Forgiveness has long been associated with religion and it was not until the 1990’s that the basic idea of forgiveness was viewed under the umbrella of psychology. A seriously impressive amount of research has been conducted since the 90’s to define forgiveness and and its related concepts. This research is ongoing and we have so much to learn!
In seeking to understand what forgiveness means it is important to also understand what it does not mean. Below is a collection of tenets found online or in several research studies working to better understand what forgiveness might look like in your life.
Regardless of whether you chose to consider forgiveness or commit to forgive, research has found that simply addressing the issues with a loved one or therapist can work to increase health and healing in your life.
1. Forgiving is an internal, and sometimes timely process that can lead to your commitment to let go of anger, hurt, and pain over an offense.
2. Forgiveness is a choice and not a moral imperative that can aid personal emotional recovery.
3. Forgiveness is separate from reconciliation. Forgiveness can occur without need to return to or repair a relationship with a hurtful person. Forgiveness comes from a place of strength, not weakness.
4. Forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, or forgetting what happened. Forgiving includes space to continue to ask for fairness from the other person.
5. Forgiveness entails identifying and communicating important personal “unenforceable rules”, values, dreams, and belief systems that were offended. Forgiveness entails owning your emotional experience rather than getting stuck in blaming or feeling victimized. This may also serve to empower you to plan specific responses to uphold your values in the future.
6. Forgiveness responds to an offense by reducing resentment and anger and possibly increasing more positive thoughts such as empathy or compassion.
7. Forgiveness recognizes that you cannot change the past or what has been done. It is not about forgetting it is about remembering and doing something about it.
8. Forgiving is allowing another person to be human for faults, mistakes, or misdeeds. Forgiving is the act of letting go of bitterness, anger, fear, sadness, and pain that arises from the break in your relationship values.
9. Forgiving is letting the other person know that you accept as genuine the remorse and sorrow for actions or words that hurt or disappointed you.
10. Forgiveness sometimes involves self-forgiveness in recognizing how “unforgivable” traits in others mirror the qualities you find “unforgivable” in yourself. Forgiving someone else can lead you to forgive the grudges you’ve held against yourself.
Pathways to Forgiveness:
Forgiveness starts in anger and confusion, leads to considering forgiveness as an option, then to the work of reframing, empathy and compassion toward an offender, and eventually culminates in a newly developed meaning and purpose in life as anger diminishes toward an offender.
Process Model (excerpts, uncited from research):
Four broad phases of uncovering (admitting the fact of the offense and experiencing its negative consequences), deciding to forgive (feeling a need for change and committing to forgive as a strategy in dealing with the offense), working (trying to see the offender from a broader perspective than the offense and to feel compassion for that person), and deepening (finding meaning and purpose in the offense and experiencing the benefits of forgiveness).
Luskin posited a four-stage model in which the clients recognize rage, realize that abiding anger is unhealthy, reframe the unfair situation to see that it is not nearly as problematic as supposed, and resolve not to let anger dominate their emotional well-being
Worthington’s pyramid model includes points that are similar to those in Luskin’s model as the clients recall the hurt and experience anger; begin to empathize with the offender; offer a prosocial response to the person; commit to forgiving by a concrete act of telling the offender or a confidant of this choice to forgive; and resolve, as in Luskin’s model, to use forgiveness in future situations.
*** If telling the offender is not possible face to face, then a friend or loved one could be verbally told of your intent. It makes it even more important to note that forgiveness is possible even without reconciliation. The important idea for the commitment part of the process is that something concrete de-marks the commitment. This “something concrete” can vary from person to person, and its a personal decision. Verbalizing your intent somehow makes it more real, more official, and gives a small level of accountability to see it through (especially since it can be difficult to commit to forgive).
Benefits of Forgiveness:
- decrease fatigue and increase in quality of sleep
- less physical symptoms
- decrease depression
- decrease levels of hostility and
- increase levels of interpersonal warmth
- positive impact on physical, relational, mental, and spiritual health
- brings increase to overall relational satisfaction
Barriers to Forgiveness:
- Holding onto anger and hostility can be stress-inducing and a barrier to living the life you want to live.
- It may be difficult to commit to forgive out of fear of change itself, fear of being hurt again, or simply being unsure how to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a two part process and difficulty can come at both the process of commitment to forgive and the willingness to consider forgiveness as an option.
- One barrier may be possible if there is a lack of support. Being able to talk with a friend or loved one as you consider or process a commitment to forgive can prove helpful.
I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. — James Baldwin