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Well Wisconsin Radio

Well Wisconsin Radio

Hosted by the WebMD Team

A podcast discussing topics of health and well-being from experts around the State of Wisconsin. Tune into Well Wisconsin Radio whenever you want and wherever you are! Subscribe to Well Wisconsin Radio in the podcast platform of your choice to be notified when each new episode is released.

Note to those eligible for the 2024 Well Wisconsin Incentive: only episodes of Well Wisconsin Radio from season 3, dated November 2023 and later will qualify for well-being activity credit.


Finding Forgiveness and Resolving Conflicts with Dr. Robert Enright 

The information in this podcast does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be used as a substitute for healthcare from a licensed healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare provider for individualized treatment or before beginning any new program.  

Host: Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and wellbeing topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin. I’m your host, Julie Cruz, and today my guest is Dr. Robert Enright.  Dr. Enright is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin Madison, a licensed psychologist, and a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute. He is renowned for pioneering the scientific study of forgiveness and is often introduced as the father of forgiveness research because of his commitment over the past four decades to researching and implementing forgiveness programs. Dr. Enright, thank you for joining us today to talk about finding forgiveness and resolving conflicts.   

Guest: Thank you for asking me, Julie.  

Host: You’re welcome. Before we dive into talking about your work and how our listeners can apply this to their own forgiveness journeys, would you tell us how you define forgiveness and what does the term forgiveness mean in your work? 

Guest: Yes, well, as an egghead professor who tries to read everything I can on the topic of forgiveness, I’ve come to realize that when you look at the ancient texts, such as Hebrew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Confucian, Buddhist, they all pretty much agree that forgiveness is a moral virtue, and so it deals with goodness that flows out to others for their good, for the other’s good.  

Justice is a moral virtue, patience, kindness, so it’s in that family of goodness.  It particularly concerns three issues for the definition that I think would be consistent across different worldviews. First, you as the forgiver, have been treated unjustly by other people, so you’ve been treated unfairly. And, when you forgive, you deliberately choose. It’s your free will decision to get rid of resentment, which is like an embedded, excessive anger, an unhealthy anger that can abide with you if you’re not careful.  And you get rid of that resentment in terms of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the one who hurt you. And, here’s where it gets controversial, the third point.  

You actually have goodness of some kind, whether it’s kindness, respect, generosity, or love, in terms of your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, toward that person who acted unfairly.  And people tend to kind of balk at that and say, well, why should I be good to the one who wasn’t good to me? Well, it’s because you’re not talking about justice or fairness toward the other, you’re talking about mercy.  And also, it’s important when we talk about the definition of forgiveness to think about some issues that it is not.  For example, forgiveness is not excusing what the other person did.  What that person did to you, whether it was yesterday or 10 years ago, was unfair, is unfair, and will always be unfair.  When you reach out to the person in goodness, you are not saying what the person did was good. You don’t excuse.  You actually don’t forget in any literal sense. We use the expression forgive and forget, but I have found we don’t forget, but we remember in new ways. We remember without the rancor building up in our heart anymore. 

In other words, we remember that someone might have stolen money from us so that it doesn’t happen again, but we don’t fume at it in that sense. So, there’s a certain kind of forgetting where you get rid of the initial, strong reaction, but you really remember in new ways where you’re softer at it.   

Also, and this is a big one because forgiveness is criticized for this misunderstanding, forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation. Reconciliation is when two or more people come together again in mutual trust. That’s not a moral virtue.  You can forgive from your heart by softening your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the one who hurt you and not reconcile if the other refuses to change the behavior that’s bringing you down.  

And then fourth and finally, there are more to this, but here’s the four big ones.  You do not throw justice under the bus. When you forgive, ask for fairness.  Seek fairness.  And when you do that with a softer heart, without hatred, in all likelihood, your tone will be better, how you ask for justice will be better, and you might actually get a better justice if you practice forgiveness and justice together.   

Host: Great. Thank you so much. So many different aspects to think about when we talk about what does forgiveness really mean. Thank you.  

Guest: Indeed. And see, that’s one of the big problems. People shake their fist at forgiveness, but they’re not understanding it complexly enough, they’re actually giving it a bad rap when in fact what they’re arguing against isn’t forgiveness at all. When they say, how dare you tell me to go back into that abusive relationship? Forgiveness doesn’t tell you to do that.   

Host: Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, you have been studying forgiveness for the past four decades.  How did you first become involved with research about forgiveness and how did you become so passionate about this area of study?  

Guest: Yes. Well, the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Educational Psychology brought me in, in the human development area, to study moral development.  And, that was quite a while ago.  It was 1978.  And, at the time, what was popular in moral development was all the scholars were doing studies about justice and about how children, adolescents, and adults think about fair solutions when there are moral dilemmas. And I was a very obedient academic. I fell in line with everybody else.  I just simply talked about and I did studies on and publications on justice. I got grants. I was a fair haired academic because I was obedient to what academia told me I can study. And one day I awakened to ask myself a very dangerous question.  Who am I helping with my research? And the answer was, well, nobody but a few other academics. And we’d meet at conferences and pat each other on the back for our recent publications, go back to our own laboratories, helping no one. 

So, I use the expression, I threw all of my research over a cliff. I never have gone back to even read one sentence of any of my research on justice. That was very good to me in academia.  And so, I started asking a reverse question of justice.  Still in the realm of morals, what do we do when we’re treated unjustly?  How do we get out of the pit of pain and despair when we’ve been treated very unjustly? And the idea of forgiveness came up, and I thought, well, that sounds like a good topic. And since I’m in the helping professions of psychology, surely there must be a lot of research, and I just missed it. So, I went to the library. 

I couldn’t even do a Google search then, because they didn’t exist. And I asked the librarian to do a computer search of the literature on published articles on person to person forgiving. And about a half hour later she came back with a blank sheet of paper.  She said there are none. And a friend of mine at another university did the same thing at his library and came back with a blank sheet of paper. 

In about a hundred years of psychology, up to that point, which was the mid-80s, by then.  There hadn’t been one study published on person to person forgiving that gathered data or scientifically examined it. So, it gave me a career.  And so, I developed a little not for credit seminar. We call it the Friday Forgiveness Seminar. And I asked graduate students if they wanted to join. And many did from many different lands: Taiwan, Greece, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Korea. And we all sat around trying to figure out what forgiveness is, as I just answered to you, Julie, how we go about it. And then the scientific question, well, what happens when people do forgive?  

And I thought it was going to be kind of a nice, pleasant journey, and it ended up being a firestorm.  People, in academia, rose up against it, and they rose up against me.  One of my students came to me, rather pale one day, and said, uh, I was told if I keep working with you, I’ll never get a job in academia because you’ve just ruined your career studying this soft, weak, irrelevant topic of forgiveness, and I’m heading down the same path.  Am I never going to get a job in academia?  And I kind of swallowed slowly and said it’s possible because this is so new and people are responding negatively, so, you’re taking a risk.  And, she did, with great courage and she’s now a tenured professor elsewhere. Yay!  That was my revenge, you see. Ha ha. And so, we stuck with it. 

And, the more I learned about forgiveness, the more I realized how curative it can be for this unhealthy anger. So, it led to really a conviction in myself that the world needs more forgiveness rather than less. And I’ve been on that journey now for about four decades.   

Host: Wow. That is amazing. And, and the courage you had to, to also continue that pursuit, right?  

Guest: Well, I had no other choice because I wasn’t going to look over that cliff where I dumped all my other research and go into my laboratory and have nothing to show for it, for my career, except pats on the back. That doesn’t work.   

Host: You know, through all this research that you’ve done, is there a connection between forgiveness and well-being? 

Guest: Yeah.  Oh, indeed. See, that’s where our science comes in. We’ve developed a pathway of forgiving called the process model of forgiveness. And, it’s not the only road to forgiveness. I’m sure there are many, many roads, but I can talk about that process in a moment if you wish. But we applied the process model of forgiveness in many different kinds of venues where people are gravely hurt.  

Let me just give some examples. Uh, Dr. Suzanne Friedman and I did a study as part of her doctoral dissertation in the 1990s where she worked with incest surviving adult females who tried many different kinds of therapies to heal from their depression and low self-esteem and anxiety. And, nothing was working for them.  So, Suzanne approached them with her own courageous idea and said, well, I have a new approach called forgiveness therapy that might help you get rid of your built up resentment, which then might be a cause and effect relationship of reducing your anxiety and your depression and increasing your self-esteem.  Would you like to join me?  Twelve female adult incest survivors said, yes, I will try, but the vast majority of them said, I’ll never forgive my father or father figure.  And, I understand that because that’s one of the worst injustices in the world. A father or father figure who is supposed to protect and violates.  So, Suzanne met one-on-one with six of the incest survivors for an hour a week until each one of them said, I have forgiven by your criteria of getting rid of the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and increasing at least a little bit my positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward him. 

And, it took on the average, 14 months for them to forgive. It was a long journey. But you have to realize, Julie, that they were living with this disruption in their heart for a long, long time, many, many years.  So, at the end of this 14 months, we compared the six who had the program with the six who were free to have other therapy as they wished as the control group. 

And lo and behold, those who had Suzanne’s process model of forgiveness ended up going from clinically depressed to non-depressed. It’s not that they just improved in depression. The depression left. Their anxiety went down to normal levels. And they started liking themselves. And I’m really glad they did because they did nothing wrong.  But they were believing the lie that they were worth less than they should be worth as human beings. And, the forgiveness restored their self-esteem.  Okay, what about the control group? They were still clinically depressed, anxious, and they still didn’t like themselves. They now went on the 14-month journey, and same thing happened. They went to clinical levels of depression, to non-depressed – no depression, and they started liking themselves. And then, remember now, the first experimental group had no forgiveness treatment for this 14 months when the control group started. The forgiveness therapy was withdrawn, and when we examined them, they still were non-depressed.  They still liked themselves. In other words, there wasn’t a characteristic, what we call, washout effect that happens so often in psychotherapy where they retained well-being. And so that’s just one classic example.  

Our most recent one has been with men in a maximum-security correctional institution. And we screened 107 of them, and 90 percent of them had grave, serious injustices against them in childhood or adolescence.  And we screened out a number of men, about 20 of them, and we ended up maybe, I can’t remember exactly, about 15.  We screened them where they were clinically depressed, anxious and angry, with low empathy toward others, which was helping them contribute to crime without feeling badly about it. And after six months of forgiveness therapy, the experimental group went from the clinical levels to non-depressed, non-anxious, non-angry, and their empathy toward others improved.  Not so with the control group, which then started the program. We saw the same thing happen. They became clinically non-depressed, non-anxious, non-angry, and their empathy went up. So, there are many, many others, but those, I think, are two dramatic examples of how forgiveness therapy can do what traditional psychotherapies have not been able to do, which is help people who have deep injustices against them to heal well. 

Host: Yeah, thank you for sharing those examples with us.  And, to kind of piggyback on that, can you tell us what happens to one’s physical and mental well-being when you don’t forgive after you’ve been treated unjustly by others and have lived with it for a long time? Um, can you tell us a little bit about that?  

Guest:  Sure. Well, we definitely can see through having control groups who don’t have forgiveness therapy first, because these interventions are important because they’re not just what we call correlational. It doesn’t just say, well, forgiveness is related to well-being. We see that forgiveness causes a change in positive well-being. 

And, we see that when those control group people do not have forgiveness therapy, they end up making virtually no progress in their life. Why? Once we’ve been treated deeply, gravely unjustly by others, I’m not talking about someone spilled the milk on the table yesterday, okay? I’m talking about, let’s say, child abuse for years, for example. When that happens, people end up really resenting that. And, in the short run, that’s good. Because what the person is saying to the self is, those who have hurt me have no right to do that. I am a person worthy of respect and I’ve been disrespected and I’m angry about it. And, that’s good and it’s healthy because it shows you know right from wrong.  

But, if you don’t have a way out of that anger, it can actually become the unwelcome guest in the human heart, grow, strongly, where when you want it to leave and you ask it to leave, the unwelcome guest doesn’t leave.  So that this anger turns to unhealthy anger, what psychiatrists call irritability, what we in psychology call resentment, which I describe as anger on steroids, basically, where it gets so strong in you that that kind of anger can build up and lead to not liking yourself, anxiety, mistrust of others, and it can lead, as you’ve seen, to a psychological depression. And so, if someone comes into a psychiatrist’s or a psychologist’s office with depression, there’s often times the tendency to look at what’s happening now and to treat the symptoms now.  Forgiveness therapy looks back, sometimes way back, at what might have happened as the cause of this and treats the effects of what happened 20 years ago. 

Because it’s really the resentment that’s the poison.  And, if we treat only the anxiety or the depression, we’re missing one of the central causes of that, which is resentment, which is caused by the grave injustices that might have happened so long ago, no one’s looking at it anymore.  

Host: That’s great information.  Wow. Um, and, and as we think about all of that, can you describe for us what a typical pathway of forgiving looks like? What steps might be involved as a person goes on their forgiveness journey?  

Guest: Yep, I won’t give, I won’t be here for 14 months with you as Suzanne Friedman was with the Incest Survivors.  I’ll give you the five-minute version. Okay, keeping in mind that your listeners, and going on this path, may take weeks or months for healing. Okay, we first start off with one of four phases called the uncovering phase. And, we look at the effects of what happened to you once you have been treated unfairly. 

And that can be high anger, as we’ve just talked about, fatigue, ruminations where you’re constantly comparing yourself to the one who hurt you. And, another one that we have to be careful about is uh, what we call the negative worldview, where people become pessimistic, mistrusting, of people in general. 

And they think the glass is always half full rather than full all the time. And so, they, they develop kind of a philosophy of life that’s rather negative.  And you can also have the concomitant anxiety and depression. So, at that point, we ask people, how have you been doing with these effects of what has piled down on you that might be related actually to the grave injustices you’ve suffered long ago? 

And if the person says, well, I’m not doing all that great, that examination of these effects can be a high motivation to consider forgiveness, which is our decision phase. And we say, okay, forgiveness is about mercy, and you won’t necessarily be reconciling with the other if the person keeps hurting you, and yet you will be deliberately trying to be good to the person who was not good to you. 

Do you want to try it?  At first, people kind of groan and grit their teeth and can’t be resisted, and that’s their choice. Okay, and they need time, in other words, when they first hear about forgiveness in the decision phase, they’re not necessarily ready. Then we hit the work phase. I call it hitting the forgiveness gym and becoming forgivingly fit. 


And we start with thinking first. We start thinking about the other person with a wider-angle lens. Is this person more than what this person did to you? And we look at the person’s history, how this person was raised, what happened to this person, the wounds this person might have been carrying and displaced them onto you, dumping the truck of their own rage onto you.  

Well, what if we don’t know the person? Well, then we don’t go there to the other person’s wounds. But in my experience, the vast majority of grave injustices against us come from those we know, sadly. Come from family. So, we know the story, the developmental history of the person as a wounded person, usually. Those who have grave injustices against others, often times have been treated gravely unjustly. So now we see a wounded person and we share that with that person.  Then we take a look at the common humanity.  You both need adequate nutrition, you both need adequate rest, you both are unique in that you have unique DNA, unless you’re an identical twin, and still you’re different in how your experiences of life occur. 

So, you’re a unique human being, and so is the one who wounded you. You’re both going to die one day. You share a common humanity, not just a common woundedness. And then for people who are people of faith, we also go to a level where we kick it up beyond the everyday interactions in this world. Here’s an example. 

Let’s say someone’s Jewish. We would take a look at the first book of the Hebrew Bible, Genesis, where it says twice, everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. And you say, well, do you believe that? And, the Jewish person is likely to say yes. I think everyone’s made in the image and likeness of God. 

Are you made in the image and likeness of God? Uh, yes. Gulp, gasp, drumroll, please. How about the one who hurt you? Is that person made in the image and likeness of God? In which case, someone usually says, I wish I didn’t know that. And it takes time to have that settle in. But these are the thinking exercises to see the woundedness, the common humanity, and for those who have faith, that they both share being loved by God, despite our imperfections. 

So, then once the person starts to widen their lens of their story about the other, their heart starts to actually soften in compassion for that other person, who also has suffered maybe gravely and stumbled and is in a lot of error in how the person is living that person’s life. And so sometimes we have this compassion, which is a willingness to suffer along with that person. 

And once the person gets stronger in this thinking and feeling, we ask the person to bear the pain or stand up to the pain. Hospice, when you deal with grief counseling in hospice, they tell you to lean into the pain of grief, not to run from it. We’re similar. We say, can you stand in the pain that was given to you so you don’t throw the pain back to that person or to others? So you don’t go home and kick the cat or yell at the partner. Okay? 



And, people at that point are strong enough to say, okay, I will bear the pain, but will it be with me for the rest of my life? And at that point, we talk about one of the paradoxes of forgiveness. As you stand in the pain, the pain begins to leave. Because you know you’re stronger than that pain and you won’t be defeated by it. 

And once the person realizes, hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was, we end the work phase with this true nature of forgiveness as a moral virtue. Can you give a gift of some kind to the one who hurt you?  And that is, again, later in the process, not done quickly. And that might be a kind word.  It might be donating some charitable money to a nonprofit organization in town in that person’s name, if you can’t be with the person.  

It might be a kind word about the person to others.  Or, it could be literally a reaching out a hand of peace, hoping the other grabs that. And see, that’s controversial because you say, well, I’m wounded. Why would I want to do any of this? Because of another paradox, which is now the discovery phase, which is after you’ve gone through all of this and become forgivingly fit, you develop a new meaning in life where you’re more aware of suffering, not only in yourself but in others. 

You also usually develop a new purpose in life, which is to help others with their pain. One of the gentlemen, who was never going to get out of prison, said to me, I’m not getting out of here, but now with my cellmates, I’m going to work with them on forgiving to take their pain away. Many of the incest survivors surprised Suzanne Friedman and me where they said, I now want to be a harbinger of good for other incest survivors, not necessarily professionally, but informally helping people with their woundedness. 

And you see, as you develop new meaning and purpose in your life, what happens as the, this other paradox in the giving to the other, your resentment goes down, then you see, because we give scales on this, your anxiety going down, the depression going down, the self-esteem going up, hope for the future going up. 

In the giving to others, you are the one who is healed, and that has surprised me. I have not expected such strong results, and that’s one reason why I’m in my fourth decade, Julie, as opposed to giving it a couple of weeks and patting myself on the back, which is another academic publication.   

Host: Yeah. Wow. That’s amazing! It’s like unturning a new stone right around every corner and finding out. 

Guest: Exactly! That’s what you’re doing. And it’s with unexpected results. See, forgiveness is full of surprises. Be good to the one who wasn’t good to me. You’ve got to be kidding. Uh, put myself at risk. Well, not if you don’t reconcile, be careful and then give a gift to the other. 


When I’m the one who’s hurting, why that person needs to give a gift to me.  Usually, those who hurt us often times say, well, I didn’t really mean it, and you’re overreacting. They’re not going to give you a gift, maybe not even an apology. It is your unconditional giving of a gift to the other without waiting for an apology that heals you. It actually amazes me, some of these findings.   

Host:  Wow. So, when someone is ready to forgive, do they have to engage with that other person they’re forgiving or forget what happened or reconcile with that person? Is that required as part of that forgiveness journey?  

Guest: It absolutely 100 percent is not required. What is required is your yes. What is required is your choice to walk this pathway of forgiveness with the four phases of the uncovering, decision, work, and discovery phase, if you want to do so.  And, I used the word earlier, unconditionally, whether the person apologizes or not, whether the person’s willing to reconcile or not, you have done everything you can in forgiveness. 

And the completion of forgiveness often times is what I call the triangle of forgiveness. You forgive. The other receives the forgiveness and actually seeks the, the forgiveness from you. Then comes reconciliation. Forgiving, seeking forgiveness, and reconciliation. That requires two parties but forgiving itself requires only you. 

And if the other rejects that, then you can go in peace knowing you have done your absolute best with forgiving, which is an individual decision done unconditionally and, it might not resolve with the triangle of forgiveness because the other is unwilling.  You’ve done everything you can, you can go in peace, have the fruit of well-being, and, eventually, maybe the person can catch on to the great gift you have given that person, but some people just don’t get it. 

And that’s just the way it is in life. But you can at least go on in a healthy way, as opposed to bringing this resentment to your grave. And I have seen people do that.  

Host:  Yeah, yeah.  What suggestions do you have for someone who feels like they’re stuck in the process of forgiving another person?  

Guest:  Absolutely. If someone is stuck with person A, I say maybe that person is too high a bar for you right now. In other words, there’s so much hatred in your heart, or at least a burning resentment, that you want to start learning about forgiveness with someone who is perpetrated a lesser offense. So, think about someone else. Where on a one to ten scale of anger, you’re at a six or a seven rather than a ten and walk the pathway of forgiveness with that person.  Learn about it. It’s like using an analogy of physical fitness. If you haven’t started a program, walk around the block a couple of times. Don’t try the marathon. Okay? And so, person B is the walking around the block. Then try maybe another person, where you’re walking around the block a little bit more. 


And when you build your forgiveness muscle, as I say, becoming more forgivingly fit, only then try the person A, who’s gravely wounded your heart, you’ll know the pathway, you’ll be familiar with it. And Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher says, the more we practice these goodnesses, the moral virtues, the more we tend to like them and even love them. 

And, as a person starts putting this forgiveness into the person’s heart and starts loving the virtue, then sticking with it, with the pain of bearing the pain, the pain of looking at the other in terms of the other’s own woundedness, sticks with you. You’re willing to practice it, and in that practice, over time, you will, in all likelihood, be able to forgive person A with the result, as the paradox, that you are the one who heals.   

Host:  Great. Thank you. Thank you. What, what if the person you are not able to forgive is yourself? What can you do then?   

Guest:  Well, let’s ask this. Can you apply the moral virtues to yourself? Can you be fair to yourself? Of course. Can you be kind to yourself? Can you be patient with yourself?  Yes, you can do all of these moral virtues towards yourself. Therefore, it follows that forgiveness ought to be one of the moral virtues you can apply to yourself. Why would it be the only moral virtue on the planet that’s excluded from yourself? And I think it’s important that people realize they can do this because I have found over the years, we tend to be harder on ourselves than we are on other people. 

So, here’s what I suggest to people. Don’t start forgiving yourself first. Do that walk around the block with another person who has hurt you to some degree, get to know the process of forgiveness, get to appreciate it, then apply it to yourself. And how would you do that? Well, let’s look at the work phase.   

You look at your own woundedness and out of your woundedness, sometimes we displace our anger onto others. You are special, unique, and irreplaceable as a human being. You, you have humanity, in spite of what you’ve done in breaking your own standards. So, bear the pain of what you have done, perhaps to others and or yourself, so that you don’t keep subverting yourself or displacing it onto others. 

And, give the gift to yourself of gentleness and welcoming yourself back into the human community.  But at the same time, here’s where self-forgiveness differs from forgiving others. Usually, when you’ve broken your own standard, you’ve also usually hurt other people in the process. And so, go to them and seek forgiveness. 

And that rounds out self-forgiveness. If you violated a standard and others are wounded, apply the forgiveness process to yourself, and you can do that first, after you have forgiven others. Then go to others and seek forgiveness, and then you have rounded it out and you can go in peace. Now, even in the seeking of forgiveness, if someone refuses, to accept this and forgive you. You, yourself, personally, unconditionally, have done all you can and therefore you can go in peace knowing your intentions are good. You’ve done all you can behaviorally. You cannot keep condemning yourself and should not keep condemning yourself. You’ve done everything you can.   

Host:  Great. Thank you. Thank you. What role does forgiveness play in resolving conflicts with others? So, for example, conflict with a family member, a coworker, or even within a community or group of people, what role does forgiveness play in that?   

Guest:  Well, forgiveness lately and historically has not played much of a role because it’s not on the table the way justice is.  

And so we have to realize that for forgiveness to play a role, people have to be aware of what forgiveness is accurately, willingly choose it, and then have the patience in the forgiving to let the other people, all the other people in the family, or even if it’s one given person, give these people the time to adjust to this new way you have.  

And they might not be on the same level as you yet. You might be forgiving a father who’s been insensitive, but he’s not willing to have the humility yet to know he did wrong.  And so, there’s a mismatch. So, you have to be patient and realize it’s his call as to whether he’s going to say, you know, I did wrong, and I’m sorry. 

That might take months. It might take years. And so, just because you are ready to forgive and offer the olive branch, don’t throw in the towel and admit defeat if the other won’t accept that olive branch, because you might be actually setting it up for the person to learn about forgiving and seeking forgiveness, where the two of you can be more on the same level.  That’s when the harmony in the family can be restored. In fact, we did a study with women who were in hospice and they were all in their 80’s and they were all dying of cancer and they all had six months or less to live and they only had a four week program because they were weakened and they didn’t have a lot of time. 

Well, once they forgave, many of them brought the family to their bedside and not just forgave but reconciled because the other people’s hearts were softened when they saw the suffering other in hospice dying and their families were reconstituted. And one variable that we found in this four-week program was this, as their physical indicators were going down, their hope for the future was actually statistically significantly going up.   

Why? Because they knew they were leaving their family in a better position than if they did not forgive. And literally, Julie, some of them were living with this resentment for 40 years.  That’s how long resentment can last.  And forgiveness allowed them to make peace with the family before they died.  

Host: Wow. Thank you for sharing that with us. Just so much amazing, incredible information about forgiveness. I really appreciate it. You know, as we start to wrap up our talk today, what keeps you going and inspiring you to continue to study forgiveness?  Are there things that you’re working on now and questions you still hope to answer with your research?  

Guest:  Oh, absolutely! What keeps me going is seeing the findings that are very surprising. Many, many people reaching out to us. And for example, I’m sitting in my office and lately I have been getting emails and requests from African nations, Burundi, Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, and a lot of them in their communities have had war like experiences. And they’re getting it and realize one way to patch up wars is to start having the different groups work on forgiving within their own community and getting strong in it and then meeting community to community. So, they’re not just building new roads that were bombed out or building new houses that were burned out but healing hearts and then healing hearts between them. 

So, we’re starting to work on community to community forgiving within the peace movement that has not been part of the peace movement ever. And from what I can tell, there never has been in the history of the world a deliberate attempt after war to combine justice and forgiveness on the community level toward the communities that have been at war.   

How that has escaped the human condition astonishes me. And so, we’re going to try to do that. The first of its kind ever from, unless I’m wrong, but it wouldn’t be much because I’ve been looking and I’m that egghead professor.  So, what we’re looking in to build this in the peace movement and we want to change the face of education because if the purpose of education is to prepare for adulthood why oh why oh why are we not preparing children once they become adults to deal with the severe injustices that likely will visit them?  We teach them to balance a checkbook or to read a book. Why don’t we get them ready to heal the human heart so that when it happens at age 35, they don’t have to stumble in the dark to find forgiveness they’re already well prepared and developed because they’ve learned about it in school. 

So, we’ve developed curriculum guides from age 4 to age 18, pre-kindergarten through the end of high school.  I just got back from Belfast, Northern Ireland. I haven’t been back in the States long. Where we have been doing forgiveness education because of the troubles, the difficulties there, for 22 years. 

And we’ve planted that in classrooms that wish to do this. And what we find is, even at age six, they’ve hardly been in this world at age six.  But when we give anger scales, the average child, average, is close to clinical levels of anger already. So, what’s going to happen when they’re 16, 26, or 66?  And when we give them forgiveness education that they learn through stories, we don’t impose therapy at all on them. 

They learn like through Horton Hears a Who, a person’s a person no matter how small, even those who hurt you. You know what happens to their level of anger? It goes to normal levels.  And so, I’d like to see forgiveness in the peace movement. I’d like to see that yesterday. And I’d like to see forgiveness education planted, I’m greedy here, Julie, in every single classroom in every school in the world.  

Host:  That would be amazing and incredible. I’m, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing that work. That’s, that’s incredible. And, uh, thank you so much. And I think the one question that I want to end with is, are there any additional resources or final words of advice that you have for our listeners as they start their own forgiveness journeys?  

Guest:  Yes, we have the International Forgiveness Institute that’s been around since 1994. They can find that on internationalforgiveness.com, where we have blogs, we have, it’s called “Ask Dr. Forgiveness,” I run that, but I didn’t give that the name, the president of the association gave that. Okay. And then I also have three self-help books that we have used in our experiments, for example, with the Men in Maximum Security Corrections.  The three books that have been published and used by people for healing are called Forgiveness is a Choice. In other words, I labeled it that, so they don’t see it as forgiveness is dragged me screaming about it into the forgiveness closet. No, its forgiveness is a choice. 

Then, the Forgiving Life, which is to try and make this a part of your everyday life and forgiving everyone who’s ever hurt you. And then the one we used in the Maximum-Security Correctional Institution is called Eight Keys to Forgiveness. So those three. Any one of those should help a person walk the path of forgiving.  

Host:  Well, thank you so much for those resources and all the excellent information and advice you’ve given us today, Dr. Enright. We really appreciate your time and sharing that with all of our listeners.  

Guest:  And I really appreciate your podcast and what you’re doing for Wisconsin. Thank you very much, Julie.  

Host:  Thanks.   

Host:  Connect with others like you. Together All is an online community available 24/7 to all looking for mental health support.  Join anonymous discussions with others like you who may be experiencing similar challenges such as anxiety, grief, and more. Mental health professionals are there to guide your experience, ensuring a safe space and access to clinicians when needed.  Get started today by logging into the Well Wisconsin portal at webmdhealth.com/wellwisconsin, and click on the Together All card.   

meQ isn’t just another well-being app. It’s a program to help you build resilience, understand yourself better, and thrive in the face of change through interactive activities. Sign up for meQ at webmdhealth.com/wellwisconsin and complete a short questionnaire to begin your personalized experience today.   

Looking for mental health support? Get support with mental health coaching from specialists who have certifications to support the management of depression, anxiety, grief, PTSD, dealing with crises and much more. Learn more about mental health coaching options today by calling 1 800 821 6591.  

Hear what a fellow Well Wisconsin coaching participant has to say about their experience.   

Coaching Participant:  Having somebody to kind of talk to or learn to open up and share with, uh, I think being the bigger thing for me, uh, this was, uh, it was very beneficial.  I had a pretty challenging year with, um, loss of quite a few, um, friends, um, and a, uh, parent, and, uh, also with, uh, some changes in, in life and so forth. And I work in a job that’s, uh, routinely we, um, we don’t open up to people. We just help everybody and we, uh, kind of take it all in, um, work for the fire, fire service. 

So, you know, we tend to be a little more, um, uh, just take care of ourselves kind of thing. So, uh, learning to, again, to kind of open or to start thinking about things, uh, to just have somebody to, you know, to listen was big because it was a very challenging year.  

Host:  Thanks for listening today. I hope you enjoyed the show.  You can find our survey in the Well Wisconsin portal and our transcripts and previous episodes at webmdhealthservices.com/wellwisconsinradio. If you’re listening to this podcast on your platform of choice, please be sure to subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode. 

Show Notes

To forgive or not to forgive…are you asking yourself this question and wondering if it is time to start the process of forgiving another or yourself? Our podcast guest for this episode is Dr. Robert Enright, a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute, who is often described as the “father of forgiveness research” because of his commitment over the past four decades to researching and implementing forgiveness programs. We discuss the connection between forgiveness and well-being, the steps you can take to begin your forgiveness journey, and resources to help you get started. We also talk about the role of forgiveness in resolving our conflicts with others. We hope you’ll tune in.

Check out resources referenced in the podcast and books by Robert D. Enright, PhD at the International Forgiveness Institute.

The information in this podcast does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used as a substitute for health care from a licensed healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare provider for individualized treatment or before beginning any new program. 

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