Do you think people get less out of forgiving if the motive is self-preservation rather than a concern for the other as a person?
We have yet to do a research study in which we examine different outcomes for those who have different initial motives for forgiving. One problem in doing such a research study is this: Often people start Forgiveness Therapy because of their own emotional compromise caused by an injustice from others. Yet, as people go through the forgiveness process, their motive often changes from a focus on the self to a genuine concern for the other. Thus, this issue of motive is a moving target and so is difficult to study. Yet, it is worth more careful thought.
In your book, “Forgiveness Is a Choice,” you start with a case study of Mary Ann. Would it have been easier for her just to divorce her husband, given that he was toxic, rather than forgiving and reconciling?
Because forgiveness is a choice, we have to be careful not to judge others for their particular decision. In Mary Ann’s case, there was a genuine reconciliation. Since reconciliation involves mutual trust, we can surmise that he made important changes. Mary Ann is happy now and so her decision to forgive and reconcile was wise.
How many times have you heard or been asked the age-old question of: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” While that problematic conundrum may never be adequately answered, researchers are confident they are making inroads into solving a similar enigma: “Which is first required to engender the other, forgiveness or love?”
A just-published research study by world-renowned forgiveness trailblazer Dr. Robert Enright and three of his associates helped provide some answers to that larger question by examining three related questions:
- Do forgiveness and love develop together?
- Does love or forgiveness predict the other at a later time?
- Does one’s spirituality moderate the relationship between forgiveness and love?
The study, The Development of Forgiveness and Other-focused Love, was published last month in the online version of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. It explores the development of forgiveness and other-focused love and examines the role of spirituality in the relationship between forgiveness and love.
As part of the study, participants from a large Christian university filled out measures of compassionate love, forgiveness, and dedication to God at Time 1 (T1) and measures of love and forgiveness after 4 weeks at Time 2 (T2). While love at T1 did not predict forgiveness at T1 or T2, forgiveness at T1 positively predicted love at T2, indicating that forgiveness temporally preceded love.
“Because the aim of the study was to see the natural unfolding of forgiveness and love over time, there was no treatment or intervention between T1 and T2,” according to study researcher Jican J. Kim, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. “The results, however, suggest that we may be able to help people grow in other-focused love by helping them to forgive. That’s a really dramatic revelation.”
Dr. Enright emphasized those findings by explaining that the study shows a possibility that as one grows in the virtue of forgiveness (toward a specific offender), the person might experience growth in love toward others in general, thus becoming a more loving person (through the act of forgiveness toward a particular offender).
“In theory, this idea seems to have merit because a forgiving person must be able to love the most unlovable person–one’s offender,” Dr. Enright added. “That kind of love, what we call agape love, might make loving others in general comparably easy.”
The evidence from this study, together with findings from other recent empirical studies, have only begun to examine the development and relationship between forgiveness and love—a relatively new focus for forgiveness researchers. Further research needs to be done to document in what ways one’s practice of forgiveness results in greater love toward others.
The two researchers agree, however that it is time to extend forgiveness interventions with adults to not only focus on psychological healing of the unjustly treated but also to investigate how forgiveness can promulgate the development of other-focused love.
“The fact that forgiveness can increase love at a later time tells me that love and forgiveness grow together and the practice of forgiveness is a concrete
expression of love that matures over time.”
Dr. Jichan J. Kim
Read the full report: The Development of Forgiveness and Other-focused Love
Research Report Authors:
- Jiahe Wang Xu is a graduate student in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interest is in forgiveness and the development of agape love.
- Jichan J. Kim (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. His research focuses on interpersonal, self-, and divine forgiveness.
- Naomi Olmstead (M.A. Psychology, Liberty University) is a secondary educator at Lanakila Baptist School, Ewa Beach (island of O’ahu), Hawaii.
- Robert D. Enright holds the Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science within the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.
In your experience, are people more critical of others who are unjust or of themselves when they break their own standards?
I find that people are more critical of themselves than they are of others. Many people find it difficult to welcome themselves back into the human community once they have behaved badly. I discuss this issue in a Psychology Today blog centered on self-loathing here:
Power makes me a man. Forgiveness makes me a wimp. Hey, I like those 2 sentences. Maybe you can use them in your forgiveness talks. Really now, don’t you think that humans are made for power……you know, the survival of the fittest.
There is a big difference between power **over** others and power **for** others. The former leads to domination, which might lead you eventually to have to forgive yourself for treating people as pawns in your quest for domination over them. On the other hand, power **for** others means that you use what influence or skills you have to make a better world for others. This can require strength of character, patience, altruism, and even suffering for those others. So, which form of power are you discussing: power **over** or power **for**? This distinction makes all the difference.