College of Education Self-Care

  • Participants at the self-care drum session
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Self-care and forgiveness

October 2, 2023

Dear College of Education Community,

It is important that we take regular care of ourselves, and this includes attending to our wellbeing when interacting with others. When engaged in difficult relationships, this can be challenging. One of the hardest things to do is to forgive others for the injustices that we have experienced. And yet, according to Dr. Bob Enright, a professor in the College of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, forgiveness is one of the most important ways we can take care of ourselves.  

DR. Enright explains, “To understand what forgiveness is, it is important to consider what forgiveness is not. The act of forgiveness does not suggest you have forgotten the injustice. Nor does it imply you condone or excuse the wrongdoer. You are not condemning; that only leads to forgiveness that stems from moral superiority. What’s more, you are not seeking justice or compensation.

When you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, you let go of resentment and the urge to seek revenge, no matter how deserving of these things the wrongdoer may be. You give the great gifts of acceptance, generosity and love. Though the wrongdoer does not deserve these gifts, you don’t let that stand in your way. You give, not out of pity, not out of grim obligation. Rather, you give because you have chosen to have a merciful heart. A heart with the power to free yourself so you can live a better life.

Yes, forgiveness is a paradox–something that may sound illogical but still works. It is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer’s actions deserve it. It is giving the gifts of mercy, generosity and love when the wrongdoer’s actions indicate that he/she does not deserve them. As we give the gift of forgiveness, we ourselves are healed.”

According to Dr. Enright, the following points are important to understand when engaging in forgiveness:

Forgiveness happens one step at a time: To lead a forgiving life, you must take one forgiveness step at a time and forgive a particular person for a particular event, and then realize that this could be more than just a onetime event that makes you feel good. It can be a way of practicing goodness toward others who have been unfair to us starting from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood and beyond.

Forgiveness does not excuse the wrong: People also think that when they forgive they are excusing what the other person did, saying, "It's okay." Forgiveness is stronger than that. Forgiveness stands on the truth that what happened to me was unfair, it is unfair, and it will always be unfair, but I will have a new response to it.

Forgiveness does not mean going into an unhealthy relationship again: Another misunderstanding is that people acquaint forgiving and reconciling. They say "Because I have a response of goodness towards the other, a sense of mercy and compassion towards another who has hurt me, I must now go into an unhealthy relationship again." No - forgiveness is a moral virtue like justice. Reconciliation is not a moral virtue - it takes two people or more to come together again in mutual trust. One can forgive without reconciling; one does forgive without ever excusing; when one forgives it is never from a position of weakness and when one forgives one also seeks justice at the same time. It's a very strong position.

 Forgiving oneself is the most difficult- “You know [who] is the hardest to forgive? Hands down, yourself,” says Dr. Enright. “Forgiving oneself is the roughest, because we tend to be hardest on ourselves. When we let ourselves down, our conscience, of course, keeps whispering, and we don’t want to let ourselves off the hook. My counsel to people is this: ask, ‘Have you forgiven others?’ The answer almost always is, ‘Yes.’ What does that involve? Well, it involves gentleness toward the other. It involves seeing them as having worth … and having mercy on [them], because they are special, unique, and irreplaceable — not because of what they’ve done, but in spite of it. So then I say, ‘Now go and do for yourself what you have done for others. Turn that gentleness on yourself.’ ”

For more information about forgiveness, read the following APA recommended books by Dr. Enright

Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope

Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope

The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love

For a list of other self-care options, you can also go to our COE self-care website for resources for faculty, staff, students, and the community at

Forgiveness can be a gift if practiced with the understanding that in doing this, we also are moving forward in making our world a better place.