Nietzsche called forgiveness “sublimated revenge.” In other words, forgiveness is an illusion. I wonder if it only exists when we are hurt just a little.

Your statement attributed to Nietzsche assumes that he was correct. Was he? Let us examine the evidence.

Sublimation is a psychological defense of responding with the opposite of how one really feels. For example, a person whistles as he walks by a cemetery. The whistling, which represents a relaxed, happy attitude, is masking its opposite—-fear of cemeteries.

In the case of forgiveness, according to Nietzsche, the person takes on a loving, humble attitude to mask extreme anger. If he is correct, then those who learn to forgive through a deliberate intervention to do so should become even angrier and more revengeful. Why? Because forgiveness supposedly is always “sublimated revenge,” the attitude of great anger. Yet, our research shows that as people learn to forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, and more hopeful toward their future.

The science suggests that Nietzsche had it wrong when it comes to forgiveness.

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Categories: Ask Dr. Forgiveness


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