Serious Stuff or Fluff?

To err is human, to forgive . . . trendy

Until recently, psychologists regarded forgiveness as the business of clergy and theologians. But now mental health experts are subjecting forgiveness to the microscope of scientist scrutiny--with no apologies:

o Last fall saw the founding of the International Forgiveness Institute, headed by the University of Wisconsin's Robert Enright, Ph.D.

o In April, Maryland psychologist Frederick DiBlasio, Ph.D., hosted a two-day conference to teach therapists how to foster forgiving.

o Mack Harnden, Ph.D., is already busy arranging "Jerusalem 2000," an international forgiveness congress scheduled to take place you-know-where-and-when.

"Some people think it's really fluffy stuff," admits Enright, who doesn't help matters when he describes forgiveness as a "gift" and the process of forgiving as a "journey."

But recent research makes clear the value of forgiveness. In one study, when Enright and Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., interviewed a group of incest survivors, none expressed any desire to forgive their perpetrators. The duo assigned half of the women to some forgiveness workshops anyway--and not only did all eventually forgive, but a year later they reported far less anxiety and depression than a non forgiving control group. "I have never seen such strong results with incest survivors" says Enright.

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Forgiving, however, does not mean letting the guilty party off the hook. "It's not excusing or forgetting--it's giving up resentment that you're entitled to," explains Enright. The paradox, he says, is that "by giving this gift to the other, it is the gift-giver who becomes psychologically healed."

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