There are several definitions of forgiveness. At a basic level, forgiveness refers to the completion of a process of “letting go” of all the negative feelings experienced when one person is hurt by the actions or words of another person. As in the classic Bible story about the two debtors, forgiveness balances the scales of justice by cancelling the debt of pain caused by a harmful action.
Forgiveness can be a single act. People can let go of a past hurt and the accompanying distressing emotions.
Forgiveness is also a personality trait. Forgiving people have a habit of forgiving others. Sometimes this type of forgiveness is called forgivingness. Psychological scientists may refer to this type of forgiveness as dispositional forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not require reconciliation but reconciliation may help with the process of reconciliation.
Forgiveness deals with the problem of intrapersonal pain. Forgiveness heals the inner hurts and sets hurting people free from the toxicity of holding on to hurtful memories. Constantly reviewing old hurts (nursing grudges) perpetuates inner distress.
Unforgiveness, is a state of holding onto a hurtful experience characterised by remembering the hurt and re-experiencing distressful emotions such as anger. Unforgiveness may be accompanied by thoughts of revenge. Unforgiveness is captured in ordinary language by the phrase, "holding a grudge."
Forgiveness comes with blessings of good health and well-being. Forgiveness is not a cure-all, but it often helps with aspects of depression and anxiety. We may feel less stressed and less angry when we forgive. Research indicates a reduction in cortisol levels when people forgive. Our cortisol levels are elevated when we are under stress.
Forgiveness is positively correlated with humility, hope, love and compassion.
Two psychologists have led the way in developing approaches to forgiveness that have helped many people: Robert Enright and Ev Worthington, Jr. (see references below).
Findings published by Chelsea Greer and her colleagues indicate improvement in forgiving when using a workbook.
Self-forgiveness is an important aspect of forgiveness because some people are overly self-critical about their past actions.
Some theorists view Christian forgiveness as including a positive attitude toward the offender with a desire to reconcile. However, most agree that there is a danger of reconciling with offenders who will continue to abuse the forgiver.
Reconciliation is a process of restoring a broken relationship. Reconciliation requires trust. Reconciliation works best when it is safe to reconcile. Reconciliation involves at least two parties who are committed to repair the damaged relationship.
Counselors, clergy, and psychotherapists are among those who may be trained in forgiveness interventions. Some people naturally forgive others and some learn to forgive through spiritual practices like prayer. Others may benefit from one or more sessions with a professional.
Learn more about forgiveness in Chapter 6 of Living Well on AMAZON.
Learn more about forgiveness by reading these online articles
5 Beliefs about Forgiveness - Survey Data
10 Beliefs about Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Forgive? Yes. Reconcile? Maybe.
Forgiveness and Psychotherapy
Sexual Harassment, Apologies, Forgiveness, and Restoration
Psychology of Forgiveness and Spirituality
How Forgiveness Promotes Hope
Learn more about forgiveness in these Books
FREE OF CHARGE: GIVING AND FORGIVING IN A CULTURE STRIPPED OF GRACE
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R.P. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Greer, C. L., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Lin, Y., Lavelock, C. R., & Griffin, B. J. (2014). Efficacy of a self-directed forgiveness workbook for Christian victims of within-congregation offenders. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1(3), 218-230.
Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Worthington, E.L., Jr., (2013). Moving forward: Six steps to forgiving yourself and breaking free from the past. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook.