by Dana Terrell, LCSW
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Thanks to Joan Borysenko’s valuable plenary speech, opening the 2013 EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) Conference September, 2013 in Austin, Texas, I am now learning more and more about forgiveness. Her topic was Mind-Body Medicine, and she shared three fascinating developments:
1. The field of forgiveness research is expanding exponentially. In 1997 there were only 53 studies published.
2. Now there are over 1200 studies published, showing improvements in body, mind, and relationships.
3. Research at the Stanford Forgiveness Project has demonstrated that Forgiveness Training can reduce depression by half. She believed it can eliminate a PTSD diagnosis, but I’ve not yet found confirmation of this.
These findings can give hope to many people, but particularly that 15-20% who do not respond to EMDR therapy, either because they aren’t yet able to self-sooth or to practice containment skills, or for another reason.
Forgiveness skills training can also be a valuable help to EMDR clients with complex trauma who have not naturally been able to forgive because they have not witnessed or experienced forgiveness in their lives.
I now have done a little more of my own research on forgiveness by going to the website of Dr. Fred Luskin (one of the pioneering researchers in the field of forgiveness, shown at left) who leads the Stanford Forgiveness Project. His forgiveness training is a 9 step, proven process. To give you a sample, here are the first 2 steps (found in his excellent book “Forgive for Good”:
1· Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
2· Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
He was featured in a four-part series on PBS that is available on DVD. That can be purchased through his website: LearningtoForgive.com
Other lovely Forgiveness Resources: At a website called PowerofForgiveness.com you can find both a book and a DVD by the same title. The DVD is an outstanding one hour video documentary, chronicling stories of forgiveness from Northern Ireland, the Amish, 9/11, Lebanon, Germany, Israel and the friendship that grew in San Diego between the father of a murdered 16 year old, and the grandfather of the murderer, aged 14.
So, Why Forgive?
1. It can help you overcome PTSD per Stanford Forgiveness Project. (show link)
2. Forgiveness can restore relationships to their previous positive state, and has a positive side-effect on other relationships as well.
3. FYI: Men actually prefer the language of “letting go of grudges” rather than the language of forgiving. It is OK, because they are synonymous.
4. Health Benefits of Forgiveness, reported in research:
a. Your cardiovascular system improves per Stanford Forgiveness Project and others.
b. Lower cortisol per Hope College Researchers
c. Lower levels of pain, per Duke University Medical Center Researchers
d. Extends life expectancy, per one study
More on how forgiveness can help relationships:
“A …way forgiveness works is more subtle, as shown in studies indicating that people with strong social networks—friends, neighbors and family— tend to be healthier than loners. According to psychologists, someone who is angry and remembers every slight is likely to lose relationships during the course of a lifetime, while people who are forgiving are more likely to attract and keep a strong social support system—to the benefit of their own health.” Terrie Heinrich Rizzo, MAS
She shared 2 more tips of Dr. Luskin’s for relationships:
1. Try not to take things personally. Many offenses were not deliberately targeted to hurt you personally, but were byproducts of other people’s own selfish goals. It helps to recognize that, says Luskin.
2. Forgive those you love. According to Luskin, grievance stories for long-past offenses too often become roadblocks that stop us from moving forward. The most important people to forgive are those close to us.
Of course, forgiveness has been practiced since time immemorial by all religions.
Somehow the way God and His representatives and saints put it is profoundly beautiful, simple, and inspiring.
The Jewish tradition of the Day of Atonement is designed to help sincere Jews to feel and articulate what happened in the past year, much like Step One of the Forgiveness Project. The end-result is a freeing from the weight of negativity, or sin:
“When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.
Hawaain Tradition of Ho’oponopono offers a prayer of forgiveness:
“I’m sorry. I want to make amends. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.”
“Uphold ties with the one who cuts you off.” “Forgive the one who does you wrong.”
“Then came Peter to him and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, “Until seven times” but, “Until seventy times seven.”
“One should forgive, under any injury,” says the Mahabharata. “It hath been said that the continuation of the species is due to man’s being forgiving. Forgiveness is holiness; by forgiveness the universe is held together. Forgiveness is the might of the mighty; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is quiet of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the Self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue.”
“To understand everything is to forgive everything.”
“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”
Buddhist tradition of Vipasana (“to see deeply, to see things as they are”) Meditation is another very effective way to feel and face all that is stored within. It helped murderers and other angry, violent, grudge-and-revenge-driven men turn into people who could “walk among hatred without hate.” Isn’t that a goal of forgiveness? Find the documentary movie “Dhamma Brothers” on Netflix to see how it was put into practice in an Alabama prison. Here is an update from Oprah on the results of the first experiment with a 10 day silent meditation program offered to volunteer inmates at Donovan
By forgiveness, much can be held together: body and mind, husband and wife, partner and partner, parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend, worker and boss, killer and victim (see Power of Forgiveness DVD for 2 proofs of this), President and Congress, Nation and Nation, World and Universe.
Maybe it’s time to take a step as a world family: an annual Forgiveness Day for all world citizens.
Writing this article at Thanksgiving time 2013, I couldn’t help but think that having a National Forgiveness Day would be as meaningful and lovely a holiday as Thanksgiving.
I shared my dream with Dr. Luskin. He informed me there is actually an International Forgiveness Day started by Robert Plath of the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance. The Alliance has been celebrating International Forgiveness Day for 17 years as of August 4, 2013. They celebrate on the first Sunday of August annually.
My research also showed that a Canadian group, Christian Embassy of Christ’s Ambassadors, began a national Forgiveness Day in Canada, which expanded into a Global Forgiveness Day in 1994. The date was originally August 27, but changed to July 7.
Thus, you can choose from two days to celebrate. My hope is that eventually one unified date will be chosen, but in the meantime, two days are much better than zero. I feel inspired to see this much enthusiasm devoted to the practice of forgiveness.
Please consider inviting your family and/or friends to practice forgiveness in 2014.
How would you make it a family tradition?
And how could you take a step toward forgiveness today? I highly recommend reading Forgive for Good by Dr. Luskin to get you started. Even authors of other forgiveness books said they thought this was the best written book on the subject.
If you agree that Forgiveness Day would be a good practice for our world, please share this article with all you love.
Let us close with the words of an American saint who proved by example that forgiveness is not for wimps; it gives great power: The power to change human hearts.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
©2013 Dana Terrell, LCSW, EAC