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Charity and Forgivness

9/10/2006 - 7:00 AM PST

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Jesslyn McManus on Replacing Hatred With Love

ARLINGTON, Virginia, SEPT. 10, 2006 (Zenit)- The cultivation of Christian charity in the wake of forgiveness can go a long way to improving mental health, says a Catholic doctoral extern therapist.

So says Jesslyn McManus, of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, who presented her research on forgiveness therapy for the Society of Catholic Social Scientists at its last national meeting. In this interview with us, McManus shares her views on working through hatred and resentment in order to build a sense of self rooted in love.

Q: Many would agree that it is good to forgive one's enemies, and that forgiveness contributes to mental health. So why is it sometimes difficult to let go of anger or hatred toward those who have hurt us?

McManus: In recent years, forgiveness has come to be seen by many as an effective means to bring about psychological healing to those who are suffering from the effects of an injustice.

Anger, whether outwardly expressed or defensively denied, is a reoccurring theme in psychotherapy.

Forgiveness therapy models, such as those offered by Robert Enright and Richard Fitzgibbons; E. Worthington; and F. DiBlasio, offer an alternative to common methods for dealing with anger and resentment, which rely primarily upon expression and/or the use of medication.

Forgiveness therapy is used in order to help people gradually let go of resentment and hatred, which causes stress and psychological pain.

After working through each of the phases in the "forgiveness model," the client is able to make a moral response of goodness toward the offender.

However, when anger and hatred come to take on a central role in one's life, problems may arise even when one has successfully worked through the forgiveness stages and the dispositions are abandoned. These difficulties, which may become apparent in "post-forgiveness therapy," need to be addressed with empathy, genuine care and skillful guidance.

Given its vivacious quality, hatred has a powerful attraction which is difficult to resist. Although forgiveness contributes to mental health, it is sometimes difficult to let go of anger or hatred toward those who have hurt us because of the psychological "benefits" these emotional states provide.

Pain or hurt is usually underlying anger or hatred. Therefore, hatred can be seen as a way to protect oneself from damage to one's self-image or concept. However, these "rewards," which are associated with egocentric gratification, only perpetuate hatred and impede psychological and spiritual health.

Q: What kinds of psychological benefits does hatred provide on a short-term basis that makes it difficult to let go of?

McManus: As psychologists Paul Vitz and Philip Mango point out, hatred can be used to defend against painful memories and emotions.

As long as one hates, he or she does not have to confront or experience the underlying pain and suffering caused by the offender. It also keeps one from recognizing that one's self is flawed and that others have positive attributes.

In addition, hatred may become so pronounced that it comes to provide a sense of meaning or purpose in one's life and makes one feel alive and powerful.

In cases where intense hatred persists over a long period of time, it may also come to serve as a means of self-identification.

A person may come to define himself in a negative way, by contrasting himself with the one he hates. Those who find themselves in this situation may experience an existential crisis and psychological pain manifested in the form of profound feelings of emptiness, upon letting go of the hatred.

Q: What is it about our postmodern culture that leads people to latch onto hatred for a sense of identity, and how can a person move toward an accurate sense of self devoid of negative attitudes?

McManus: In its forms of deconstruction as well as its rejection of universal truths, postmodern culture produces a society in which "knowing oneself" proves to be a difficult task.

The absence of tradition and shared meaning and values characteristic of postmodern society has resulted in a fragile, empty sense of self. This condition leads people to turn to such things as consumerism to fill the vacant self as Phillip Cushman states.

This lack of rootedness, combined with a fragmented sense of reality, makes it difficult for one to establish a firm sense of where one came from and who one is today.

This sets up a context in which self-identification through hatred will flourish.

A person can move toward an accurate sense of self devoid of negative attitudes by fulfilling their vocation as relational beings, who are ...

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1 - 1 of 1 Comments

  1. Jen Leaf
    2 years ago

    What a refreshing change to read an article about a psychological problem and hear a treatment that is not only consistent with Catholicism, but also discusses vocation and seeking holiness. I hope you publish many more articles of this type. Excellent!

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