Tagged: “forgiveness”

Correcting Forgiveness Misconceptions and Distortions

Misconceptions and distortions are nothing new to most professionals—particularly to the professionals who employ forgiveness interventions and forgiveness therapy. Since the first empirically based study on person-to-person forgiveness was published in the social sciences (Enright et al., 1989), there has been vigorous debate on exactly what forgiveness is and is not.

That debate has generally been positive and helpful in the overall evolution of forgiveness from a simple concept (and primarily a religious credo) to a vitally important mental health approach for many people who have been victimized. At the same time, there still are a few in the mental health professions who are criticizing forgiveness with some good points but also with some errors.


Those who dispense misinformation about forgiveness prevent many individuals from
choosing forgiveness
when they could truly benefit from deep emotional recovery.

Dr. Robert Enright


Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) and the man labeled “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine, has been using scientific research methods to study forgiveness for more than 35 years. Whenever he learns about an inaccurate or erroneous premise that is being circulated, he tries to address it head-on. That’s exactly what he did just this week by factually countering an essay published on Feb. 20 in Psychology Today.

The essay, Why Forgiveness Isn’t Required in Trauma Recovery,” was written by a Chicago psychotherapist who is also a speaker and author. While acknowledging that I’ve witnessed the benefits of forgiveness for many of my clients,” the author’s main contention is that “forgiveness is potentially problematic when incorporated into trauma treatment.” 

While Dr. Enright says he has heard all those erroneous assertions before, he quickly drafted his own essay providing fact-based and true-to-life counter arguments for each of the claims. His goal in doing so, he says, was not to heavily criticize, but instead “to protect the integrity of a genuine process of forgiveness, free of confusions of what forgiveness is and is not.

Dr. Enright’s critique of the original essay was published on Feb. 26 by Psychology Today. While the publication gave his clarifying discourse the same title as the original Feb. 20 article, it added a significant subtitle, “Why Forgiveness Isn’t Required in Trauma Recovery: Published misconceptions of forgiveness may discourage people from trying it.”

The blog essay by “the father of forgiveness research” (the title bestowed on Dr. Enright by The Christian Science Monitor) provides 5 succinct and factual responses to the original article’s 5 contentions. It also clarifies two points on which he agrees with the article: 1) “forgiveness after unjust behaviors is not necessarily for everyone;” and, 2) “as a moral virtue, forgiveness never ever should be forced onto anyone.”

Dr. Enright is no stranger to Psychology Today. In fact, in the past 5 years he has penned nearly 100 blog essays as part of his own dedicated column for the publication’s website called “The Forgiving Life.” Those blog posts have been accessed online more than a million times–an average of 548 times per day since he began writing them.

According to Dr. Enright, he will continue his efforts to provide information to Psychology Today readers and he will continue to clarify points when there appear to be misunderstandings about forgiveness and forgiveness therapy so that both therapists and clients can make informed decisions.

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Don’t you think that forgiving other people is inappropriate in some circumstances?  For example, when family members put pressure on a person to forgive, this places an excessive burden on the victim, especially when this person is not at all ready to forgive. I charge forgiveness with the crime of too much pressure when the person is not ready.

Forgiveness is not the culprit in your example.  When people put pressure on another person to forgive, then the problem lies with those so pressuring.  Forgiveness itself has nothing to do with such pressure. Forgiveness never ever should be forced onto anyone. Forgiveness is innocent of the charges.

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Can a person “fake himself out” into thinking that there was an injustice when there was no injustice?

To help you ascertain whether or not a person acted unfairly toward you, consider asking yourself these questions:

  1. What was the action? Do you usually consider this action to be wrong?  For example, murder in any culture is wrong.
  2. What is the person’s intention? Did the person mean to do wrong?  Even if the person had no intention to do wrong, might the action itself lead to bad consequences at times?  An example is texting on one’s cellphone while driving a car.  The one who is texting is not intending to hurt others, but the action itself of inattention could lead to dire consequences.  Therefore, the action without intention to harm still is wrong.
  3. What are the circumstances for the other whom you are considering? For example, was the person sick that day and so was impatient, which typically is not the case for this person?  Were there pressures on the person that you did not see?  Again, as with our point 2 above, having a good excuse still does not exonerate the person from the conclusion that there was an injustice that did occur.

As you take into account the action, the intention, and the circumstance of the other person’s behavior, this may help you in determining whether or not there was a genuine injustice.

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Do you think that forgiving is fuller when the other apologizes?

I do think that the other’s apology can aid the one forgiving to actually forgive more quickly.  Yet, there is much more to the practice of forgiving than the other person’s apology.  This idea of “fullness” depends on many issues such as these: a) how deeply the forgiver understands what forgiveness is and is not; b) how much practice the forgiver has had in forgiving those who have been unjust; c) how deeply angry or sad the forgiver is right now (in other words, the forgiver may need more time); and, d) how sincere the apology seems to be from the forgiver’s viewpoint.  There is more to forgiving than these four issues, but my point is to say that apologies by themselves do not always lead to “fuller” forgiveness.

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What if a person has no intention to hurt anyone and then by mistake hurts others.  An example is someone who is intoxicated, drives home (with no other way to get home), and then in the process of driving, hits another car and injures the driver of that other car.  If this action was not deliberately unjust (chosen as something unfair), can I still forgive?

Even unintended actions can be unjust. Let us take your example of the drunk driver causing injury or death. Although the accident was unintended, it is still unjust because the person knew that he or she would be driving. Starting to drink that evening was not wise. Surely, before the person became drunk, he or she had the rational faculties to know that the amount of alcohol consumption was not good. So, prior bad judgements before the accident show that the unintended consequences had bad choices connected with it. Those choices were unjust choices and so those injured or those who lost loved ones can forgive if they so choose.

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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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