The Power of Forgiveness
By Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor, Januray 28, 1999
Little Earl and his mom and dad were having a terrible time. Diagnosed as hyperactive and defiant at school and at home, the redheaded seven-year-old with a sprinkle of freckles 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, his parents’ relationship with each other had improved, and he no longer needed the Ritalin or Prozac he was being given for hyperactivity. He began to do well in school.
Both he and his parents had found a third way to deal with their anger. Rather than denying or venting it, they had learned how to forgive. And their answer is one that is being explored much more widely today.
Forgiveness has remarkable healing power in the lives of those who utilize it, says Richard Fitzgibbons, the Philadelphia psychiatrist who worked with Earl and is one of the pioneers in introducing forgiveness into the mental health field.
Forgiveness is a hot topic now in many areas, from academic research to marital and family counseling to politics and community life. “Forgiveness is now being rediscovered as a creative human faculty for overcoming estrangement, says Lewis Smedes, professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., in Dimensions of Forgiveness(Templeton Foundation Press, 1998).
Forgiveness is more than a moral imperative, more than a theological dictum. It is the only means, given our humanness and imperfections, to overcome hate and condemnation and proceed with the business of growing and loving, says Paul Coleman, a psychologist in Wappinger Falls, N.Y.
Forgiveness has a spiritual component, Dr. Coleman says, a grace from God, if you will, and spirituality has only become a little more accepted in the mental health field in the last decade.
Dr. Worthington, author of To Forgive Is Human, says the key ingredient is empathy. The degree to which a person can empathize is related strongly to the degree they can forgive. Given what is happening in the world, he adds, forgiveness has the potential to be enormously influential in the 21st century. Research will also soon show, he says, that it will be very healthy not just to forgive an event or a person but to have a forgiving character.
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