Forgiveness is a very important part of working on yourself and personal development. Many don’t understand what the true meaning of forgiveness is and because of that it is difficult for them to forgive themselves or others. The most common misconception about forgiveness means changing the opinion of the person we are forgiving, acknowledging that the other person was right, or acknowledging that we were wrong. This may be the case, but not always. Forgiveness means giving up hope forever that the past might have been different.
Forgiveness is a process, in most cases it is very long, painful and difficult. Joanna Shapland (2016) emphasizes that self-forgiveness lasts much longer than the forgiveness we give to others.
There are three models of forgiveness. The first model is ”motivational“ and Howard Zehr (1990) has written a lot about it. In the motivational model, victims want to establish and improve a broken relationship, so that after a certain time, when negative feelings of avoidance and revenge subside or disappear, the victim is motivated to forgive and improve the relationship with the perpetrator. The second model is based on the ”REACH“ theory (Worthington and Scherer, 2004) according to which, after the cessation of feelings of pain, anger and hostility, victims decide to give forgiveness as an ”altruistic gift“ to the perpetrator, wanting to replace unpleasant negative emotions with positive ones. In this case, forgiveness is a survival strategy for the victim. The third model is process-oriented, and sees forgiveness as a voluntary and unconditional act in which negative feelings are replaced by compassion, sympathy and love for the perpetrator. (Shapland, 2016)
Jim Consedine points out that ”giving forgiveness and practicing forgiveness is the cornerstone of a healthy life. It is a step we must take to get rid of the present negative consequences of injustice from the past. Forgiveness has the ability to transform a person, and that quality is rarely where we can find it. Deciding to forgive means creating a different future that is not controlled by past events. But, that doesn’t mean forgetting the past. It means remembering the past in a different way, leaving everyone to work on themselves. The person thus becomes empowered and can build a future that is not under the control of past events“. (Considine, 2005)
Fred Luskin, director of the Forgiveness Project at Standford University, presents an interesting view of forgiveness. ”There are those who think we should forgive in order to improve the relationship with the perpetrator. Some are afraid to forgive because they think they will not be able to obtain justice. Some believe that forgiveness must precede reconciliation. Some think forgiveness means forgetting what happened. Others think we should/must forgive because that is what our religion teaches us. However, each of these conceptions is wrong“. (Luskin, 2003)
Forgiveness allows perpetrators to understand the past in a way that frees them from this ”irreversibility“. In this regard, Hannah Arendt (1958) stated that ”without forgiveness and without liberation from the consequences of what we have done, our ability to act would be limited to a single act from which we could never recover; we would be victims of its consequences forever“. According to Considine” forgiveness is a central part of holistic healing and should be a path for all those who want to be fully renewed and empowered”. (Considine, 2005)
Great scientific discoveries of mental health have been made in research related to forgiveness. Forgiveness therapy first appeared in the 1980s as part of a cognitive-behavioural intervention model. (Hope, 1987) This therapy involved processing an event in which someone is injured with the goal of forgiving the offender. The processes that are worked on as part of therapy are expressing anger, thinking about the perpetrator from the perspective of empathy, considering choices (forgive or not to forgive), deepening feelings of forgiveness and so on.
Today, the field of forgiveness therapy is on the rise, and research shows that forgiveness has multiple effects.
For those who are willing to forgive, there has been progress in combating anxiety and depression, as well as strengthening self-esteem and hope. (Ingersoll-Dayton, Campbell & Hwa-Ha, 2011) Reed and Enright (2006) studied women who were emotionally abused two years after the abuse and who abandoned the abuser. The research used forgiveness therapy and alternative therapy (defined as anger validation, assertiveness and strengthening interpersonal skills), to determine if there was a difference in psychological well-being outcomes.
Significant progress has been made in combating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, higher self-esteem, and forgiveness among members of the forgiveness therapy group than among members of the alternative therapy group. Forgiveness therapy is used as an effective tool in the recovery process of emotionally abused women. Other psychological benefits of forgiveness include increased feelings of love, improved ability to cope with others’ anger and improved ability to build trust and release control from other and past events. (Reed & Enright, 2006)
Forgiveness is not an “all or nothing” thing, or we did or didn’t forgive. On the contrary, it is a process that has its levels. On a scale of forgiveness from 0 to 10, complete forgiveness may never occur, but our developmental task is to strive to get closer and move from 6 to 7 and so on. For the purpose of forgiveness, psychologists often use the technique of Writing letters, and its role is to help the victim gradually get rid of negative feelings and bring themself to a state of psychological peace. Written letters should not be sent to the perpetrator, because the purpose is not for them to learn about their mistakes and change. The emphasis is on the very act of writing because during it the victim recognizes and comes to terms with their pain. The ultimate goal is to define one’s own pain, not to let it define them, because that is the only way to continue one’s life, rather than being a victim of one’s biography.
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Arendt, H. (1958). The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Consedine, J. (2005). Is there are place for Forgiveness in Restorative Justice? Journal of South Pacific Law, Vol. 9, Issue 1, 2005.
Hope, D. (1987). The healing paradox of forgiveness. Psychotherapy, 24, 240-244
Ingersoll-Dayton, B., Campbell, R., & Hwa-Ha, J. (2011). Enhancing forgiveness: A group intervention for the elderly. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52, 2-16.
Luskin, F. (2003). Forgive for good: a proven prescription for health and happiness. New York: Harper Collins.
Reed, G. L., & Enright, R. D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74, 920-929.
Zehr, H. (1990). Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice, Herald Press.
Shapland, J. (2016). Forgiveness and Restorative Justice: Is it Necessary? Is it Helpful? Oxford Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2016 (94 -112).
Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Scherer, M. (2004). Forgiveness is an emotion-focused coping strategy that can reduce health risks and promote health resilience: Theory, review, and hypotheses. Psychology & Health, 19(3), 385-405.