“Forgiveness Is a Choice” by Robert D. Enright is a self-help book filled with wisdom and warm encouragement, demonstrating how taking the path of forgiveness can benefit a person in his/her life. The book’s author, Robert D Enright tries to carefully tries to make a distinction “forgiveness” from “pseudoforgiveness", highlighting the fact that forgiveness does not mean tolerating continued abuse or even reconciling with the person who has given them pain. Rather, by giving their offenders the gift of forgiveness, love and compassion, readers are encouraged to confront the persons who have hurt them and let go of their pain. This would eventually help them in regaining their lives. The author of this book does not make unrealistic claims that the process of forgiveness process is likely to work for every problem and every person. However, he does highlight the fact that forgiveness and building of trust is likely to renovate many a relationships and families. As a result of reading this book I have committed myself to greater amount of self-acceptance and emotional maturity, which have enabled me to forgive people who had hurt me.
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Forgiveness Is a Choice is a self-help book authored by Robert D Enright who is the creator of the first scientifically proven forgiveness program in the United States. This book demonstrates how forgiveness can help reduce a person’s anxiety and depression, at the same time increasing self-esteem and hopefulness toward one's future.
This groundbreaking work demonstrates how forgiveness when approached in the correct manner, benefits the person who has forgiven far more than the person who has been forgiven. This book leads the readers on the track of harmony, which is likely to bring them clarity of thoughts and peace of mind. This book illustrates a step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. It is a self-help book for people who are caught in the vicious circle of anger, resentment and seemingly endless destructive patterns and those who are looking for a way out. This book describes an intensive investigation program into forgiveness developed by the human Development Study Group at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, United States. The work by this group was so successful that in 1974, the International forgiveness institute, a non-profit organization, which helped people understand forgiveness was founded.
This book introduces a scientifically tested program for forgiveness. It is likely to provide benefit to the forgiver. This method helps in providing freedom from anger, resentment, bitterness and the self-destructive behavior pattern accompanying them. Though the author does not claim that the forgiveness process is likely to work for every problem and every person, it is likely to produce amazing changes in people’s lives. Forgiveness and building of trust is likely to restore many a relationships and families. Each human being has been endowed with the innate ability to forgive. The reasons and means of forgiving are contained in this wonderful book.
RC Hunter (1978), a Canadian psychiatrist, was the first therapist to report on the benefits of forgiveness. According to him, people having a variety of psychological symptoms can experience healing through forgiveness. He also found that people who are anxious can experience an increased amount of inner peace through forgiveness.
Richard Fitzgibbons (1986), a Pennsylvanian psychiatrist has done pioneering work in the use of forgiveness as a form of therapy. He observed that when a person forgives, fear is decreased. He traced this reduction in fear to a reduction of guilt. Many people who are angry at a loved one who hurt them feel guilty for their unconscious violent impulses. If a person forgives, he or she begins to express anger in more appropriate and mature ways. This conclusion is also consistent with Dr Kaufman’s (1984) theory that through the act of forgiving, a forgiver gains in emotional maturity. Dr Fitzgibbons speculates that anger may cause physical symptoms and forgiving may improve health and perhaps even lower the blood pressure. This speculation is also backed up by several studies which have found out that hypertension may be affected by anger.
Many people feel that forgiving requires them to forget the offense, which they might find impossible (Huang, 1990). Many people can’t imagine that their feelings towards the offender can ever change. These concerns are absolutely justified. However, this is not what forgiveness is. In fact, forgiveness begins by acknowledging the fact that we are the people who have the right to be treated with respect. Forgiving does not require denying the fact that we have been hurt. In order to forgive, one has to admit that he/she was hurt and has a right to feel hurt, angry or resentful. Unwillingness to admit that we have been hurt is one of the major barriers towards forgiving.
Forgiveness is an act of love, mercy and compassion towards the offender, who may not necessarily deserve such as act of mercy. Forgiveness is more than just accepting what happened, ceasing to be angry, being neutral towards the other person or making one feel good. Forgiveness involves gifting the other person with love, compassion and benevolence in order to bring about change in the other person. Forgiving is not just condoning, excusing, forgetting, justifying, calming down, pseudo-forgiving or blaming one self. Forgiving means admitting that what was done was wrong and should not be repeated in future. Forgiveness does not lessen what happened, it just alters how we view a person in spite of what he/she did.
Forgiveness is related to, but is different from reconciliation. Reconciliation is the act of two people coming together following separation. Forgiving on the other hand is the moral action of one individual, which starts as a private act, an unseen decision with the human heart. One may forgive and not reconcile, but one never truly reconciles without some amount of forgiving taking place. When people have successfully completed the forgiveness process, they have reduced the negative feelings, negative thoughts and negative behavior towards the offender.
Negative feelings can range from continual annoyance and frustration to hatred and rage. Negative thoughts can include ascribing evil motives to the offender and thinking of the offender as a wicked and horrible person. Negative behavior towards the offender includes purposefully avoiding the offender, refusing to talk to him or her, plotting revenge and badmouthing the offender to others. In contrast, those who forgive develop positive feelings, thoughts and behavior towards the offender. Positive feelings can range from a mild sense of liking, respecting a person to loving and caring for the person. Positive thoughts can vary from just barely wishing the person well to understanding that he or she is a human being and should be respected for that. Positive behavior can be something as simple as a smile to aiding the offender in character transformation.
People are not morally obliged to forgive. Forgiving is a choice. It is a gift to someone who does not deserve it. Forgiveness is also possible under the most brutal and unfair circumstances. Sometimes people discover as they reach the last phase of the forgiveness process that they were not victims of a terrible injustice, but instead were the victims of their own lack of understanding, something they could not see at the beginning. No act, no matter how terrible, is unforgivable. However, some people may choose not to forgive. This book teaches the readers to develop skills of forgiving people who had ever offended them.
The book also talks about controlling anger. Suppressing legitimate anger is unhealthy. Continually venting out anger is also unhealthy. Forgiveness acts as an antidote to dysfunctional anger and debilitating resentments. The researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found that when people forgive, they find relief from the effects of harbored anger. Forgiveness acts as an antidote to dysfunctional anger and debilitating resentments. The researchers at the university of Wisconsin-Madison have demonstrated that people who forgive find relief from the effects of harbored anger.
According to the author, Enright (2008), forgiveness is a process, which can be divided into 4 phases: Phase 1 involves uncovering one’s anger. In order to forgive, one must be willing to examine how much anger one has as a result of someone else’s unfair actions. Realizing that one is angry can be very painful. However, forgiveness is not about pretending that nothing had happened or about hiding from the pain. People have to be honest with themselves that they are suffering.
Phase 2 involves molding one’s decision to begin the forgiveness process. Forgiveness requires making a decision and a commitment. This can involve three stages: turning one’s back on the past; looking towards the future; and choosing the path of forgiveness.
Phase 3 involves working on forgiveness, i.e. accepting the pain and giving the offender the gift of understanding and compassion. Simply making a decision to forgive may not be enough. People need to take concrete actions to make their forgiveness real. Phase 4 involves self-discovery and release from emotional prison. It involves discovering the meaning of suffering, discovering the need for forgiveness, discovering that one is not alone, discovering the purpose of one’s life and discovering the freedom of forgiveness. Not forgiving someone, bitterness, resentment and anger are like four walls of a prison cell. Forgiveness is a key that opens up the door and lets the person (forgiver) out of this cell.
Reading this book has helped me in developing the skills of forgiving people who had ever hurt me. Forgiveness helped me gain greater amount of self-acceptance and to establish more meaningful friendships. It has also resulted in an overall improvement in the level of my emotional maturity. After forgiving, I feel that I am able to grow as a person capable of courage, nurturance of others. I am also able to love and communicate more effectively with those around me. Forgiveness has quieted my angry feelings by changing destructive thoughts into more calmer, healthier thoughts. Through the act of forgiving, I think I have started acting more civilly towards the ones who had hurt me. Forgiveness of one person helps in better interaction with the others. After reading this book I realized that anger with my supervisor would often spill over the relationship with my parents. Forgiving my supervisor not only helped in improving my relationship with him, but also with my parents. My forgiveness helped my supervisor visualize his unfairness and take steps for stopping it. Forgiveness helped enhance the character of the one who had hurt me, i.e. my supervisor in this case. Now I have realized that forgiveness acts as an act of love towards God. It is an act of kindness and love towards those who had hurt us and portrays moral good regardless of how the other person responds to it.
- Hunter, R.C. (1978). Forgiveness, retaliation and paranoid reactions. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal. 23, 169.
- Kaufman, M.E. (1984). The courage to forgive. Israeli Journal of Psychiatry and related sciences, 21, 177-187.
- Fitzgibbons, R.P. (1986). The cognitive and emotional uses of forgiveness in the treatment of anger. Psychotherapy 23, 629-633.
- Huang, S.T. (1990). Cross-Cultural and Real-Life Validations of the Theory of Forgiveness in Taiwan, The Republic of China. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: Madison, university of Wisconsin
- Enright, R.D. (2008). Forgiveness is a Choice: Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Washington DC: APA Life Tools.