Forgiveness within psychology is relatively new, having emerged as a research focus in the later 1980’s (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Over the next three decades, a host of studies have emerged within the mental health professions showing that Forgiveness Therapy is beneficial for the client, for the one who forgives (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade et al., 2014). We have to be careful with these findings primarily because a false conclusion could emerge: Forgiveness is only for, or primarily for, the one who forgives; it has little to do with the one forgiven. This, actually, does not seem to be the case. A reflection on what forgiveness accomplishes, its purpose or goal, suggests at least 8 purposes to forgiving.
What does it mean to forgive? Although there may be different behaviors across the wide variety of cultures to express forgiveness, in its universal essence, forgiveness can be defined as a moral virtue, centered on goodness, that occurs in the context of being treated unfairly by others. The one who then chooses to forgive deliberately tries to eliminate resentment and to offer goodness of some kind toward the offending person, whether this is kindness, respect, generosity, or even love.
The one who forgives does not automatically go back into a dangerous relationship. The forgiver can forgive and then not reconcile. The forgiver does not excuse the unfair behavior but offers goodness in the face of the unfairness. The forgiver should not think in “either/or” terms, either forgiving and abandoning a quest for justice, or seeking justice alone without forgiving. The two moral virtues of forgiveness and justice can and should be applied together.
1. to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.
2. to repair relationships as it helps me to see the other’s worth.
3. to grow in character because it can help me to become a better person.
6. to motivate me to contribute to a better world as anger does not dominate.
7. to help me to more consistently live out my own philosophy of life or faith tradition if that worldview honors forgiveness.
8. to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to my offer of forgiving.
To forgive is to exercise goodness even toward those who are not good to you. Forgiveness is perhaps the most heroic of all of the moral virtues (such as justice, patience, and kindness, for example). I say it is heroic because which other moral virtue concerns the offer of goodness, through one’s own pain, toward the one who caused that pain? Do you see this—the heroic nature of forgiving—as you extend it to others?
- Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004). Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
- Enright, R. D., Santos, M., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989). The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95-110.
- Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.
Posted in Psychology Today Apr 16, 2018
Some people have begun to ask about the section of our blog entitled, “Ask Dr. Forgiveness.” This was started because of questions we would get from people who are curious about a particular aspect of forgiveness.
We get these questions from all over the world and try to answer them in a timely fashion. We never identify the name of the person asking.
The questions, as you will see if you visit this section, are very wide-ranging and can be a way for you, the reader, to deepen your views of forgiveness.
You also should feel free to disagree and to offer commentary if you wish.
Please feel free to ask a question for Ask Dr. Forgiveness. It could prove to be of considerable worth to others.
…….if when you look inside you do not like yourself anymore;
…….if when you look inside you find rust where you used to see sparkle;
…….if when you look inside you no longer find hope…….
Please know this…….
♥ Forgiveness is your self-esteem bolster;.
♥ Forgiveness is your emotional rust-inhibitor;.
♥ Forgiveness gives you hope.
Come, together, let us do some spring cleaning of your heart.
The second step is this: Commit to doing no harm to those who have soiled your inner world and did not stay around long enough to clean up after themselves.
Forgiveness will be your servant. Forgiveness will make tidy the rooms of your heart.
Many people get quite excited about forgiveness at first and just dive into practicing it, only to lose interest after a few months. They literally just let it fade from their minds and hearts as they go on to the next popular diversion in life. In other words, they do not have a strong will to keep forgiveness before them as a practice and as a way of seeing the world.
This could happen to you. A commitment to forgive does not just mean a short-term commitment toward one person who has hurt you in one particular way. Commitment has a much longer reach than this. Would you become physically fit if you worked out several times a week for three months and then hung it all up? Of course not. It is the same with forgiveness. You have to fight against the tendency to just let it fade in you. You will have to fight against all of the distractions of life that call you away from it.
From Dr. Robert Enright –
“I come to you today with an idea. Ideas can lift up or tear down. They can be conduits for good or for great evil. Having studied the idea of forgiveness for the past 33 years, I am convinced that to date, the world has missed one of its greatest opportunities: to understand, nurture, and bring forth the idea of forgiveness within the human heart, within families, schools, workplaces, houses of worship, communities, nations, and between nations.
“Given the scientifically-supported findings across a wide array of hurting people across the globe, it is now obvious to me that forgiveness is an answer to the darkness, the injustice, the evil that can suddenly cascade down upon a person, overwhelming, devastating the inner world of that person who is caught off guard by the unfair treatment. When this happens, resentment can burst forth in the human heart, grow there, and become the unwanted guest that sours outlooks and relationships.
Resentments destroy; forgiveness builds up.
“Forgiveness is the strongest response against the ravages of resentment that I have ever seen. Forgiveness as an insight that all people have worth can stop the march of the madness, the cruelty, the acrimony dead in their tracks. Forgiveness as a free choice to offer goodness when others refuse to offer it back can shine a light in the darkness and destroy evil. Yes, forgiveness can destroy evil because the light of forgiveness is stronger than any darkness and while some scoff and laugh at that, those who have the courage to try tell me that forgiveness is the over-comer, the defeater of a life being lived with bitterness and revenge-seeking.
“Forgiveness is an answer to injustice. Forgiveness is a cure for the potentially devastating effects of injustice. Forgiveness holds out the hope of living with joy.”
Forgiveness can change the world–and YOU. How will you now contribute to this new idea? Read the rest of Dr. Enright’s “big picture” blog essay in the current issue of Psychology Today then send us your comments.