Tagged: “Why Forgive?”

Finding Hope in the Midst of Trauma

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Dr. Suzanne Freedman, Educational Psychology Professor at the University of Northern Iowa, and is reposted with the permission of both the author and of Darlene J. Harris, creator of the website “And He Restoreth My Soul Project” where the blog originally appeared on May 1, 2022.

I automatically connect hope to my work on the topic of interpersonal forgiveness as an approach to healing from a deep, personal and unfair hurt. In this blog post, I will discuss why I believe choosing to forgive can offer individuals who have experienced the trauma of child abuse or sexual assault hope of healing and the power to move beyond their abuse.

“Forgiveness offers a way to heal, and have hope for the future, while acknowledging what happened was wrong, unfair, and extremely hurtful,” according to Dr. Suzanne Freedman, shown here during a research project with 5th grade students.

It is normal and natural to feel angry, and hopeless as a result of childhood or sexual assault trauma and one has a right to these feelings for experiencing something no individual should have to go through. If one believes that healing is impossible and/or there is nothing that can change their current attitude, feelings, and thoughts toward their abuser, it is likely they will feel despair and quite hopeless. Forgiveness offers an option for healing that allows one to hope and have faith in a better future, while also acknowledging that the abuse they experienced was unfair, deeply hurtful and unacceptable.


“I am often asked ‘Why forgive?’ and my response is always the same, ‘What’s the alternative?’
Although forgiveness cannot undo the injury or damage caused by the injury, it allows us to move forward in our lives without the negative effects of all-consuming anger, hatred, and resentment.
It offers a way to heal and have hope for the future.”

Dr. Suzanne Freedman


Hope is believing that things will get better even if they don’t feel that way now. Hope is making the decision to forgive and committing to the process, even if one does not feel the forgiveness in their heart yet. Knowing that one is strong enough to move forward in their own healing, at their own pace increases feelings of hope for the future and leads to greater emotional and physical well-being.

Hope isn’t just nice to have, at times it is essential for survival in unbearable situations. Without hope, the will to live can diminish. One may stop caring about themselves and others, and their beliefs toward achieving a good life decrease. Hope, although scary, is directly related to a person’s belief that they can cope and move beyond the abuse or trauma they have endured.

Read the rest of Dr. Freedman’s full blog at “Finding Hope in the Midst of Trauma.”


Dr. Suzanne Freedman is a Professor in the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Her dissertation on forgiveness with incest survivors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. She will be a speaker at the July 19-20, 2022, International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness in Madison, WI.

Darlene J. Harris is a sought-after speaker, author of And He Restoreth My Soul (an anthology and resource guide on sexual violence), and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation because by the age of 18 she had been raped twice. “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did,” is the mantra that drives her. Read her true-life story in her own words.

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Benefits of Classroom Forgiveness Education Confirmed by New Groundbreaking Study

The first-ever meta-analysis of classroom Forgiveness Education programs, a study involving nearly 1,500 grade school students in 10 countries, has determined that such programs “effectively decrease anger and increase forgiveness among children and adolescents. In addition, results indicated that forgiveness education interventions have robust effects that remain even after the termination of the program.” 
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Published this month in Child Development1 (Volume 93, Issue 2, March/April 2022), the critique analyzed 20 randomized intervention studies of forgiveness education programs that were implemented during school years 1996 through 2021. These studies spanned demographically diverse geographic areas including North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The research, “A meta‐analysis of forgiveness education interventions’ effects on forgiveness and anger in children and adolescents,” was conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Hannah Rapp and Jiahe Wang Xu (both graduate students in the Dept. of Educational Psychology), and Dr. Robert Enright, educational psychology professor and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).

Other significant observations and findings in the just-published report include:

  • Children and adolescents inexplicably experience hurt and conflict in their interpersonal relationships and can “benefit from learning more about what forgiveness is and the process of how to forgive.”
  • Forgiveness education interventions “are effective regardless of whether participants have experienced severe or mild offenses or attend schools in economically disadvantaged areas.”
  • Programs of both short and long durations “can lead to significant positive change in anger and forgiveness outcomes.”
  • Children who forgive are more accepted by their peers.
  • Positive results for students “echoed findings from previous reviews of forgiveness interventions with primarily adult populations.”
  • Forgiveness education interventions are “significantly effective” whether they are facilitated by schoolteachers or by researchers.
  • The forgiveness education curriculum and process developed by Dr. Enright2 and the IFI “yielded significant effects.”

Overall, the analysis presents strong evidence that “children and adolescents can benefit from forgiveness education interventions.” Read the full meta-analysis report.
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1 Child Development is a 92-year-old bimonthly scientific journal published by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). It is a vital source of information not only for researchers and theoreticians, but for a broad range of psychiatrists and psychologists, educators, and social workers in more than 60 countries around the world.

The Forgiveness Education curricula developed by Dr. Enright and the IFI for pre-k through 12th grade students is based on children’s story books. Those stories teach about forgiveness and other moral virtues and equip children with the knowledge of how to forgive a specific person who offends if they choose to do so. Lessons begin by educating participants about the five concepts that underlay forgiveness: inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and agape love. During the program, participants read and discuss several age and culture-appropriate stories that display forgiveness between characters such as in The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and in Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss.

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I am very frustrated with someone who has hurt me many times.  I do want to forgive, but now I am wondering if you would recommend that I first deal with my frustration and anger before I start walking the path of forgiveness.

Let us distinguish between healthy and unhealthy anger.  By healthy anger I mean the short-term feeling and expression of discontent over an injustice.  We all get angry or sad or disrupted in some way when people are very unjust to us.  Such healthy anger shows that we see ourselves as people who should be treated with respect.  It is good first to allow yourself this period of experiencing healthy anger before you start the forgiveness process.  In contrast, unhealthy anger is a deep feeling of resentment that does not easily go away.  It disrupts one’s concentration and energy.  You do not want to wait until the unhealthy anger fades because, quite frankly, if you were treated with great unfairness, then it is not likely to fade without going through the forgiveness process.  In sum, first allow a period of healthy anger.  Start forgiving to reduce or even eliminate unhealthy anger.

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My motivation to forgive is to be free of anger.  Is this a legitimate motive for forgiveness?  I ask because, if forgiveness is a moral virtue, shouldn’t my motivation be for the good of the other person who hurt me?

You are correct that as a virtue, forgiveness needs to be for the other.  Yet, it takes time to develop a motivation of goodwill toward someone who was cruel.  There is nothing dishonorable about having, as one’s initial motivation, a desire for self-preservation.  To use a physical analogy, if your knee is hurting, is it selfish to seek medical help?  If our heart is broken, is it selfish to try to mend that broken heart?  An initial focus on self that changes to a concern for the other is a typical pathway for growing in the virtue of forgiveness.

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Peace in Ukraine and in Other Conflict Zones? Yes, and Forgiveness Education Is an Answer.

Dr. Robert Enright, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying the virtue of forgiveness for more than three decades. During that time, dozens of countries have been decimated by domestic infighting or by brutal war brought on by outside political entities. Millions of deaths have resulted.

Yet all the pain and suffering of those conflicts could have been avoided if forgiveness had been understood and employed as one of the options on the peace-keeping and peace-making table, according to Dr. Enright. And while no one can turn back the clock to erase our human frailties, he adds, future geo-political animosity can be curbed and peace achieved through forgiveness and forgiveness education.

“Forgiveness is the Rodney Dangerfield of therapy and politics in that too often it gets no respect,” says Dr. Enright. “This occurs, in my experience, because forgiveness is woefully misunderstood and then angrily dismissed. Such misunderstanding is tragic because it shuts down what may be the most powerful cure for the effects that emerge and remain after injustice rears its unwelcome head in relationships, families, communities, and nations.”

Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, is considered “the forgiveness trailblazer” (Time magazine – 1995) and “the father of forgiveness research” (Christian Science Monitor – 2002) He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness (1993) and demonstrated its effectiveness in projects around the world. Seven years ago, he and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons developed an empirically-based treatment manualForgiveness Therapy, that helped make forgiveness therapy a gold-standard therapeutic treatment like psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

After 35+ years of studying the moral virtue of forgiveness, he says he is convinced that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. He recently outlined his formula for peace in Ukraine and other world locations in three essays that were published this month in Psychology Today, the professional publication that has honored him with a dedicated column for his work:

1.  Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace between Ukraine and Russia (March 1, 2022)

Summary: A key issue for peace in Eastern Europe is to recognize not just political boundaries, but more importantly, the genuine personhood in people within and across those boundaries—a personhood that is so precious that it transcends nationalism. That can be accomplished through forgiveness education being deliberately incorporated into the schools and houses of worship throughout the region, a process Dr. Enright already has helped establish in more than 30 countries around the world.  While forgiveness interventions have been shown in empirically-verified research to lower anger and enhance empathy, this process has yet to be tried in post war, post-accord societies, on a large scale with both children and adults, anywhere on the planet throughout all human history.

2.  Why Do People Fear the Cure for the Disease of Resentment? (March 19, 2022)

Summary: Resentment is the deep anger that can be harbored within a person for decades with serious consequences for psychological and physical health. Research by Dr. Enright and others has shown that forgiveness is an empirically verified treatment that reduces that resentment, but which is often misunderstood and therefore rejected. Properly recognized and acknowledged, forgiveness should take its rightful place of front-and-center where there are severe injustices to be healed.

3.  Understanding the Role of Forgiveness in Political Conflict (March 20, 2022)

Summary: Forgiveness education never begins during the heat of a political/military conflict but it must be included, instead of being ignored, as a crucial post-conflict building block. Reconstruction following war must focus on rehabilitating the heart, not just the infrastructure. By helping individuals reduce their anger and hatred, they will be more likely to be more open to traditional rehabilitation measures and can be set free from unhealthy resentment that will tamper any ongoing peace efforts. Importantly, people need to be drawn to forgiveness, not forced into it—as emphasized by the title of Dr. Enright’s first self-help book Forgiveness Is a Choice.

“Peace out there in the world is possible only when we have peace inside of us,” Dr. Enright concludes. Mahatma Gandhi has said that if true peace is ever to be achieved in this world, if we are to make war against war, then we must begin with the children. It is time for forgiveness education to go viral and become ubiquitous.”

To read the complete version of each of Dr. Enright’s posts in Psychology Today, click on its title above.

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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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