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Ep. 164: Nathaniel Wade - Pathway to Forgiveness

September 16, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 164
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Ep. 164: Nathaniel Wade - Pathway to Forgiveness
Show Notes Transcript

Douglas Horton has said, “While seeking revenge, dig two graves - one for yourself.” Nothing is quite as satisfying as well-executed revenge where by taking  justice into one’s own hands feels empowering, quenching the thirst for fairness. However, there’s another option;  conventional wisdom often refers to as taking the higher road; letting the better-self win against the catty, shallow, and spiteful self. So why do we struggle to forgive?

On this episode, Professor of Psychology,  Director of Training for the Counseling Psychology Program, and Founding Director of Network Community Counseling Services, Nathaniel Wade, Ph.D., discusses forgiveness as a mechanism for successful emotional, cognitive, and even spiritual coping when dealing with hurt and the transgressions of others. While forgiveness marks emotional maturation and symbolizes personal healing it is as much of an art as science!

About Nathaniel Wade
Nathaniel Wade received his PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2003 and joined Iowa State that same year. He is a Professor of Psychology, the Director of Training for the Counseling Psychology Program, and Founding Director of Network Community Counseling Services. He is also a licensed Psychologist in the state of Iowa. Dr. Wade’s research interests center on the processes and outcomes of psychotherapy. Specifically, he has worked in the area of developing and testing interventions to promote forgiveness, understanding the impact of integrating religion and spirituality into psychotherapy, and exploring and developing interventions to reduce the stigma associated with seeking counseling. He has published over 100 articles and book chapters, he is co-editor of two scholarly Handbooks, and has received grant funding from federal and private granting agencies. When not working, Dr. Wade spends time with his family and loves to pretend he is still in his 20’s and plays soccer each week.


About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal: Exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host, Sucheta Kamath. I believe by tying the findings from neuroscience, psychology and education into everyday transformation, a lot can happen to our personal and collective growth. This podcast is fueled by three goals. And you might have to forgive me for repeating some of this, but one is to explain what executive function truly is and how it is crucial for our personal development, self-sufficiency, and even moral development. Second, is to help motivate the current self to investigate the blind spots for personal challenges, to learn new ways of being so that the future self is better off. And lastly, but not least, not the least is help people create a playbook for personal success by mastering executive function skills with specific ideas, tips and strategies. And once particular skill we're going to talk about is forgiveness. And I'm wondering, you know, starting in April of 1994, for next 100 days, the Rwanda Hutus went on a killing spree, annihilating close to 1 million Rwandan Tutsis, their fellow countrymen. Among the dead were several of John Paul's family, you know, so I'm going to share the story of John Paul Samputu. And he is now become an activist. And he writes, there's a wonderful project I'm going to about about to explain to you but the shark was so great that I started drinking and taking drugs to forget, I wanted to take revenge and wanted to kill Vincent. Vincent was his neighbor. And he actually killed his eight year old, father, and his siblings and his mother, and many his family members. But I couldn't find him so I started killing myself. And this is the bane of today's conversation, you know how desire to take revenge festers into our hearts, maybe even causing incredible destruction. Douglas Horton once said that while seeking revenge, dig two graves, one for yourself. So nothing is quite satisfying as well executed revenge, where by taking the Justice into one's own hands feels empowering, quenching the thirst for fairness. However, there is another option. The conventional wisdom often refers to that as taking the higher road, letting the better self when against the catty, shallow and spiteful self, then why do we struggle with forgiveness. So today's guest is going to totally open that for us and it's good to share his wisdom. Today we have Nathaniel Wade, who received his PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2003. He then joined Iowa State the same year he is a professor of psychology. They're also the Director of Training for the counseling and psychology, Counseling Psychology program and founder, founding director of network community Counseling Service. He is also a licensed psychologist in the state of Iowa, His research interests center on the process, and outcomes of psychotherapy, which is fantastic, because a lot of times our guests have been researchers, but he has true hands on experience of how to make the difference using the science and findings. He has published over 100 articles, books, chapters, he is a co editor of two scholarly handbooks and has received grant funding from federal and private grant agencies. I can't wait for his book, I hope it's in the making. Welcome to the podcast. Nathaniel, how are you? 

Nathaniel Wade: I'm great. Thanks so much for having me on. 

Sucheta Kamath: So human relationships are complex and interactions amongst us are often laden with complicated interpersonal and interpersonal transgressions, leading to one offending the other with or without intending to do so. Right. So what offenses are worthy of forgiveness? Or maybe first question should be what is forgiveness?

Nathaniel Wade: It's a great place to start. Forgiveness, trying to define it is really tricky when you actually get down to it. So I come from, like you mentioned in the introduction, I come from both a kind of a science and practice perspective. So anytime we're trying to do scientific studies of a particular topic, we need to try and figure out what it is that we're studying. So figuring out what forgiveness is, has took up a lot of time early on in psychological studies of forgiveness back that goes back to about the the late 80s into the 90s. So for me because I'm mostly interested in studying forgiveness in these clinical settings. So when someone comes to counseling, comes to psychotherapy, they've been hurt in pretty dramatic ways often, and they have a desire to forgive, but they haven't been able to figure it out, like how do I do this, I can't get beyond the rumination I can't get beyond the anger or the depression, or the anxiety that's associated with this person or this offense. So that's kind of where I'm most interested in. So for me, I'm really interested in forgiveness, that is more than just setting aside revenge, which is an important part of forgiveness. But it's about for me not only letting go of the bitterness, not only letting go of the negative, maybe vengeful rumination, but it's also about taking on something more about transforming those emotions into something else. Oftentimes, if people are hurt by people who are close to them, it's about restoring the relationship that they had with that person to some degree. And so for me, it's about forgiveness itself is about a restoration of kind of pro social attitudes and feelings toward that person, not necessarily a reconciliation, which perhaps we can come back to later. But an important part of the process may or may not be restoring the relationship. 

Sucheta Kamath: It's so interesting. So what I'm understanding is there is one, any hurt, which is basically can I say that hurt, the origin of hurt is a disappointment, or a letdown or a manipulation or exploitation. There are many forms of hurt, right? And it's right. Secondly, once the hurt occurs, we have this deep. And we have had, you know, Dr. Martin, Ryan Martin, who talked about this, you know, components of anger, one is fairness, second is for treatment. And third is goal blockage. So those are three reasons we can angry. And to somebody who puts their goals ahead of us, somebody who is unfair to us, or somebody is, has these assumptions about our worthiness can lead to a sense of hurt. So yes, then I am going to share something, you know, when I was a young, young girl, I hated to be hated being teased, I had a lot of nicknames, but given my own my family, and which is not like nicknames as a bad thing, it was nicknames as many ways of like, you know, enduring ways. But some nicknames were not kind of flattering, which is very annoying. And the teasing, as you know, was making fun of rather than it wasn't done as in a good spirit, it felt like there was some meanness to it. And, but what was so interesting is, that was the whole family dynamic that my distant cousins, my uncles, aunts, my grandparents, they all talk to each other like that, they are very verbal, but they talk like that. And if you express some sense of hurt, they will come on, I'm just joking. So I felt picking on people was not nice, it was poor treatment, you know, now that understand that framework, and it was done in poor taste. But by that stance, I often got this label if you're too sensitive, and then it kind of shut down even my desire to object to not do that to children, you know, part of my reason to go into and I'm very protective of children, is the source wondering, this kind of hurt doesn't necessarily beg for forgiveness, does it? Because it's not extreme. Like, you know, we talk you talk about, and we'll get to it, but more severe forms of hurt. So can we start from this low tech hurt? And how do we deal with that? It's really, I don't know, a tiny needles, not a dagger.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, I think so many hurts that people carry are just like that. It's, it's, you know, if one time your uncle teased you one time with a nickname, you probably wouldn't even remember it to be able to talk to me about it. But if it was 100 times or 100,000 times, it starts to weigh, particularly if that's a sensitivity for you, which again, is something that we all vary on what what kind of lands on our radar. And so I think that absolutely is within the realm of the forgiveness topic. And so, you know, for me, you know, that may even be something that somebody brings to a counseling situation, you could even I can easily imagine someone who's, oh, yeah, well, you know, we've got this holiday coming up. And I'm going to be seeing all these people again. And I just don't want to, why don't you want to what, tell me about that? Well, they always come up with these nicknames. Okay, let's talk about this. Right. And so, you know, part of the forgiveness process that we often talk about, and is so crucial in therapy is the idea of being able to kind of set the boundary first. Yeah, before we try to move towards forgiveness. And so you know, you think of what some researchers call pseudo forgiveness, or you might think of it as like a harmful or fake forgiveness is the kind of forgiveness It's like, Oh, okay. Like you did to me, okay, I'll just take it. Right. And a lot of people are rightfully upset about that kind of a forgiveness. Wait, where's the justice? Wait, where's the the righteous anger? And for us, you know, at least in my work, I think that's a crucial part of it. So if I'm working with a client, the very first thing I want to do is talk about, where do you draw the line? So now you're an adult, do you get to say to your family members, Don't call me that? I don't appreciate it. And I don't want you to call me that. That seemed very appropriate to me. Maybe before we even start talking about you forgiving what they've said to you.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow. And you know, I will tell you, sorry, Dr. Wade, this is becoming a session. I'm sorry. 

Nathaniel Wade: I can't help it. I'm sorry. 

Sucheta Kamath: I bet Thanksgiving for you. It's like, Oh, my God, start paying people. 

Nathaniel Wade: Hey, and me too. You know, my wife has to counsel me. So there. 

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, yes. And you know, as you're saying about all these things, I just realized a no, as an adult, I began to assert, and people thought, Well, you know, he or she is like, okay, okay, she doesn't like it. You know, like, then I got teased about, like, being like fright coming. I remember, it was a hilarious story. But my, my, my mother's sister, she's a few years younger, and she had two children who are like, five, six years younger to me. And when I was in college, I stayed with them. And during that period, so by then they were like, you know, I was 19. So they were 14-15, you know, and then my my, my aunt got pregnant, and then I decided to open my big fat mouth and counseled her how she should deliver this to her children that she's now going to have another baby. And she thought, like, why do they need to even know they had their children, you know, like, so there was no plan of telling the kids or any, it might disrupt family dynamics. And here, I was spreading and sweating about what's going to happen to this children. So bottom line is, as you can see, I'm very sensitive. Okay, I get it. So as he, 

Nathaniel Wade: Which is a gift, I'll just say and I just put it out there. It's a gift. 

Sucheta Kamath: When I started telling people, I'm very perceptive, I don't tell people I'm sensitive. I tell I'm very perceptive. And I think so I understand human relationships. Love that. And I deeply care about it. So what is the relationship between anger and forgiveness? And what what are the processes of as you go through come to the stage of forgiveness? What happens to human emotions when you're hurt?

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, so for me, I look at, you know, anger as a basic emotion. And I follow the work of Les Greenberg, and others who have done emotion focused therapy, where they're talking about, you know, emotions teach us things teach us very important things. They give us important information. So if we're angry, there's something important there, yes. Now, a lot of us don't like to feel angry, or a lot of us have been taught by our families or culture, we can't be angry, or you have to, you know, really strangle your anger, whatever it is. So then forgiveness gets to be one of those ways by which society controls anger, well, you're just supposed to forgive. And again, like I said before, that is not where I'm coming from at all. So the relationship between anger and forgiveness for me, is really about like the steps. So anger is giving important information, what's happening. Now, if this is anger, about something that happened 10 years ago, we want to process that we want to talk about it, and then we can probably start moving toward forgiveness. If this is anger about something happened yesterday, then we're not going to be talking about forgiveness right away. You know, we need to be figuring out, like, what happened? What steps do you need to take to keep yourself safe? What steps do you need to take to communicate to the person who hurt you that that isn't, isn't Okay, that you're not going to allow that, you know, do you have to bring in resources to do that, you know, the help of a therapist or the help of a family member or you know, whatever, to be able to do that. And then once that gets, again established, to in essence, do we, once we respond to the anger, like what the anger is teaching us that these boundaries have been violated, then then later, we can move toward okay. And if you're having trouble having trouble putting away the anger, now we can start working on that. And then we move toward forgiveness, which to me is more of like a, you know, a process or a state not not quite an emotion in the same way that anger is, you know, you don't all of a sudden, well, I guess some people do all of a sudden feel forgiving. But it's, to me, it's different than that, like when I'm moving with clients and working with them on forgiveness, I'm moving more toward a state. That includes, like I said, the reduction in these kind of difficult or uncomfortable, bitter kinds of emotions, more toward pro social loving, empathic kinds of feelings, that that then that those together Other makeup, the process of forgiveness.

Sucheta Kamath: So it's interesting, maybe you can tell us a little bit our listeners about the term pro social, because people may not understand that. And I'm curious, if you see a bridge between once you know toning down your emotions, so kind of bringing them down, like their high level of rage or a high level of spitefulness, then you can be down. So would equanimity or would that be at the end because the pro social, or even loving kindness feelings towards somebody has been perpetrator sounds so hugely for people.

Nathaniel Wade: Right, exactly. And those are toward the end, the equanimity or the idea of a loving kindness stance towards someone who has hurt us is really kind of, for me like a last step in this forgiveness process. And it's also I would say, a fluid place. So one of the things that we talk about and, and our kind of organized interventions when we provide them to people specifically on forgiveness, one of the things that we often talk about at the end is, and this comes from Everett Worthington's work, and his REACH model, the last reach stands for five steps of forgiveness. And the last one, H is holding on to forgiveness.

Sucheta Kamath: Can you just walk us through the REACH.

Nathaniel Wade: So R is recalling the hurt. So that's kind of what we've been talking about right now. You know, it's, it's giving people space to talk about what happened. So in the forgiveness process, we aren't shutting down people, we aren't telling them, oh, it wasn't that bad, or you need to just get over it or forgive and forget, no, we don't do that at all, we tell what happened, tell us, let's explore this, let's understand it. And then in E once the person has had a chance to talk about it, he is empathy, building empathic understanding for the other person's situation. And so most of the time, when we're hurt, we're hurt by people. You know, who've done something mean, done something bad, done something hurtful, traumatic, even. But a lot of times those people are just trying to solve problems that they're having. Now, they might be self centered in the way that they're doing it, they may be inconsiderate in the way that they're doing it. But most people aren't looking to hurt just to hurt people for their own, you know, for the fun of it. And so if we try and get some empathy for the person situation, that really can help a lot. And then A is altruistic gift or acknowledging forgiveness, we kind of think of those as two steps where basically, you're moving to an understanding, and this continues to help build empathy. It's whenever I've been someone who's hurt another, you know, when have I really stung someone? And when I did that, and I realized it well, how did I feel? Was I like, Oh, good, well, sometimes I might have been, but a lot of times, I'm not a lot of times, I'm like, oh, shoot, now, I might not admit it to the person. But inside, I'm kind of like, Oh, I wish I hadn't done that, or I wish it hadn't come out that way. And I kind of wish that the person would forgive me. And so there's kind of an acknowledgment of like, that shared humanity, that, that if we can get that sense of like, the person who hurt me is also like me, and I'm like them, then that grows that empathic understanding, which is a big when you get that that's a big leap toward forgiveness. And so then, when you get to C, the fourth step, that's committing to forgiveness. And so we acknowledge that forgiveness is hard, and we kind of have to make a commitment to doing it. And when we've gotten there, we kind of make a commitment that says, like, okay, I've made this progress. And so we do, do some interventions and do some activities around that. And then the last one, H, holding on to forgiveness, wow, that's the one where it's, we acknowledge, hey, just because you've gotten to a place with me, as a therapist, where you feel like I feel more forgiving, doesn't mean you're always going to stay there particularly emotionally. So emotionally, you might get, I mean, just imagine you haven't seen the person who hurt you and six months and all of a sudden, you know, out of the blue they call you or you see them in the store or somebody close to you starts talking about them and what happens Well, looks pretty likely you're gonna get that Oh, no, all those emotions are gonna come back. It doesn't mean you haven't forgiven. And you can remind yourself of that executive function to bring yourself back down on the emotion side and come back to kind of the reasons the rationality of like, Wait a second, okay, I've made this progress. I'm not feeling it right now. But that's okay. I've made the progress and I'm, I'm still okay with it. So that's the model we we often use and then I've kind of tweaked that in my own work depending on the setting but but that's the core we use.

Sucheta Kamath: I would love to know in what parts you have modified it and your reasons for it. But I wanted to kind of intersect with one experience I had. Not experience but as in preparation for this interview I was looking for like you know revenge is on one side, which is movies and crazy ways people have taken revenge. And you know, you know award winning movies before fantastic. Or Kill Bill if you know the whole series Kill Bill series, Quentin Tarantino for the bloodbath. And then they I came across Eve Ansler's book that she wrote a called an apology, The Apology, I don't know if you have read it, I haven't highly recommend that to everyone who's listening. One profound thing about that was, of course, she wrote this book 30 years after her father had passed away. And her father molested her since age five, until age 10. But never acknowledged and then have continued to be extremely violent, and incredibly, incredibly difficult parent. And and considering we know who she is, as an activist, as a, as a feminist, a great writer or writer, I feel she has, you know, given us a gift, but to see 30 years, it took her 30 years to compose that. But what she did in this book, she wrote a letter from her father, to her apologizing for something he never did, to her. And in many of your work, you talk about that. But it is such a profound and most beautiful way that I have read, if somebody who has been a perpetrator can take it upon themselves to bring healing to somebody that they have affected in the profound negative ways. So I would like to know a little bit about your work, and how do you study forgiveness? And how have you imbibed these principles? And maybe, maybe origin story, like what got you to think about the need for forgiveness and really healing through forgiveness? Sorry. So many questions bundled up.

Nathaniel Wade: That's okay. Shall I start up, I'll start off with the kind of the origin that'd be great. We can move into kind of what I'm doing, and kind of how I've done this. Okay, so I would say that my story around forgiveness has two parts. The first part is super simple. The second part is much more involved. Part one is, you know, to answer the question of how did I get involved in forgiveness research was basically I wanted to work with Everett Worthington at Virginia Commonwealth University. And at about the time when I applied to graduate school, which was in 1998, he had just moved into forgiveness, he had just published one of his first books on forgiveness with a couple of his grad students, and he was had a lot of different research projects going. But I didn't know that because it was too new. I was aware of his religion and spirituality work. And that was what I was really interested in is how do we use religion and spirituality in psychotherapy? Is that appropriate? How do we do that, that sort of thing. And he had done a lot of work in that. So when I showed up for graduate school, to work with him, that's for a first meeting with him. He sent me out with a stack. This is back in the days of actual paper, you know, a stack of papers that went from my waist to my chin, and said, Here's your first project, read these things. And then we're going to do a literature review, which which ended up being published in 1999. Worthington and Wade, a model of forgiveness. And

Sucheta Kamath: I just finished reading it yesterday for the first time. 

Nathaniel Wade: Thank you. So, so that was kind of very practical. He was doing it. I wanted to work with him. So I was doing it. But more that the second part then was in that first year, as I was working on that 1999 article, at the time I was married. And I've been married for about, I guess that would have been about three or four years at that point. And I found out that my wife was having an affair. And all of a sudden, all the theoretical work became very, very practical. And so, you know, it was, as you can imagine, it was a very hard, difficult time. For me, that was something that was a value of mine, that was, you know, heart wrenching that that was broken. Sorry. And, yeah, I appreciate that. And, and I've been able to go through that process. So one of the things that really stood out to me, was in our work around the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, honestly. And so I got to the point where initially, of course, I felt all the betrayal and anger and bitterness that came from that the the shock, the dismay, those things that are very common for people who have experienced this. And then, within months, I thought, I'm not ready to forgive for sure. But someday I want to right? So someday, I will I want to be able to let this kind of put this aside. But the fear was, if I put it aside and does that mean I have to get back with it.

Sucheta Kamath: Can I ask you, how did you even get that feeling because people are so engulfed in in their own negative emotions that they don't come up for air. So that's pretty interesting and amazing. You did that at such a young age. So what was that motivated?

Nathaniel Wade: You know, I think the one thing that I remember really motivating it was, I was like the narrative. And I don't know, even scientifically if this is true, but I think it is the narrative of like, it'll haunt me, wow, if I don't let it aside, like, like, even in even whether it was with her with another person in the future, does that mean then that I'm going to always be kind of afraid or always be worried that they're gonna have an affair too. And, you know, and I didn't want that. Like, I didn't want that baggage in a sense, you know, protect your future. Fantastic. I was Yes, that's really great. A great way. So yeah. Yeah. So you know, it came to the point where I realized like, because of some of our work with with Eve was, hey, forgiveness and reconciliation are actually two separate processes. So I can work on forgiveness of my first wife. And then I can make a decision about reconciliation later. Hmm. So in that process for us of what happened? And do we get back together? And where are we at? I was able to kind of focus on just the forgiveness part. Like, again, what happened to me? What, what, what did she do, what contributions maybe did I have to that? What was she going through, kind of gain some empathy for her situation, you know, all those things that I just talked about, in that that five step process came to a point of like, okay, like, I'm getting some level of forgiveness for her, you know, within first two years, within the first two years, I was like, Okay, I'm getting some, not a lot, and it didn't take much to bring the bitterness and the anger back. But yeah, I was getting some. And then I guess it was about a year and a half. And we we finally got to the point where we needed to make a decision one way or the other, we had been separated for that long. And it was time. And and that was when I took on the kind of reconciliation process do I want that or not? And I, we talked and we looked and I thought a lot. And I talked to a lot of my friends and family and finally got to the point where I was like, No, I don't want to do the reconciliation process with her. We didn't have any kids. You know, I didn't sense from her that she had any real particular overarching desire to be with me. And I thought, you know, I'm ready to move on. And so that's basically what I did is I eventually forgave her, but we never reconciled.

Sucheta Kamath: Well. Well, sorry for the mishap. But look, how many of us have benefited from that? So thank you.

Nathaniel Wade: That's right. That's right. And it really drove home like the practicality of what I was doing. Yeah, yeah. Right, and really made it important.

Sucheta Kamath: So another question comes to mind is, so is it fair to say that forgiveness is more internalized mechanism? But reconciliation involves externalizing? That process because you're involving other people with whom you're reconciling? Or kind of negotiating that space with the world? Right?

Nathaniel Wade: Absolutely. Again, I'll say kind of a shout out here to my colleagues who were in social psychology and IO and other kinds of fields, some of them would actually look at forgiveness and define it as both. They would look at forgiveness to say no, no, forgiveness is actually both it's the internal process. And it's that working on the relation I see. Whereas for me as a counseling psychologist, in a therapy setting, I want to be able to separate those out. Because what about all the clients who maybe are dealing with parents who are dead? Or who are dealing with people who are downright toxic and hurtful? I don't want to have to encourage them to get back into a relationship in order to forgive. Yeah, so I want to be able to separate those out. But again, I just want to acknowledge not all forgiveness, researchers would, would necessarily separate those out in their definition.

Sucheta Kamath: And we in fact, had you know, Frans De Wal, who is a primatologist, who has done a lot of work in reconciliation in the primates. And, and one of the things that kind of you know, when I had that conversation with him what was very striking to me that this common myth that we have floating that we are far superior to our primate compare compadres, I guess, but we're not they're doing it already. Right. Like through a hug and a kiss, I guess. And, you know, sometimes it's sex from certain primates. So um, right. Now let's let's talk about how do you measure forgiveness change or the act of forgiveness. And you also talk about unforgiving state of not unforgiving if I'm correctly there, that there's no no double negative. So maybe tell us a little bit more about that. The precursor stage of stages of that.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, so we've worked a lot. In my lab. Certainly, lots of different psychology labs have been working on kind of measurements of forgiveness. You know, mostly what we've settled on in our work is self report. So people reporting on kind of their states. And so the way then we kind of measure forgiveness, of course, we do have general measures of just like, open ended, like, we're or should say, face valid, how much Have you forgiven? Oh, we just, you know, here's what we think of forgiveness, how much have you done this thing I see. But we also back those up with other scales. So and and what you're getting at is we do have some scales that I would call kind of measures of unforgiveness. So Mike McCullough has done great work in this area. Early on in his career, he put out a scale that measured desires for revenge against and the desire to avoid the offender, you know, the offending person. And then he later he and some colleagues added benevolence, so a desire or a motivation to act benevolently toward a person but but to me that those those are those two different sides. So the unforgiveness part to me is really the, the desire for that revenge, the desire to avoid the person. And, and actually, I specifically work on kind of focusing on the revenge part, rather than the avoidance because there are some cases, as I said, clients that I'd work with that I would actually say, have forgiven, but still would score high on avoidance, because the person is just gonna hurt them again, why? Why get back, you know, and so...

Sucheta Kamath: Is it gender specific, like, men tend to seek revenge more than and women tend to avoid?

Nathaniel Wade: There's a little bit of evidence for gender differences. And of course, you know, you're tapping into, you know, kind of, at least here in the west to and probably in other cultures as well, where men are allowed to have one emotion and it's, yeah, at least traditional, right, traditional masculinity, right? If you if you follow that, and then women are, you know, basically allowed to be sad and depressed and anxious, but they're not allowed to be angry. And so you see some of that, although, you know, you look at millennials and younger, and I think a lot has changed.

Sucheta Kamath: They're going all about avoiding. Men, women doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter. Another thing just occurred to me, I watched too many crime shows, you can tell but but women tend to poison and men tend to use violent action. So poison to me is a more passive way of, you know, taking revenge, you know, right. That's right. In confrontation, we all find our way. Yeah, we find our ways go away. Yeah. Yeah. So sorry, continue, right.

Nathaniel Wade: So no, fine. So, so then we use those scales to measure and then we also look at like, like, McCullough's, Mike McCullough's scale, the benevolence that looks at trying to kind of get at that more positive feelings towards someone, we have scales of empathy, like, how empathic do you feel toward this person? I have a scale of rumination about a specific offense or, or injury that a person experienced that we use, again, to get at kind of how much do I play this over and over and over and over in my mind as a measure of forgiveness. And so all those usually when I do my studies, and most of my forgiveness worth, not all of it, but most of it is really focused on like in the, in the clinic. So what's happening, if we do an intervention with people who are interested in trying to forgive, we do some sort of kind of counseling, or psycho educational intervention with them, what happens? And then we look at all those variables, kind of as a set, and that gets us at kind of forgiveness. That's kind of how we measure that.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow. So share with us one of your favorite experiments and why.

Nathaniel Wade: But I tell you what really gets me excited. And which is kind of too bad, because you have to be a bit of a glutton for punishment to do these kinds of studies are the are the true like, you know, counseling or psychotherapy studies, where you actually train therapists, you bring in people from the community, who are really seeking help? Yeah, they're gonna study but they're really there for the counseling. And then you track all that and study all that it's super complicated at times to do, but it's so gratifying. So I think one of the ones that was probably, well, there's two that come to mind. And so one that we've been talking a lot about is forgiving other people. And so we did an intervention. We had about 150 people complete the study, we had maybe 200 people who started the study amazing number and then dropped out and so we had like, 24 I think it was 23 or 24 separate therapy groups. We put them together into small groups to do the work. 12 different therapists You know, the stories coming out of there. I say this all the time, you've probably heard this before, heard me say this before, but it's like, the, the, the, like the reports from the study the data, they always shocked me like, Oh my goodness, like this really works. Like I'm the researcher, right? I'm the one that's supposed to believe this, right? And it shocks me. Like, I'm really like, That can't be true. Like, they're just making that load. They're just saying it, but it's like, not every participant of course, but participant after participant will write in the open ended comments, this is the best thing that's changed my life. This was so helpful this was. And then of course, it shows up in their data as well over time, you know, when they come in, they're very high on these rumination, and you just see it over the course of the treatment. They're coming down, down, down. And so, you know, that was a really satisfying study. But you know, it was it was complicated. It was hard to do.

Sucheta Kamath: And I was just really impressed by the with the term but but long standing impact, you know, it is not a short term. I mean, the intervention was short, but the impact lasted, continues to last. I don't know if you have that ongoing tracking, but that was really remarkable.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, yeah, we did that one time in a study just prior was kind of like a build up or pilot study for the one I was just talking about, again, a very similar groups, we put people together in groups, and then we followed up with them. I think it was two years later. And just to check in, and we actually sent them their handwritten descriptions of the offense. We said, remember, this is what you came in to work on. Now read over this, and then fill out to you two years later. The same change just, you know, from the time they finished, you know, they, they basically went forgiveness up after the intervention, and then they just stay flat. It was like, again, that was like major Nah, nah. Like, they're just being nice. Like they can't like they have to have gone down. But no, but at least the data...

Sucheta Kamath: What it reminds me of, it's like having a closure, if forgiveness such a strong way to put a lock on that door and say, I don't need to go in there anymore. Right? That's right.

Nathaniel Wade: Yep. Yep. And you know what, I'm gonna take your analogy if I can, and just twist it a little bit. So here's what I would say is you go instead of locking that room back up and putting a lock on it, it's now you've opened it up, you've cleaned it out. Now, you can actually use that I love that. Yeah, that's better, right? It's not holding you trash anymore. You've taken the trash out, right? So now I can use it for other things, right? I've expanded my awareness or I've expanded my ability to live live more fully.

Sucheta Kamath: You'll get a kick out of this. Recently, I heard a Bangladeshi woman from Bangladesh of Myanmar, I guess, wrote a book and it's called the Starter Wife and, and a very interesting sidebar, by the way, but in that story, so she is a wife of a startup company. And anyway, she and she personally, the author personally had this experience of her husband, both were professors husband started something. Anyway, in that company, hypothetically, she had like a group of startup women who women in the startup and so as, like, fake concept she came up with and one such concept was called zempty. So she said, just to go with my fake story, I had a friend who was a web designer, I had that person build a website for me. And and so in the party, she would run by people, this idea that, you know, there's this company that does this, which is fake, but she would guide them to go to the productive website, and then this idea took off without it being existed, which was Empty. So the idea was, you reach out to the company, and the company mails you a box, empty box, okay, four by four, four by four by four, and then you fill it with whatever you need, like, whatever is giving you trouble, and then you mail it, and then the company disposes it off, which you can shove it in your trash, by the way, but that just reminded me of like, a way to heal.

Nathaniel Wade: Right. Totally fake meaning. But it became really something like ritualistic. Almost, you know, it's more than like, just, I'm gonna put in my own trash, like, I'm going to put it in a box, and I'm going to send it,

Sucheta Kamath: I know, you would have much better understanding of that than the other ones are so great.

Nathaniel Wade: It's great. And, you know, we do that in some of these interventions, where we actually have like, rituals that we'll have people doing. Oh, yeah. So so when we get to the part about like, committing to forgiveness, we'll have people A good example is, let's put down on paper, everything, like all the negative consequences of this, you know, so, you know, for me, it was, you know, can I trust people in the future, the hurt that I had to deal with, you know, a B on my stats exam, because I found out that she was cheating on me the Sunday before I had a stats exam. You know, so I'm just, you know, put all these things down, right. So then after that, once you have the list when you're ready to commit forgiveness, you take it and you burn it. Wow. And so there's this ritual sense of or you take it and bury it if you don't like fire, you know, there's ways that we can ritualize it flushed down the toilet, if you're like that. Yeah. So kind of doing that. And doing it in a group is really helpful. You know, so if everyone is writing out there lists and everyone is going home and and destroying it, then they come back and they tell their stories. And there's that, you know, there's that community, the ritual, you know, that gets built in that's super healing for us.

Sucheta Kamath: So are some people better at forgiving than the other? is this related to personality traits? Is it related to culture, upbringing, I can imagine narcissits juggling with this causing a lot of harm, but not taking this out ability.

Nathaniel Wade: Right? Absolutely. Yeah. So there's a whole list of things that researchers have found that are related to forgiveness, particularly if you're looking at. We've been talking today about what I would call state forgiveness. And and more specifically, I'll also add state emotional forgiveness. So an important distinction has been made among kind of decision, the state forgiveness, right decisional versus. 

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, can you define that decision way too? Because I don't think we talked about that, yet.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, we haven't. So decisional forgiveness is really the kind of forgiveness often comes from people's moral systems, religion, spirituality, it might come from a family system where they say, you know what, I'm going to make a decision to forgive you. Now, it's not related to how I really feel maybe, you know, I still really am. POed about what you did. However, I'm making a decision to forgive you. And so they might move toward, you know, that might make them move toward being kind to the person when they don't want to, you know, interacting with them at a holiday in a polite and pleasant way, because they're making a decision a willful decision. Emotional forgiveness is really what I study. And that's how do we get you to really feel forgiving toward this person. And so that's the distinction there. But both of those are what I would call state forgiveness. It's forgiveness that I feel for a specific offense for something kind of specific. But there's another kind of forgiveness that research has spent, researchers have spent a lot of time looking at, and that's a trait forgiveness. And so that's the tendency to be forgiving over time, across situations across people. And for sure that exists.

Sucheta Kamath: Becoming, embodying that. Right? Yes. 

Nathaniel Wade: Right. Right. So so you have and you have individual differences on this. So you have some people who, pretty much they're not going to be very forgiving. And then you have other people who are really forgiving. And then of course, then there's most of us who are somewhere in the middle. And then of course, just because you're high trait forgiving, meaning you tend to forgive all the time or a lot, doesn't mean you won't be unforgiving about a particular events, right? Because that's just one one particular event. But it doesn't mean you're likely to be more forgiving than than the other folks. And then when we look back to your question of what's related to that, then we start to see some some stronger and more stable relationships with certain factors like personality and kind of offense specific things and things like that. So but personality is really interesting.

Sucheta Kamath: So it just occurred to me that maybe people who offend more, tend to be people who lack impulse control, people who are socially inept, or insensitive to the needs of the others. Typically, if you think about it, a lot of the clients that I work with, are not really aware, they're not bad people. They're just, they're either in a rush, so they're trampling on other people, you know, they're, they're cutting lanes, and they're like, then they're mad, and they're, you know, giving a birdie you know, that kind of thing. But forgiveness, I wonder, because that also requires you to hang back and shift your perspective. And also have large heart, which kind of says many things like, and that requires working memory, by the way to hold on to conflicting information, that that person is a good person, but they have affected me badly. Maybe they can they deserve forgiveness, because I think there's a big barrier, which is deservingness. Can you talk a little bit about that? Do you see that in your work?

Nathaniel Wade: Oh, my goodness, you have just touched on, like so many great things. So many, I mean, what do I choose? The first reason is kind of the last one. Yeah, right. Okay, so the last one you get of like this, the they did this hurtful thing to me, but they're a decent person, the kind of complexity of thought that comes with, you know, I might throw out in a therapy group the maturity Yes, that it takes to be able to see that but but that's kind of a an executive function isn't it's an ability to be able to hold those things and say, Wait a second. You know, it's not just black and white. It's not just on or off. There's more complexity here. And so here's a decent person who did something really bad. Is that okay? Can that go together? Oh, It can look complex. But yes, right. But that takes a lot, doesn't it? So anyway, so that's one. The other thing is, I don't know, if you're, I'm sure you've seen this, but the research on self control and free will.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, that's what I was going to ask you.

Nathaniel Wade: So there's good research on you know, this. I think it was 2013, Jenny Burnett and her colleagues put together a meta analysis, which is, is a series of studies, you put together a series of studies, and you look at all the data together. And so I think it was something like 40 studies and 15 was it, maybe closer to 5000 people make when they put all the studies together, and they found that, in fact, there was, you know, a moderate relationship between self control and forgiveness. And so that folks who are tend to be you know, more able to control themselves are going to be more likely to forgive. Now, there's all kinds of cool nuances that have come out since then, you know, they've looked at even in some cases where that relationship switches were actually more self control was related to less forgiveness, in situations of mild transgression. Wow, I think it's kind of a cool twist on the story. The researchers argued there that like, actually, self control is not always in the service of the relationship. Sometimes self control is in the service of the individual who got hurt. If I have a lot of self control, I'm able to move toward forgiveness most of the time, because it's good for me, it's good for my relationships, it's good for my people who I'm in relationship with. But there's some times when you hurt me, when I might even be kind of wanting to impulse, my impulse might be to, like, forgive, just to kind of like, move on. I gotta say, I'm a pretty agreeable person. And that's a great thing most of the time, but I also the dark side of that is I'm a people. Yes. Right. And so if I get hurt, I'm like, Oh, it's okay. Well, no, it's not okay, that you did that for the 100th time. Right? So can I have enough self control to actually stand up for myself? You know, so my wife and I have this dance, we always do. You know, it's just we go back and forth. And I'm like, Oh, it's fine. It's fine. If I stop it, she's like, Whoa, what happened? I thought it was fine. I was like, well, I did too. Until like two seconds. I'm not. I'm apparently I'm not fine. Right, exactly. But that takes some self control is what the researchers are arguing and and what their data around these more mild trans transgressions seems to suggest is that actually, sometimes self control helps us to protect the self, which would mean in that case, the way they're measuring forgiveness is, you know, I'm not going to move toward forgiveness just yet. I'm going to hold on to some of this boundary setting anger. 

Sucheta Kamath: So two questions. I you know, I am mature now, slightly more. With that, for all of us, I've never been a vengeful person. But I've been a plotter, like plotter who doesn't act, you know. So I have great, great plans, a deck of plans, if you know, but never acted on it. So I know this, like I'm the ruminator you know, like Ethan Kross was one of our guests. And we were talking about it. I'm like, I ruminate when I can relate to that ways I could teach you a lesson. And then of course, right Angel on my shoulder says Don't you know don't kind of thing but but I have been compromised by aggressors and you know, transgressors and people exploitative people, and and I have cognitively forgiven them by as a strategic decision, not empathically forgiven them. But I'm mature, and I'm now one of the biggest profound transformation I have experienced in myself, without bragging or anything that I actually do not see. Nothing is a big deal. Fine. They wanted to have a better, you know, half of the cake, go ahead, you know, do you want to do better spot and you? I mean, I would be one of those people who would come back to my office and write a note saying that somebody parked their car on that white line, taking two spots, you know, like, just like immoral, you know, monitor right? Community monitor, but so I've just like, you know, right after that, you know, let let people do their thing. And so I'm also I'm very, I've adopted this a Buddhist proverb, which is a soft front firm back. I'm deeply rooted in principles, but I'm not going to school you or tell you what it is, and none of that I'm gonne be like "eh, pass". Oh, my God, it's taken a long time. Come on Nathaniel, help. How can we expedite this process and not wait for maturity of the prefrontal system to take over our life experience? 

Nathaniel Wade: Oh, oh, I wish I had the key to unlock that one. You know, my, my brain goes here, the great psychologist answer of course, if you haven't heard this one yet, is always it depends. And so that's where my brain goes is like, you know, it depends on the person. So who's coming to me? So you sound maybe a little bit like my wife, actually, she's a strong justice oriented person, like, she was like, that's not just yet. And it's not just we got to work to make adjust, which is a beautiful trait. Right? It's a beautiful trait. And the world certainly needs a lot of that and a lot of warriors. Oh, totally. Right, we have to have some of that fight the power in some ways, you know.

Sucheta Kamath: Stick it to the man. Right. 

Nathaniel Wade: And yet, it has its dark side, if you will, as well, which you're talking about is you can get caught up caught up in kind of petty things you can, your mind can be overwhelmed by all the tiny and justices that we experience all the time. And letting go of some of that can be really important. So if you're kind of coming at coming to me from that perspective, then I might say, hey, here's, here's what we're going to work on, you know, we're going to really honor that justice side of you, and find how do we find the right avenues? Yeah, that don't burden you so smart. But if you come to me a little bit more like me, it's like, man, it's close enough, right? You we needed to work in some different with you. Right? So now we're gonna, and then when you bring in, you know, kind of before the the prefrontal cortex is, has fully formed, you start talking about kids, you're a little bit out of my expertise area. However, you know, there is some interesting work that's been done on forgiveness with kids, Bob Enright out of Wisconsin, Madison is really probably one of the leaders on forgiveness with kids, particularly in my area of clinical and counseling psychology, there's others in developmental and others who have done some work. But he's tried to take this whole idea of counseling and psychoeducation. And how do we work with kids. And he's done some really interesting studies with a range of hurts that kids have dealt with. And some cases where the kids didn't necessary that were more educational itself, rather than after they got hurt. And so some cases almost more like prevention. And so he's found ways to kind of move the needle with kids around that kind of thinking about a kind of a moral development. Yes. How do we how do we help kids to understand the the value of forgiveness and what that means and how to act in that, again, in a way that doesn't give up their self protection, but helps them to move towards something that that helps them to avoid? The rumination, the revenge, the the bitterness that can get us all stuck.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you for really like presenting a hopeful scene, you know, because it's really feels overwhelming. I mean, I mean, people I know, in rush, people are stressed people also have high expectations, and incredible desire to succeed at any cost. We have created a monster amongst ourselves by competing in this endless cycle of for, you know, life's high achieving goals, which is just ridiculous. But, you know, as I think about this, one question I did have was, when, you know, I see, I mean, I work with children more than you do. But one thing that I see in the culture, but you do have two little ones. So you can relate to this, is that there's so much emphasis I see on politeness, I see parents nudging and say sorry, say thank you say please. Yeah, and I just don't see genuine emotional maturity or emotional agenda being unveiled by the parents said that gratitude is what is the reason we should thank people, sorry, is because we need to really acknowledge the responsibility we have in causing the inconvenience of hurt to other people. And so, I feel like, I see lots of polite people, just being asses, forgive my French. And I just wonder what your thoughts are about a society that has adopted this culture. You know, I don't know if this is still true. But what Bhutan is the happiest country, right? in the world. And what there is, there is a definite Buddhist culture, it's of course smaller, so you can take a better inventory of you as a community. But this this non hurried way of living life can also create room for forgiveness. Forgiveness is like a really not hurrying through healing, and saying, I've got time because I know you're going to offend me, but I'm not going to get offended because nothing is at stake all the time. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are as we end.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah, such good, good insights. You know, as you think about, you know, how we train kids what we train kids to do or not do, I think there is certainly in our lifetimes here in the US, there's been a, I think, a real shift around emotional intelligence, so trying to get kids to do to try and teach kids so I think there's a lot more that needs to be done and could be done. But you do see movements towards you know, for example, again, my my wife is And has been reaching out to our local school system to do mindfulness work in the schools. Right. So just giving people that giving kids that idea of be present, just be present in the moment, and how much that could just help. But you know, when you bring in the idea of than apologies or forgiveness and what that means and how we do that, I mean, those are, you know, they're pretty advanced kinds of skills as adults, we struggle with that abstract concepts early. Yeah. Yes, that's right. And so, you know, do we break that down some for kids, and we focus on maybe again, in your wheelhouse this idea of, can we just control our emotional impulses? Yeah. Right. So when so and so, you know, teases you can you keep from smacking them? Right. And and then be aware of what's emotionally coming up for you and find other ways to manage that and deal with that. Right. And And certainly, there are programs and and teachers are working with that kind of stuff. Parents are trying to do that kind of work with their kids as well. And so, but the more advanced work around forgiveness, I think it's a it's a wide open area, for research and for, for practitioners to pair up together and to figure out, is there more here that we could be doing for our kids to give them that headstart to be able to be working on these, these kinds of maybe a little bit more complex issues, but but certainly ones that could be extremely helpful.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, Nathaniel, it has been nothing but fantastic conversation. And thank you, it's been I do feel, you know, one of my aspirations is to be known as a very kind person. And so as a spiritual goal, and you know, I have I send I wouldn't say every month but every other month, I reach out to my community, like my little my family, my you know, my mom and some of my friends and just say, how would you rate me and kindness? What is getting feedback? This is good, ready? I'm bringing my courage Hey, game encouraged. I think what I realized that I am a kind person at heart. A lack of patience is what makes me unkind. So if I worked on my patients, I think I can be much kinder. So it's really that unheard way is really my aspiration. Yeah. So as I end this conversation, what if you have some recommendations of books that you have read and loved? for our audience? I would love that.

Nathaniel Wade: Yeah. Yeah. So um, so a little shameless self-promotion, the Handbook of Forgiveness that...

Sucheta Kamath: I highly endorse it.

Nathaniel Wade: I highly endorse it. So that's came out in 2020. Eve Worthington and I edited that and so it's a collection of 30 plus chapters on forgiveness, just a range of stuff from you know, we talked about measuring forgiveness, it's in there, it's culture and forgiveness, interventions to forgive. It's just a great survey of the the research in the area. That's that's written in a really accessible way. That's a Handbook of Forgiveness, Second Edition, I would say is a good place to go for people interested in forgiveness. And then I would say, you know, one book that totally off topic, in some ways, although the idea of forgiveness and diversity and culture and oppression is certainly something we could talk about. But I think one book that's had probably one of the biggest impacts on me over the last two years has been Robin de Angelo's White Fragility and so you know, as someone who obviously is very Anglo, and grew up a really privileged life, being able to read through that and to see like the impact of kind of white supremacy, the impact of my own training that was reflected in what she talked about, in her own upbringing. really powerful insights into the ways I I see my world but I don't see the oppression around me very often. And so again, a trick forgiveness could be could be brought it brought into that but super powerful book, especially for for your, you know, white and more privileged listeners.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being here with us. Yeah. And really sensational conversation and and you're so generous with your insights and your time. So all right, that's all the time we have for today. As you can see, these are important conversations we are having with knowledgeable incredibly called qualified and passionate experts like Dr. Nathaniel Wade, please, I will be adding all these resources. So do check our website. And the handbook really for the nerds out there. That's a fantastic and I should really make that about nerds. But please, I know those who want to do a deep dive. It's a good good little handbook to have by your bedside. And and so once again, please share what you if you like What you're hearing, please share with your friends, your colleagues. And if you take a moment, you know, leave us a review. Always love that. And finally, be sure to subscribe to Full PreFrontal using your favorite listening app whenever or wherever you can find us. Looking forward to seeing you again here in the same space right here next time on Full PreFrontal.