What Is Forgiveness?
In certain contexts, forgiveness is a legal term for absolving or giving up all claims on account of debt, loan, obligation, or other claims.
As a psychological concept and virtue, the benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religious thought, the social sciences and medicine. Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives including forgiving themself, in terms of the person forgiven or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. In most contexts, forgiveness is granted without any expectation of restorative justice, and without any response on the part of the offender (for example, one may forgive a person who is incommunicado or dead). In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, an apology, or even just ask for forgiveness, in order for the wronged person to believe themselves able to forgive as well.
Social and political dimensions of forgiveness involves the strictly private and religious sphere of “forgiveness“. The notion of “forgiveness” is generally considered unusual in the political field. However, Hannah Arendt considers that the “faculty of forgiveness” has its place in public affairs. The philosopher believes that forgiveness can liberate resources both individually and collectively in the face of the irreparable. During an investigation in Rwanda on the discourses and practices of forgiveness after the 1994 genocide, sociologist Benoit Guillou illustrated the extreme polysemy (multiple meanings) of the word “forgiveness” but also the eminently political character of the notion. By way of conclusion of his work, the author proposes four main figures of forgiveness to better understanding, on the one hand, ambiguous uses and, on the other hand, the conditions under which forgiveness can mediate a resumption of social link.
Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.
Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin–Madison founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator of forgiveness studies. He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness. Recent work has focused on what kind of person is more likely to be forgiving. A longitudinal study showed that people who were generally more neurotic, angry, and hostile in life were less likely to forgive another person even after a long time had passed. Specifically, these people were more likely to still avoid their transgressor and want to enact revenge upon them two and a half years after the transgression.
Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.
The research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, and author of the book “Learning to forgive” presented evidence that forgiveness can be learned based on research projects into the effects of forgiveness, giving empirical validity to the concept that forgiveness is not only powerful, but also excellent for your health was presented with a Champion of Forgiveness from the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance on Forgiveness Day (first Sunday of August) for his teaching forgiveness as a life skill.
In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.
In Judaism, if a person causes harm, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is encouraged, but not required, to grant forgiveness:
- “It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit … forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel.” (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10)
In Judaism, one must go to those he has harmed in order to be entitled to forgiveness. [One who sincerely apologizes three times for a wrong committed against another has fulfilled their obligation to seek forgiveness. (Shulchan Aruch) OC 606:1] This means that in Judaism a person cannot obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs the person has done to other people. This also means that, unless the victim forgave the perpetrator before he died, murder is unforgivable in Judaism, and they will answer to God for it, though the victims’ family and friends can forgive the murderer for the grief they caused them. The Tefila Zaka meditation, which is recited just before Yom Kippur, closes with the following:
- “I know that there is no one so righteous that they have not wronged another, financially or physically, through deed or speech. This pains my heart within me, because wrongs between humans and their fellow are not atoned by Yom Kippur, until the wronged one is appeased. Because of this, my heart breaks within me, and my bones tremble; for even the day of death does not atone for such sins. Therefore I prostrate and beg before You, to have mercy on me, and grant me grace, compassion, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all people. For behold, I forgive with a final and resolved forgiveness anyone who has wronged me, whether in person or property, even if they slandered me, or spread falsehoods against me. So I release anyone who has injured me either in person or in property, or has committed any manner of sin that one may commit against another [except for legally enforceable business obligations, and except for someone who has deliberately harmed me with the thought ‘I can harm him because he will forgive me’]. Except for these two, I fully and finally forgive everyone; may no one be punished because of me. And just as I forgive everyone, so may You grant me grace in the eyes of others, that they too forgive me absolutely.” [emphasis added]
Thus the “reward” for forgiving others is not God’s forgiveness for wrongs done to others, but rather help in obtaining forgiveness from the other person.
Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, summarized: “it is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings.”
Jews observe a Day of Atonement Yom Kippur on the day before God makes decisions regarding what will happen during the coming year. Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews will ask forgiveness of those they have wronged during the prior year (if they have not already done so). During Yom Kippur itself, Jews fast and pray for God’s forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year. Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against God; this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged.
See also: Repentance in Christianity
In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of the importance of Christians forgiving or showing mercy towards others. Jesus used the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–35) to say that we should forgive without limits. Parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the best known parable about forgiveness and refers to God’s forgiveness for his people.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly spoke of forgiveness, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7 (NIV) “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23–24 (NIV) “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25 (NIV)* “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” Luke 6:27–29 (NIV) “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 (NIV) “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 (NIV)
Elsewhere, it is said, “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21–22 (NKJV)
Jesus asked for God’s forgiveness of those who crucified him. “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” Luke 23: 34 (ESV)
Benedict XVI, on a visit to Lebanon in 2012, insisted that peace must be based on mutual forgiveness: “Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace”.
See also: Repentance in Islam
Islam teaches that Allah is Al-Ghaffur “The Oft-Forgiving”, and is the original source of all forgiveness (ghufran غفران). Seeking forgiveness from Allah with repentance is a virtue.
(…) Allah forgives what is past: for repetition Allah will exact from him the penalty. For Allah is Exalted, and Lord of Retribution.— Quran 5:95
Islam recommends forgiveness, because Allah values forgiveness. There are numerous verses in Quran and the Hadiths recommending forgiveness. However, Islam also allows revenge to the extent harm done, but forgiveness is encouraged, with a promise of reward from Allah.
The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah: for (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong.— Quran 42:40
Afw (عفو is another term for forgiveness in Islam; it occurs 35 times in Quran, and in some Islamic theological studies, it is used interchangeably with ghufran. Afw means to pardon, to excuse for a fault or an offense. According to Muhammad Amanullah, forgiveness (‘Afw) in Islam is derived from three wisdoms. First and the most important wisdom of forgiveness is that it is merciful when the victim or guardian of the victim accepts money instead of revenge. The second wisdom of forgiveness is that it increases honor and prestige of the one who forgives. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, humiliation or dishonor. Forgiveness is honor, raises the merit of the forgiver in the eyes of Allah, and enables a forgiver to enter paradise. The third wisdom of forgiveness is that according to some scholars, such as al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi, forgiveness expiates (kaffarah) the forgiver from the sins they may have committed at other occasions in life. Forgiveness is a form of charity (sadaqat). Forgiveness comes from taqwa (piety), a quality of God-fearing people.
In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma. Instead, Buddhism encourages the cultivation of thoughts that leave a wholesome effect. “In contemplating the law of karma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing mettā and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all.” When resentments have already arisen, the Buddhist view is to calmly proceed to release them by going back to their roots. Buddhism centers on release from delusion and suffering through meditation and receiving insight into the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passions that make forgiveness necessary as well as the reality of the objects of those passions. “If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers.”
Buddhism places much emphasis on the concepts of Mettā (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkhā (equanimity), as a means to avoiding resentments in the first place. These reflections are used to understand the context of suffering in the world, both our own and the suffering of others.
- “He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ — in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.”
- “He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ — in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease.”
- (Dhammapada 1.3–4; trans. Radhakrishnan – see article)
The theological basis for forgiveness in Hindu Dharma is that a person who does not forgive carries a baggage of memories of the wrong, of negative feelings, of anger and unresolved emotions that affect their present as well as future. In Hindu Dharma, not only should one forgive others, but one must also seek forgiveness if one has wronged someone else. Forgiveness is to be sought from the individual wronged, as well as society at large, by acts of charity, purification, fasting, rituals and meditative introspection.
The concept of forgiveness is further refined in Hindu Dharma by rhetorically contrasting it in feminine and masculine form. In feminine form, one form of forgiveness is explained through Lakshmi (called Goddess Sri in some parts of India); the other form is explained in the masculine form through her husband Vishnu. Feminine Lakshmi forgives even when the one who does wrong does not repent. Masculine Vishnu, on the other hand, forgives only when the wrongdoer repents. In Hindu Dharma, the feminine forgiveness granted without repentance by Lakshmi is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance. In the Hindu epic Ramayana, Sita – the wife of King Rama – is symbolically eulogized for forgiving a crow even as it harms her. Later in the epic Ramayana, she is eulogized again for forgiving those who harass her while she has been kidnapped in Lanka. Many other Hindu stories discuss forgiveness with or without repentance.
The concept of forgiveness is treated in extensive debates of Hindu literature. In some Hindu texts, certain sins and intentional acts are debated as naturally unforgivable; for example, murder and rape; these ancient scholars argue whether blanket forgiveness is morally justifiable in every circumstance, and whether forgiveness encourages crime, disrespect, social disorder and people not taking you seriously. Other ancient Hindu texts highlight that forgiveness is not same as reconciliation.
Forgiveness in Hindu Dharma does not necessarily require that one reconcile with the offender, nor does it rule out reconciliation in some situations. Instead forgiveness in Hindu philosophy is being compassionate, tender, kind and letting go of the harm or hurt caused by someone or something else. Forgiveness is essential for one to free oneself from negative thoughts, and being able to focus on blissfully living a moral and ethical life (dharmic life). In the highest self-realized state, forgiveness becomes the essence of one’s personality, where the persecuted person remains unaffected, without agitation, without feeling like a victim, free from anger (akrodhi).
Other epics and ancient literature of Hindu Dharma discuss forgiveness. For example:
Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti.
Forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.— Mahabharata, Book 3, Vana Parva, Section XXIX, 
Righteousness is the one highest good, forgiveness is the one supreme peace, knowledge is one supreme contentment, and benevolence, one sole happiness.— Mahabharata, Book 5, Udyoga Parva, Section XXXIII, 
Janak asked: Oh lord, how does one attain wisdom? how does liberation happen?
Ashtavakra replied: Oh beloved, if you want liberation, then renounce imagined passions as poison, take forgiveness, innocence, compassion, contentment and truth as nectar; (…)— Ashtavakra Gita
In Jainism, forgiveness is one of the main virtues that needs to be cultivated by the Jains. Kṣamāpanā or supreme forgiveness forms part of one of the ten characteristics of dharma. In the Jain prayer, (pratikramana) Jains repeatedly seek forgiveness from various creatures—even from ekindriyas or single sensed beings like plants and microorganisms that they may have harmed while eating and doing routine activities. Forgiveness is asked by uttering the phrase, Micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ. Micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ is a Prakrit language phrase literally meaning “may all the evil that has been done be fruitless.” During samvatsari—the last day of Jain festival paryusana—Jains utter the phrase Micchami Dukkadam after pratikraman. As a matter of ritual, they personally greet their friends and relatives micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ seeking their forgiveness. No private quarrel or dispute may be carried beyond samvatsari, and letters and telephone calls are made to the outstation friends and relatives asking their forgiveness.
Pratikraman also contains the following prayer:
Khāmemi savva-jīve savvë jive khamantu me /
metti me savva-bhūesu, veraṃ mejjha na keṇavi //
(I ask pardon of all creatures, may all creatures pardon me.
May I have friendship with all beings and enmity with none.)
In their daily prayers and samayika, Jains recite Iryavahi sutra seeking forgiveness from all creatures while involved in routine activities:
May you, O Revered One! Voluntarily permit me. I would like to confess my sinful acts committed while walking. I honour your permission. I desire to absolve myself of the sinful acts by confessing them. I seek forgiveness from all those living beings which I may have tortured while walking, coming and going, treading on living organism, seeds, green grass, dew drops, ant hills, moss, live water, live earth, spider web and others. I seek forgiveness from all these living beings, be they — one sensed, two sensed, three sensed, four sensed or five sensed. Which I may have kicked, covered with dust, rubbed with ground, collided with other, turned upside down, tormented, frightened, shifted from one place to another or killed and deprived them of their lives. (By confessing) may I be absolved of all these sins.
Jain texts quote Māhavīra on forgiveness:
By practicing prāyaṣcitta (repentance), a soul gets rid of sins, and commits no transgressions; he who correctly practises prāyaṣcitta gains the road and the reward of the road, he wins the reward of good conduct. By begging forgiveness he obtains happiness of mind; thereby he acquires a kind disposition towards all kinds of living beings; by this kind disposition he obtains purity of character and freedom from fear.
— Māhavīra in Uttarādhyayana Sūtra 29:17–18
Even the code of conduct amongst the monks requires the monks to ask forgiveness for all transgressions:
If among monks or nuns occurs a quarrel or dispute or dissension, the young monk should ask forgiveness of the superior, and the superior of the young monk. They should forgive and ask forgiveness, appease and be appeased, and converse without restraint. For him who is appeased, there will be success (in control); for him who is not appeased, there will be no success; therefore one should appease one’s self. ‘Why has this been said, Sir? Peace is the essence of monasticism’.
— Kalpa Sūtra 8:59
Hoʻoponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti and New Zealand. Traditionally Hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.
Forgiveness In Relationships
Forgiveness in marriage is an important aspect in a marriage. When two individuals are able to forgive each other it results in a long happy marriage. Forgiveness can help prevent problems from accruing in the married couple’s future.
In a 2005 study, researchers were interested in figuring out whether forgiveness is important in a marriage. When does forgiveness usually accrue? Does it accrue before an argument or after an argument? Does forgiveness take a role when a person breaks a promise? etc Researcher found six components that were related to forgiveness in marriage and explains how each one relates to forgiveness. The six components are: Satisfaction, Ambivalence, Conflict, Attributions, Empathy and Commitment.
Researchers provided an overview of forgiveness in marriage and how individuals in a relationship believe that if forgiveness accrues then you must forget what had happened. Moreover, based on the interventions and recommendations the researcher started to see how important forgiveness is in a relationship and how it can lead to a happy and healthy relationship.
In a 2005 study, researchers mentioned that when couples forgive their spouses they sometimes need help from professionals to overcome their pain that might be left behind. Researchers also described the difference between how each individual perceives the situation based on who is in pain and who caused the pain. Also how the couple react to the situation based on their feelings and how they personally respond to the situation.
The model of forgiveness:
“Enright’s model of forgiveness has received empirical support and sees forgiveness as a journey through four phases” which are:
- Uncovering phase: Emphases on exploring the pain that the individual has experienced.
- Decision phase: The nature of forgiveness is discussed. Also the individual commits that they will try to forgive the spouse
- Work phase: shifts the focus to the transgressor in an effort to gain insight and understanding.
- Deepening phase: the victim moves toward resolution, becoming aware that they are not alone, has themself been the recipient of others’ forgiveness, and finds meaning and purpose in the forgiveness process.
Furthermore, when married couples argue they tend to focus on who is right and who is wrong. Also couples tend to focus on who proves the other wrong which can cause more problems and can make the problem worse because it will make it harder to forgive one another.
Recommendation and interventions:
The researchers also came up with recommendation for practitioners and intervention to help individuals that are married on how to communicate with each other, how to resolve problems and how to make it easier to forgive each other. Some of the interventions of forgiveness in marriage has been a great success. It encouraged forgiveness and made couples happier together.
Some of the recommendations that was given to practitioners was that the individuals had to explore and understand what forgiveness means before starting any intervention because the preconceived idea of forgiveness can cause problems with couples being open to forgive. For example, an individual not forgiving their spouse out of fear that the spouse might think that they are weak which can cause a conflict. It was stated that the couple must know the following:
- Forgiveness takes
- The different forms of forgiveness
- The danger in communicating in forgiveness
- That Perpetrators and victims have different perceptive context is important
Furthermore, the researchers thought of ways to further help married couples in the future and suggested that they should explore the following:
- The importance of seeking forgiveness
- The role of the sacred in marital forgiveness
Relationships are at the sentiment aspect of our lives; with our families at home and friends outside. Relationships interact in schools and universities, with work mates and, with colleagues at the workplace and in our diverse communities. In the article it states, the quality of these relationships determines our individual well-being, how well we learn, develop and function, our sense of connectedness with others and the health so society.
In 2002, two innovators of Positive Psychology, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, conducted a study at the University of Illinois on the 10% of students with the highest scores recorded on a survey of personal happiness. What they came up with was most salient characteristics shared by students who were very content and showed positive life styles were the ones who “their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.”
A study done in 2000, identified as a key study that taken part and examined two natures of relationships (friends and family) and at what age does the support switch importance from one to the other. What the study showed that people whom had good family relationship, they were able to carry out more positive outside relationships with friends. Through the family relationship and friendships the character of the individual was built to forgive and learn from the experience in the family. It just goes to show that to have a good base at the start of a young age, will train the person to have good better well-being with outside interactions.
In 2001, Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet asked people to think about someone who had hurt, wronged, or offended them. As they thought to answer, she observed their reaction. She observed their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. To deliberate on an old misdemeanor is to practice unforgiveness. The outcome to the recall of the grudge the candidates’ blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Pondering about their resents was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. When they adept forgiveness, their physical stimulation glided downward. They showed no more of an anxiety reaction than normal wakefulness produces.
In 2013, study on self-forgiveness with spouse forgiveness has a better outcome to a healthier life by Pelucchi, Paleari, Regalia and Fincham. This study investigates self-forgiveness for real hurts committed against the partner in a romantic relationship (168 couples). For both males and females, the mistaken partners were more content with their romantic relationship to the extent that they had more positive and less negative sentiment and thoughts toward themselves. In the study when looking at the victimized partners were more gratified with the relationship when the offending partner had less negative sentiment and thoughts towards themselves. It concludes that self-forgiveness when in a relationship has positive impact on both the offending and victimized partner.
Both negative and positive affect play a role in forgiveness interventions. It is the general consensus across researchers in the field of psychology, that the overarching purpose of forgiveness interventions is to decrease overall negative affect associated with the stimulus and increase the individual’s positive affect.
The disease model has been mainly used in regards to therapy, however the incorporation of forgiveness into therapy has been lacking, and has been slowly gaining popularity in the last couple of decades. More recent research has shown how the growth of forgiveness in psychology has given rise to the study of forgiveness interventions.
There are various forms of forgiveness interventions. One common adaptation used by researchers is where patients are forced to confront the entity preventing them from forgiving by using introspective techniques and expressing this to the therapist. Another popular forgiveness intervention is getting individual to try and see things from the offender’s point of view. The end goal for this adaptation is getting the individual to perhaps understand the reasoning behind the offender’s actions. If they are able to do this then they might be able to forgive the offender more easily.
There is, however, conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions.
Although research has taken into account the positive aspects of forgiveness interventions, there are also negative aspects that have been explored as well. Some researchers have taken a critical approach and have been less accepting of the forgiveness intervention approach to therapy.
Critics have argued that forgiveness interventions may actually cause an increase in negative affect because it is trying to inhibit the individual’s own personal feelings towards the offender. This can result in the individual feeling negatively towards themself. This approach is categorizing the individual’s feelings by implying that the negative emotions the individual is feeling are unacceptable and feelings of forgiveness is the correct and acceptable way to feel. It might inadvertently promote feelings of shame and contrition within the individual.
Some researchers also worry that forgiveness interventions will promote unhealthy relationships. They worry that individuals with toxic relationships will continue to forgive those who continuously commit wrong acts towards them when in fact they should be distancing themselves from these sorts of people.
A number of studies showcase high effectiveness rates of forgiveness interventions when done continuously over a long period of time. Some researchers have found that these interventions have been proven ineffective when done over short spans of time.
Forgiveness Interventions: Children
There has been some research within the last decade outlining some studies that have looked at the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions on young children. There have also been several studies done studying this cross culturally. One study that explored this relationship, was a study conducted in 2009 by Eadaoin Hui and Tat Sing Chau. In this study, Hui and Chau looked at the relationship between forgiveness interventions and Chinese children who were less likely to forgive those who had wronged them. The findings of this study showed that there was an effect of forgiveness interventions on the young Chinese children.
Forgiveness and Health
Survey data from 2000 showed that 61% of participants that were part of a small religious group reported that the group helped them be more forgiving. Individuals reported that their religion groups which promote forgiveness was related to self-reports of success in overcoming addictions, guilt, and perceiving encouragement when feeling discouraged.
It is suggested that mindfulness plays a role in forgiveness and health. The forgiveness of others has a positive effect on physical health when it is combined with mindfulness but evidence shows that forgiveness only effects health as a function of mindfulness.
A study from 2005 states that self-forgiveness is an important part of self-acceptance and mental health in later life. The inability to self-forgive can compromise mental health. For some elderly people, self-forgiveness requires reflecting on a transgression to avoid repeating wrongdoings, individuals seek to learn from these transgressions in order to improve their real self-schemas. When individuals are successful at learning from these transgressions, they may experience improved mental health.
A study in 2015 looks at how self-forgiveness can reduce feelings of guilt and shame associated with hypersexual behaviour. Hypersexual behaviour can have negative effects on individuals by causing distress and life problems. Self-forgiveness may be a component that can help individuals reduce hypersexual negative behaviours that cause problems.
Evidence shows that self-forgiveness and procrastination may be associated; self-forgiveness allows the individual to overcome the negatives associated with an earlier behaviour and engage in approach-oriented behaviours on a similar task. Learning to forgive oneself for procrastination can be positive because it can promote self-worth and may cause positive mental health. Self-forgiveness for procrastination may also reduce procrastination.
Forgiveness and Physical Health
The correlation between forgiveness and physical health is a concept that has recently gained traction in research. Some studies claim that there is no correlation, either positive or negative between forgiveness and physical health, and others show a positive correlation.
Evidence Supporting a Correlation
Individuals with forgiveness as a personality trait have been shown to have overall better physical health. In a study on relationships, regardless if someone was in a negative or positive relationship, their physical health seemed to be influenced at least partially by their level of forgiveness.
Individuals who make a decision to genuinely forgive someone are also shown to have better physical health. This is due to the relationship between forgiveness and stress reduction. Forgiveness is seen as preventing poor physical health and managing poor physical health.
Specifically individuals who choose to forgive another after a transgression have lower blood pressure and lower cortisol levels than those who do not. This is theorized to be due to various direct and indirect influences of forgiveness, which point to forgiveness as an evolutionary trait. See Broaden and Build Theory.
Direct influences include: Reducing hostility (which is inversely correlated with physical health), and the concept that unforgiveness may reduce the immune system because it puts stress on the individual. Indirect influences are more related to forgiveness as a personality trait and include: forgiving people may have more social support and less stressful marriages, and forgiveness may be related to personality traits that are correlated with physical health.
Forgiveness may also be correlated with physical health because hostility is associated with poor coronary performance. Unforgiveness is as an act of hostility, and forgiveness as an act of letting go of hostility. Heart patients who are treated with therapy that includes forgiveness to reduce hostility have improved cardiac health compared to those who are treated with medicine alone.
Forgiveness may also lead to better perceived physical health. This correlation applies to both self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness but is especially true of self-forgiveness. Individuals who are more capable of forgiving themselves have better perceived physical health.
Forgiveness studies have been refuted by critics who claim that there is no direct correlation between forgiveness and physical health. Forgiveness, due to the reduction of directed anger, contributes to mental health and mental health contributes to physical health, but there is no evidence that forgiveness directly improves physical health. Most of the studies on forgiveness cannot isolate it as an independent variable in an individual’s well-being, so it is difficult to prove causation.
Additionally, research into the correlation between physical health and forgiveness has been criticized for being too focused on unforgiveness. Research shows more about what hostility and unforgiveness contribute to poor health than it shows what forgiveness contributes to physical health.
Self-forgiveness happens in situations where an individual has done something that they perceive to be morally wrong and they consider themselves to be responsible for the wrongdoing. Self-forgiveness is the overcoming of negative emotions that the wrongdoer associates with the wrongful action. Negative emotions associated with wrongful action can include guilt, regret, remorse, blame, shame, self-hatred and/or self-contempt.
Major life events that include trauma can cause individuals to experience feelings of guilt or self-hatred. Humans have the ability to reflect on their behaviours to determine if their actions are moral. In situations of trauma, humans can choose to self-forgive by allowing themselves to change and live a moral life. Self-forgiveness may be required in situations where the individual hurt themselves or in situations where they hurt others.
Individuals can unintentionally cause harm or offence to one another in everyday life. It is important for individuals to be able to recognize when this happens, and in the process of making amends, have the ability to self-forgive. Specific research suggests that the ability to genuinely forgive one’s self can be significantly beneficial to an individual’s emotional as well as mental well-being. The research indicates that the ability to forgive one’s self for past offences can lead to decreased feelings of negative emotions such as shame and guilt, and can increase the use of more positive practices such as self-kindness and self-compassion. However, it has been indicated that it is possible for the process of self-forgiveness to be misinterpreted and therefore not accurately completed.This could potentially lead to increased feelings of regret or self-blame. In an attempt to avoid this, and increase the positive benefits associated with genuine self-forgiveness, a specific therapeutic model of self-forgiveness has been recommended, which can be used to encourage genuine self-forgiveness in offenders. The model that has been proposed has four key elements. These elements include responsibility, remorse, restoration and renewal.
- The therapeutic model suggests responsibility as the first necessary step towards genuine self-forgiveness. Research advises that in order to avoid the negative affect associated with emotions such as overwhelming guilt or regret, offenders must first recognize that they have hurt another individual, and accept the responsibility necessary for their actions.
- Once the individual has accepted responsibility for their offences, it is natural for them to experience feelings of remorse or guilt. However, these feelings can be genuinely processed and expressed preceding the need for restoration.
- The act of restoration allows the offending individual to make the necessary amends to the individual(s) they have hurt.
- The final component in the model of self-forgiveness is renewal. The offending individual is able to genuinely forgive themself for their past transgressions and can engage in more positive and meaningful behaviors such as self-compassion and self-kindness.
Despite the suggested model, research advises that the process of self-forgiveness is not always applicable for every individual. For example, individuals who have not actually caused others any harm or wrongdoing, but instead are suffering from negative emotions such as self-hatred or self-pity, such as victims of assault, might attempt self-forgiveness for their perceived offences. However, this would not be the process necessary for them to make their amends. Additionally, offenders who continue to offend others while attempting to forgive themselves for past offences demonstrate a reluctance to genuinely complete the four stages necessary for self-forgiveness. Research suggests that it is important to first gather exterior information about the individual’s perceived offences as well as their needs and motivation for self-forgiveness.
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