When you forgive, you are engaging in a moral virtue in which you are choosing to be good to those who are not good to you. When you accept that something bad happened to you, it is possible to do so without even caring about the one who created the difficult situation for you. Acceptance can focus on adjusting to a situation; forgiveness focuses on goodness toward persons in particular, on those who acted badly toward you.
I think this occurs because the forgivers begin to realize that they can face unjust treatment in the future and they now have an effective way (forgiveness) of confronting the effects of the injustice. Forgiveness allows people to move on well in life without getting immersed in bitterness.
Short-term forgiveness interventions may be effective for those who are not deeply hurt, are not treated deeply unjustly, and who are not clinically compromised. We have to be very careful in generalizing brief interventions to all people, especially those who are deeply hurting from deeply unfair treatment. Those treated so unfairly will need forgiveness therapy for a longer time than a brief forgiveness intervention.
Your research tends to show that as people forgive, their own self-esteem rises. Why do you think this happens?
It seems to me that as people bear the pain that others caused them, there is a tendency for the forgivers to realize that they are stronger than they previously had realized. They see that they can endure pain and in that pain, they can be good to others, particularly to those who acted unfairly and even cruelly. This shows the forgivers that they are good people and this can lead to an increase in liking the self. Too often, when people are beaten down by others, the victims begin to believe the lie that they are less than they truly are. Forgiving helps to correct this lie.
It seems to me that this “giving of a gift” to those who hurt me is kind of ridiculous. They deserve correction, not admiration. Can you clarify this for me?
As people forgive, they are engaging in a moral virtue. All moral virtues center on goodness toward others for those other people’s sake. Part of the moral virtue of forgiveness is this gift-giving to the one who acted badly, as you point out. This gift-giving, we find in our research is a paradox in that, as forgivers reach out to the offending person, it is the forgivers who are healed.