A Good Deed that Heals

Little Earl and his parents were having a terrible time. Diagnosed as hyperactive and defiant at school and at home, the 7-year-old couldn’t seem to control his anger. One tumultuous week, it got so bad he was hospitalized for the weekend.

Six months later, Earl was much happier; he had found a new way to deal with his feelings and was off the Ritalin and Prozac he’d been given for hyperactivity. His parents’ relationship with each other also had improved. He began to do better in school.

The whole family had found a "third way" to deal with their anger. Rather than denying or venting it, they had learned how to forgive. It’s an answer being explored more widely today. “Why is forgiveness so powerful a force?” asks Harry Aponte, in the Journal of Family Therapy. “Because it is a direct product of love.”

Forgiveness, the antidote to taking offense, isn’t easy; self-sacrifice is involved. But it carries a lighter price tag than nursing a feud or holding a grudge. Not forgiving gives another person power over us. Forgiveness sets us free of imprisoning bitterness, anger, revenge and resentment and allows us to find a new way to think of the “wrongdoer.”

“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.”
~ Victor Parachin in “How to Forgive: 10
Guidelines” at

Robert Enright, an education psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and known as the father of forgiveness research, has observed that those who practice forgiveness usually maintain their emotional health. For people who are able to let go of the hurt, he says, “Much of the giving comes back to us in a form a spiritual person might call peace… in a diminishment of anxiety and depression and an increase of hope and self-esteem.”

Enright established the International Forgiveness Institute in 1994 to share research on the power of forgiveness. This summer, he’s in Belfast, Northern Ireland, assessing the cumulative effects of his ongoing curriculum there introducing school children to the idea of forgiveness. “We simply lay the foundation that there’s such a thing as forgiveness,” he notes. His U.S. pilot city is Milwaukee, which reports has property crime rates exceeding the national average and a murder rate higher than Belfast’s.

“I think forgiveness absolutely has to be learned,” advises Enright. He emphasizes that forgiveness is not weakness; it is not forgetting, excusing, condoning or reconciling oneself to a wrong done. Neither does it preclude justice.

“Our work in forgiveness education is based on the conviction that forgiveness can reduce anger,” Enright explains, “and that a decrease in anger leads to less depression and anxiety and to stronger academic achievement and more peaceful social behavior.”

Robert Enright’s books include the seminal Forgiveness is a Choice and his book for children, Rising Above the Storm Clouds: What It’s Like to Forgive.

Primary source: The Christian Science Monitor

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