The benefits of forgiveness have been discussed and debated for centuries but scientific evidence that forgiveness actually “works” has been scant. All that has changed during the past few decades as legions of psychologists and clinicians have begun studying the ancient virtue from a stringently documented, peer-reviewed empirical perspective.
Dr. Robert Enright, an educational psychologist labeled the “forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine (and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute), published the first scientific study on person-to-person forgiveness in 1989. In the 15 years following the publication of that article in the Journal of Adolescence, the number of published forgiveness articles had jumped to more than 1,100. And today, researchers can pore through more than 3,000 published articles brandishing empirical evidence on the virtue of forgiveness.
Here is a quick look at several recent research reports related to the benefits of forgiveness:
Forgiveness Reduces Suicidal Behavior
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults and about 1,100 college students die by suicide each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). According to a study of 158 college students, all suffering from mild to severe depression, psychologists at East Tennessee State University found that:
“Students who are more capable of forgiving themselves and others after stressful life events or interpersonal problems have lower rates of suicidal behavior than their peers who are less able to forgive. This study points out that interventions that boost levels of forgiveness can increase self-esteem, hopefulness, positive emotions toward other people, and perceived self-control while reducing levels of depression, anxiety, and drug use.”
Forgiveness Education Program Reduces Depression, Anxiety, and Stress
After implementation of Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education curriculum for high school students in Turkey, study results demonstrated that:
“Forgiveness Education has led to significant decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Conclusion: Forgiveness Education can be used effectively for adolescents in school settings.”
Even Brief Enright Forgiveness Education Programs Improve Health
Chinese college students demonstrated positive improvement in emotional health following brief (4 sessions compared to the normal 12 sessions) exposure to Enright Forgiveness Education curriculum classes. According to the study:
“The analysis of the pretest and post-test scores indicated that both the Enright Psycho-social Programme and the Chinese Value-oriented Programme had positive effects on improving participants’ general emotional forgiveness, decreasing their negative emotions toward the offender, and improving life satisfaction.”
Forgiveness Significantly Predicts Life Satisfaction
Researchers have begun to investigate the relationship between happiness and subjective factors like Forgiveness. A study with 380 students from different departments of Bursa Uludag University in Bursa, Turkey, found that:
“Happiness has been found to be negatively related to stress and positively related to positive emotions, satisfying relationships, self-esteem, forgiveness, self-compassion, and quality of friendships.Results in this study also indicate that forgiveness and life satisfaction are positively related and that forgiveness significantly predicts life satisfaction. For this reason, my results are important for psychological healthcare workers, who can include these variables into their supportive and preventive programs in order to assess important characteristics that contribute to good psychological health.”
I sometimes lose my temper with my partner. Lately when I ask for forgiveness, he is unwilling to grant it. I have been patient, giving him time to forgive, and then I ask again with no effect. This leaves me with both shame and guilt. What do you recommend to me so that I can be freed from the shame and guilt?
Have you been working on your temper so that it does not get in the way of the relationship? Seeking forgiveness and changing behavior go together. If you are changing that behavior and because you have asked for forgiveness and have been patient, I think you can go in peace knowing that you have done your best for now. Give your partner time for him to work through his own forgiving.
Anger at first when you are treated unjustly is reasonable because you are seeing that you are a person who deserves respect. Yet, where do you draw the line? When is this early anger sufficient? Do you want to keep the anger for a month? A year? How about 30 years? Also, what about the intensity of the anger. Do you want to be fuming inside for those 30 years? Do you think you will feel empowered if you live this way or could it wear you down?
Yes. It is not complete forgiveness in that you forgive, the other accepts that, and then you happily reconcile. Yet, you can say a kind word about the person to others or donate some money to a charity in that person’s name. This is gift-giving in an indirect sense and mercy in the form of gift-giving is part of forgiveness.