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.
I would say the biggest surprise was how effective forgiveness therapy is in the context of very deep trauma caused by other people’s unfairness. Forgiveness therapy seems to be even more effective in reducing clinical levels of anger, anxiety, and depression than other models of psychotherapy that preceded forgiveness therapy within the social sciences. As just one example, the Freedman and Enright (1996) study showed that incest survivors, upon forgiving, went from clinical levels of depression to non-depressed status and this continued at the one-year follow-up. The reference to this work is as follows:
Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.
As another question that I have about forgiveness therapy, does the amount of time spent in this form of therapy matter? In other words, is longer better?
Yes, longer is better. Baskin and Enright (1994) showed that forgiveness therapy lasting 12 weeks or longer seems more optimal than short-term therapies. Longer therapies as more effective than short-term therapies also was supported by the meta-analysis by Aktar and Barlow. The references to these two journal articles are as follows:
Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004). Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
Akhtar, S. & Barlow, J. (2018). Forgiveness therapy for the promotion of mental well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 19, 107-122.
You say that the biggest surprise you had when studying forgiveness therapy was its effectiveness when trauma is present in the participants. What was your second biggest surprise?
I think the second biggest surprise is that when people forgive and recover from the effects of trauma, they often develop a new purpose in life. That new purpose is to help others who also are hurting from other people’s mistreatment of them. This new purpose seems to give hope and vitality to those who were carrying a large emotional burden within them.
It seems to me that the first account of one person forgiving others is in Hebrew scripture, Genesis 37-45, in which Joseph forgives his 10 half-brothers for attempted murder and then selling him into slavery.