Stanford Forgiveness Project


Carl E. Thoresen, Ph.D., Principal Investigator and Professor of Education
Psychology and Psychiatry, Stanford University



Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., Project Director, Stanford Center for Research in
Disease Prevention, Stanford University


Forgiveness of others and of oneself is the poignant theme that emerges as a painful end-of-life lesson for a dying man, in the best-selling book Tuesdays With Morrie by Albom (1997). Like so many of us who are deeply hurt when a friend disappoints us, Morrie had never forgiven his friend for not coming to see his wife when she was terminally ill in the hospital. Although his friend later asked for Morrie's forgiveness, explaining that he had shown his own weakness and inability to cope with illness and death, Morrie was not able to forgive him. On his deathbed Morrie realizes the pain and emotional suffering that he has carried with him throughout his life because he could not forgive his friend. Failing to reconcile unresolved anger and blame for past hurt or offense can cause immeasurable physical and emotional health problems in people's lives.

All major religious traditions and wisdoms extol the value of forgiveness. Forgiveness has been advocated for centuries as a balm for hurt and angry feelings. Yet effective means for engendering forgiveness as a way of dealing with life's problems has often been lacking. While these teachings are often based on exhortations to forgive, limited practical training is provided on how to actually forgive an offender. Professionals have observed from clinical practice that clients who were able to forgive saw improvement in psychological and sometimes physical health. Many sources suggest that forgiveness can lead to decreased anger, depression and anxiety, and stress as well as enhanced well being, including peace of mind.

Research based on controlled studies has recently shown that forgiveness training can be effective in reducing hurt and stress. The Stanford Forgiveness Project will focus on training forgiveness as a way to ameliorate the anger and distress involved in feeling hurt. This can have important implications for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. The need for forgiveness emerges from a body of work demonstrating harmful effects of unmanaged anger and hostility on health. In AO er .g--Kills, Williams and Williams (1993) summarized studies on harmful effects of hostility on cardiovascular health as well as on interpersonal relationships. Research has suggested that heart attack patients were often able to demonstrate less anger and hostility and thus reduce morbidity when they acted in a more forgiving way. They also reported improved overall quality of life.

In addition, increased forgiveness can be a tool for enhancing existing interpersonal relationships. An earlier Stanford study conducted by Dr. Frederic Luskin, found that young adults who felt hurt or offended made substantial improvements in reducing anger and blame and increased their willingness and confidence to use forgiveness in offensive situations. For example, the students had a 70% reduction in how much hurt they felt as well as a 20% reduction in their general experience of anger. Of note, the results of this study suggest that women may forgive more readily than men. Our new study plans to clarify those differences, and provide information for developing gender specific forgiveness training.

Through our work we have developed a unique and practical definition of forgiveness. Our definition of forgiveness holds that forgiveness consists primarily of taking less personal offense, reducing anger and the blaming of the offender, and developing increased understanding of situations that often lead to feeling hurt and angry. This study will train participants in new ways to both think and feel about interpersonal hurts. Forgiveness can be thought of as a transforming experience that fosters more positive emotions and less negative thoughts about others as well as oneself

If successful, this study could have important implications for healthcare and education. Forgiveness could be offered as part of primary as well as acute and chronic care health programs. Forgiveness holds great promise as one approach to conflict resolution and violence cessation. Programs in home and work settings could be developed and made age specific. The Stanford Forgiveness Project is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

If you are experiencing unresolved anger towards another person at work or in your personal life and would like to learn how to reduce interpersonal hurts and feel more at peace with yourself and others, we would like to invite you to join the program. Please call Stephanie Evans, Ph.D., Project Coordinator (650-400-5050, or email sevansgieland.stanford.edu).

The Stanford Forgiveness Project is seeking individuals between the ages of 25-49 to participate in six-week program, with meetings scheduled once a week for up to 90 minutes, beginning early in 1999 and continuing throughout the Spring. Meetings will be held on the Stanford campus or at a mid-peninsula location, towards the end of the workday for the convenience of the participants. There will be ample parking, and a $25 award for each participant on completion of the program.