There is a difference between what forgiveness is and why we do it. To forgive, by definition, is to be good to those who are not good to you. This is not a focus on the self, but on the other. If your motivation is to feel better, this is reasonable, especially if you are experiencing inner discomfort because of ongoing resentment. Thus, what forgiveness is and your current motivation can differ. One (the forgiving) is centered on the other. Your motivation is centered on your own healing. Neither of these is selfish. As a final point, not all motivations to forgive are centered on self-healing. For example, a person might be motivated to forgive for the sake of the one who offended.
Suppose you hurt your knee while running. Further suppose that you want to make an appointment at Sports Medicine to address the issue. Is this selfish? There is a large difference between being selfish (absorbed with yourself at the expense of others) and engaging in self-care (attending to your needs without neglecting others’ needs). Forgiving is good self-care. Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in heart health for cardiac patients:
Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009). The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.
Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms:
Lee, Y-R & Enright, R.D. (2014) A forgiveness intervention for women with fibromyalgia who were abused in childhood: A pilot study. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 203-217. doi: 10.1037/scp0000025.
A recent meta-analysis showed a statistically significant correlation between degree of forgiveness and a host of different physical issues:
Lee, Y.R. & Enright, R.D. (2019): A meta-analysis of the association between forgiveness of others and physical health. Psychology & Health, 34, 626-643.
So, yes, forgiving does seem advantageous for one’s physical health.
For additional information, see Forgiveness for Individuals.
I hear so often, “Forgiveness is for the forgiver.” Is this correct? If so, it seems that forgiveness is a selfish act.
To forgive another person out of the motivation to help the self is not the only kind of motive people have for forgiving. Yes, it is one such motive, but not the only one. In the case of “forgiving for the forgiver,” the one hurt by another is motivated, usually, by a desire to be free from a persistent and uncomfortable resentment. Forgiveness can reduce or even eliminate that resentment and so this is a motivation for good self-care. This is a self-pertaining motive and not necessarily a selfish motive. Other motives for forgiving include helping the offending person to change, improving a relationship, and being faithful to certain religious beliefs that encourage forgiveness.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
Thank you for answering my earlier question about the advantages of forgiveness. It seems to me that if a person forgives to feel better, that is just a selfish move. It is all about “me.” So, I still am skeptical.
There is a difference between a selfish act and a self-serving act. A selfish act tends to ignore others’ legitimate needs. For example, Person A takes Person B’s money so that Person A can gamble with it. This deprives Person B of those funds that rightfully belong to Person B. In contrast, suppose Person A has to break a date with Person B because Person A hurt his knee and has to go to an Urgent Care facility for treatment. This is not selfish, but a healthy self-serving activity because of the damaged knee. There is no intention of depriving anyone, as was the case with our gambling example.
Forgiving to rid the self of excessive anger or depression is not depriving others of anything. It is self-serving because of the hurting heart that needs rehabilitation. Forgiving for this reason is not necessarily the exclusive reason people use when forgiving, but sometimes it is the place people start because they are so hurting inside. Forgiveness is good medicine for such hurts and so is not selfish in this context.
For additional information, see: How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life.