What is one major difference between forgiving other people and forgiving yourself?
Forbes: Forgiveness has “Immense Benefits”
Forbes Magazine is undeniably one of the most highly read news publications in the world. With 49 global editions licensed in 83 countries and printed in 28 languages, it reaches more than 140 million people worldwide on a monthly basis through direct subscription and its website.
Now the 105-year-old publication has teamed up with medical experts to tout the “immense benefits” of forgiveness on both mental and physical health in an article titled “Forgiveness: How to Forgive Yourself and Others.” It was published on Aug. 31, 2022, and received the coveted Forbes Health Advisory Board seal of approval.
“The benefits of forgiveness greatly outweigh holding a grudge, and can affect both mental and physical health in profound ways,” according to the article. “While forgiveness may feel impossible in certain circumstances, forgiveness experts—yes, this is a real field of study—say that forgiveness can be learned no matter how great the offense. Even if the person you have the hardest time forgiving is yourself, this too, they say, can be learned.”
The Forbes article relies extensively on the work of Dr. Robert Enright and calls him “a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness” and “a leading expert on forgiveness.” Dr. Enright is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute who last year was awarded the 2022 American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology.
“As you can see, all the ways of practicing forgiveness as well as its benefits aren’t really about the person who wronged you; it’s about yourself,” according to the Forbes article. “Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it can be done. When you commit to putting it into practice, your mental and physical health will both be better for it.”
“Clearly forgiveness has immense benefits.”
Here are the scientifically-demonstrated benefits of forgiveness cited in the article:
Mental Benefits of Practicing Forgiveness
- You experience less anxiety when you forgive
- Inability to forgive and depression can be linked
- You feel more hopeful and empowered when you forgive
- You’re less likely to hurt others
Physical Benefits of Practicing Forgiveness
- Forgiveness is good for your heart
- It’s associated with better sleep
- Forgiving supports the immune system
In addition to lauding the benefits of forgiveness, the article includes a helpful list of “10 Ways to Practice Forgiveness for Yourself and Others.”
Read the full Forbes Magazine article.
When I examine the effects of the injustice that happened to me, I get angry at myself for not realizing the connection all these years between what happened to me back then and my built-up anger and fatigue now. Should I forgive myself for missing all of this?
We forgive ourselves when we do moral wrong, when we break our own standards. It seems to me that you were not acting unjustly at all. You simply did not know the connection between the past hurts against you and your challenges at present. This is the case for very many people because forgiveness, current effects, and past trauma rarely are discussed in contemporary society. I recommend that you practice gentleness toward yourself rather than forgive yourself.
After all, would you forgive yourself for not knowing other issues that are hidden from most people in society? In the 1940’s for example, people did not have the precise knowledge of the connection between cigarette smoking and certain health problems. Those people who were smoking back then were not saying to themselves, “The science shows that I am harming myself in very specific ways. I will continue to smoke anyway.” This would not have been the case for a very large part of the population.
It is similar now with the links among past trauma, current effects such as anger and fatigue, and forgiveness. Not knowing is not necessarily an injustice and so I think you can go in peace……and start the forgiveness process now if you are ready. In some cases, we deny reality and choose to not know what is good. This issue is different from yours and this example would suggest that self-forgiveness would be appropriate as a person keeps pushing away what should be known as morally good.
The Dark Side of Saying that Self-Forgiveness Has a Dark Side
A recent study by Peetz, Davydenko, and Wohl (2021) concludes that there is a “dark side” to self-forgiveness. They, in fact, use this term three different times in the journal article. The point of this blog is to challenge their view and to show that the statement is an over-reaction to their data.
Here is what they did in the study: They asked people who were entering a grocery store to fill out a self-forgiveness scale specifically regarding over-spending in the past and a scale that assesses beliefs about whether people can change their abilities or not. For the latter variable, the researchers were interested, for example, in whether participants believed they could or could not change their spending habits if they overspent.
Those who believe that people, including themselves, can change unwanted habits are called incrementalists. This issue of incrementalism is important in this research because the authors were hypothesizing that if people think that they cannot change their behavior of over-spending (they are not incrementalists), then they likely will be more cautious in how they spend relative to the incrementalists who might take the cavalier attitude that “I can always change bad behavior.”
So, the expectation in the research was this: Those who over-spent in the past and who now have forgiven themselves, and who think they can change, will have problematic spending on this new shopping venture. This is what the authors called—three times—the “dark side” of self-forgiveness.
So, then, what did they find? In Study 1, with over 100 participants, the statistical results were not significant. The findings approached significance in that those who forgave themselves and who are incrementalists (believing that they can change and so over-spending should not be that big of a deal) tended to spend more, but again it was not statistically significant.
In Study 2, they did a larger study with over 200 participants and found the exact same thing. There was no statistical significance for self-forgivers, who are incrementalists, to over-spend.
Upon their third try, they looked at spending relative to what was the pre-determined budget prior to shopping. Here they did find that those who self-forgave for over-spending in the past and who were incrementalists (thinking they could change and so the over-spending probably is not a big deal) did spend more than those who kept themselves in check because they were not incrementalists (in other words, they did not trust themselves to change spending habits as much as people with the incremental beliefs that they could change).
Yet, here is the bottom-line critique of this work: The authors never assessed: 1) whether or not the participants who spent more than they had planned had way-overdone the spending; 2) whether or not the spending was harmful to their budget or to the family’s budget; and 3) whether or not any true economic injustice was done by the purchase.
The average reported total amount spent by participants in Study 2 was $74.06. For the majority of people, this hardly would destroy the family finances. In other words, was this kind of spending harmful? Self-forgiveness takes place in the context of harm, of unjust treatment, often toward others, and is seen by the self-forgiver as unjust. Was this kind of spending in this study unjust? The authors did not ask the participants if they thought this was the case.
So, in the final analysis, we see that in one of three statistical tries, participants, who formerly have self-forgiven for over-spending and who think they can change their behavior, spend perhaps a little more than those who think they cannot change. How big is this difference and how serious is it for the family? Given the statistical failure in two out of three tries and given the small sum spent on the average ($74.06), it seems to me that calling this a “dark side” of self-forgiveness is not warranted, at least for now. Do you see how there is a “dark side” to exaggerating conclusions about the dark side of forgiveness?
Robert Peetz, J., Davydenko, M., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2021). The cost of self-forgiveness: Incremental theorists spend more money after forgiving the self for past overspending. Personality and Individual Differences, 179, 110902.
What is the difference between genuine guilt and false guilt?
False guilt occurs when you have not broken your own moral standards. For example, suppose you have to meet someone soon and you forget your car keys, necessitating that you go back into your home, find your keys, get the keys, and now you are late for the meeting. You did not intentionally try to be late for that meeting. You made an error and did not willingly break a standard of honoring the other person. Your acceptance of imperfection may be in order, but to deeply blame the self would be excessive and therefore in all likelihood is false guilt. Genuine guilt occurs when you have broken your moral standards and now you are feeling guilty until you make amends. As a final point here, sometimes unintentional errors can be serious enough to warrant guilt. For example, if you are driving in your car and texting on your phone at the same time, resulting in an accident, you should have been paying more attention to the driving. In that case, even without an intention to do wrong, the guilt would be genuine.