Popular Science features expertise of UW-Madison’s Enright on psychology of forgiveness

Popular Science magazine recently featured the expertise of UW-Madison’s Robert Enright in an article on forgiveness.

Enright, a professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology, has been researching how forgiveness affects wellbeing at locations across the globe for more than three decades.


According to Popular Science, expanding research on the topic suggests that living with anger can be harmful to both mental and physical health. However, forgiving someone can be more complicated than it sounds.

Many are concerned that forgiving someone is about the other person and might mean letting an abuser back into their lives, or showing kindness to someone that doesn’t necessarily deserve it. Enright and other forgiveness scholars, though, consider forgiveness to be a conscious decision that is completely internal.

“Most people have used the word forgiveness all their lives,” Enright tells Popular Science. “We have these really harmful colloquial ideas about what forgiveness is.”

Enright goes on to explain that the key is to separate ideas of reconciliation and forgiveness. While reconciliation is a negotiation process meant to save or preserve something, forgiveness is a virtue that guides actions and is meant to provide relief.

Noting that forgiveness is a choice for people who have been deeply hurt by another, Enright has constructed a framework for teaching people how to forgive and developed it into a 20-step program. The program is divided into four phases: uncovering your anger, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness, and discovery and release from emotional pain.

The first step towards forgiveness is deciding not to harm the person who hurt you, but it’s not about ‘hugging it out,’ like colloquial ideas would suggest. It’s about letting go of a desire to hurt or demean that person somehow. “In the face of being harmed,” Enright says, “You’re choosing to do the opposite.”

Read the Popular Science article here.

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