I was talking recently with a skeptic toward your work. He said this: If I asked family members to forgive, they would develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How would you respond?

I first would want to know his reason for saying this. If you notice, there is no explanation. I can only guess, but perhaps he thinks that forgiveness itself is so stressful that it leads to emotional disorder. He is correct in this: Forgiveness is not passive. It takes work, sometimes painful work, but as an analogy, so does surgery if a person’s knee needs repair. The surgery is painful, but not as painful as living with a compromised and painful knee for the rest of one’s life.

Our science actually contradicts the assertion that forgiveness leads to Post Traumatic Stress. A study in which Gayle Reed led divorced women through a forgiveness intervention (about 32 sessions per person) actually resulted in a statistically-significant reduction in Post Traumatic Stress after the program ended relative to a control group that did not have the forgiveness treatment. Thus, the conclusion is the opposite of my critic. The reference to that study is here:

Reed, G. & Enright, R.D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929. You can read the full study here.

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