden his perspective that human beings in their importance transcend politics. This is not easy to learn and so he and you will have to work on this more transcendent perspective. As you forgive, try to see these larger human qualities in your partner. Such a wider perspective likely will help you in the forgiveness process.
For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.
My mother refuses to accept my forgiveness. I am an adult who lives away from home now. She denies any neglect even though both my brother and I carry scars from her inattention when we were growing up. My brother and I carefully have examined this issue and we are in agreement about the unfairness. How do we get my mother to see this?
It seems that your mother is in denial about what happened. Such a psychological defense mechanism can be hard to change. Your mother may need time on this. If she sees your support and unconditional love, then this may help reduce the denial. When she sees and experiences your unconditional love try—gently—bringing up one concrete instance of neglect in the spirit of forgiving. The concrete referent and the unconditional love in combination may aid your mother in breaking the denial and being open to your forgiveness of her.
For additional information, see My Mother Robbed Me of Trust.
Forgive — for Your Own Mental Health
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.