31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2003
This book is an effective combination of research report, case study and self-help book. Luskin's work is groundbreaking, fascinating and accessible.
Fred Luskin, Ph.D., Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, is authoritative and professional, without for a moment being dry and academic, in his forgiveness seminars. This book exhibits the same directness and expertise, in a crisp, clear and very personal style.
Real life examples drawn from Luskin’s active counselling practice are sprinkled throughout the book to illuminiate and illustrate his reserach findings and academic work. Luskin told me that, when he first submitted the manuscript, an editor handed it back to him with sweeping alterations that put everything into ‘proper’ English, taking the life out of it. Fortunately for readers, he stood his ground and insisted that his own voice remain.
Ease of reading is important, as the material can be difficult. Many of us were taught ‘forgive and forget,’ which in our minds connected the act of forgiveness with allowing ourselves to be hurt again by the same person. To forgive,we learned, meant to ‘overcome’ the hurt, or to ‘forget’ it and reconcile with the person who hurt us.
But Luskin’s work leads us toward a different process. Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness, or forgetting pain, not excusing bad behaviour, denying or minimizing your hurt. Shame, guilt, redemption, reconciliation-- are not necessarily connected with forgiveness. Clinging to these ideas can prevent us from moving into a healthier state of mind and body.
Luskin's research, and the cases he shares from his practice as a psychologist, show that forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the offender. It is, essentially, a decision not to let past hurts continue to colour your present and future life. To forgive is to take back your personal power and responsibility for your own emotions. More important, forgiveness is about healing yourself, not about the person who hurt you. What’s more, and most promising, Luskin’s research shows that forgiveness is skill that can be learned, just like tying your shoes.
Part One of Forgive for Good sets out the elements of grievance, blame and our tendency to take things personally that were never meant that way. The fine art of nursing a grudge is examined, as are the physical, emotional and psychological implications of doing so.
In Part Two, the elements of forgiveness are presented, along with the medical evidence and a dramatic example of the effectiveness of deciding to forgive. In chapter seven, ‘The Science of Forgiveness,’ Luskin distills key research from a number of scientific studies which show that forgiveness improves physical as well as emotional and mental health. Then he gets specific and, in addition to detailing his earlier research, tells us about his work, aptly named HOPE, with mothers from Northern Ireland who lost sons, and a second programme for both men and women who lost family members in ‘the troubles.’
The positive results of the Northern Ireland programmes were deeply gratifying, and, Luskin admits, surprising even to him. He was not confident that his methods could work with people so deeply wounded. But, he concludes, ‘I marvel at the implications of these results. They demonstrate the incredible power of human beings to heal from even the most blatant of horrors. They reinforce my belief that people can learn to forgive.’
Part Three is a clear, practicable handbook on the process of forgiveness developed by Dr. Luskin. He is sublimely articulate and complete; the exposition of the material is logical, specific and practical. By working the exercises and techniques in the book, the reader can virtually complete the course Dr. Luskin teaches.
To cite one example, PERT (don’t be misled by the cute acronyms; this is serious work)– Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique. Through it, he says, ‘We gain tremendous confidence when we are suddenly faced with a painful situation or memory and are able to sustain our positive focus. Practising PERT helps us stay calm so we can make good decisions.’ Then Luskin gives detailed, simple instructions for the technique, which is essentially a relaxation and refocusing process that can be learned in less than half an hour.
The final chapter summarizes the process with ‘Nine Steps to Forgiveness.’ The steps include knowing what happened, how you feel about it and be able to articulate it; making a clear decision to do what you need to do to feel better; giving up expecting things from people that they do not choose to give you; and understanding your goal-- which is, quite simply, peace.
Luskin says, ‘Forgiveness can be defined as the peace and understanding that come from blaming less that which has hurt you [and] taking the experience less personally.’
Ironically, the final manuscript was ready for publication ten days after the September eleventh debacle in 2001. Luskin’s ‘Note to the Reader’ at the back of the book is alone worth the price of a copy. In part: ‘To help make sense of the relative importance of forgiveness at this time, think about the balance of a scale. On one end, there is vengeance and on the other forgiveness. At first the forgiveness end is up in the air, as it carries little weight against the strong desire for retaliation. It is when we are in this position that ensuring safety and protecting ourselves is most critical. As time goes by and justice is served, the need for personal healing becomes more and more important. Forgiveness, not forgetting, not condoning and not reconciling with offenders, is one of the powerful tools that we can use.’