Tagged: “The Forgiving Life”
I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?
I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin. Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family. This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come. Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other. Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard. I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.
Thank you for clarifying that to forgive is a moral response, but it is not a response of dominating the other. Yet, I have a follow-up question: Might forgiveness actually be morally superior to, say, acrimony or hatred?
Let us make a distinction between the person who forgives and the act of forgiveness itself. Those people who forgive are not acting in a morally superior way, but are lowering themselves in humility, as I explained before. Yet, the act of forgiving is far superior in a moral sense than acrimony, getting back at the other, or hating the other. Why? It is because forgiving builds up and hatred has the potential of tearing down. So, the person is not feeling morally superior; the forgiving act itself is considerably morally superior than the option to hate.
It is not possible to forgive someone who has died unless the forgiver believes in an afterlife, right?
One can forgive the deceased regardless of the belief system of the forgiver. For example, the forgiver can say something nice about the person to others, preserving a good name, not because of what happened, but in spite of this. The forgiver might donate some money to a charity in that person’s name, again as a generous act of forgiving. So, one can forgive someone who has died. Otherwise, the one who was treated unjustly could be trapped with an inner resentment that could last the rest of the person’s life.
We have to make a distinction here between what forgiving is and what it accomplishes, or the consequences of forgiving. Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it always is for the other. Why? This is because the moral virtues, whether it is justice or patience or kindness, flow out from the person to others. It is the same when forgiving another person. Yet, one consequence can be self-healing. Thus, the self benefits by being good to another person who was unfair. Forgiveness is about the other person and so is for that person. Your doing this to achieve an inner peace is one reasonable goal of forgiving, as are other goals such as wanting to aid the other and to improve a relationship.
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.