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FORGIVENESS: A CORRELATIONAL STUDY BETWEEN THE SPIRIT OF
FORGIVENESS AND PHYSICAL HEALTH IN SENIOR CITIZENS
THOMAS J: CONNERY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I have been blessed to receive the guidance and help from so many individuals.
First and foremost is my chairperson, Dr. Mary Howard-Hamilton, who, despite a
relocation to Indiana, has guided and directed me with love and patience. I am indebted
to my committee members, Dr. Silvia Echevarria-Doan, Dr. James Archer, and Dr. David
Miller, for giving me their time and expertise. I am indebted also to my dear friends who
wanted the degree almost as much as I did: Gert and Marcia King; Theresa Hand; Dr.
Anthony and Pat Cardinale, who painstakingly recorded, typed, and organized my work;
Kathleen Nonnenmacher, who encouraged me and spent countless hours in the library
assisting me; and Jong- hyo Park, whose expertise in statistics was a God-send. I am
grateful to Dr. Robert Enright, who initially put me on this track of forgiveness, for his
encouragement. I thank Dr. Sid Sarinopolous, whom I constantly consulted for advice,
direction, and clarification; I remain indebted to him and thank him for his patience. I
also thank Dr. Jerry Goldberg, who, though a stranger, willingly offered insight and
clarification; Mary Jane Schaer, who did an excellent job preparing my work; and Candy
Spires, who was most helpful in keeping my classes straight. I want to express my
gratitude to my mom and dad who, though they may not have had the opportunity to
further their education, encouraged me to be the best that I can be.
Finally, this is dedicated to Helen Smorto, who was called home to heaven and is
unable to rejoice with me. I miss her, and I thank her.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. ii
ABSTRACT ......................................................... vi
1 INTRODUCTION ................................... ..............1
Statement of the Problem .............................................. 1
The Role of Forgiveness ............................................ 7
Definition of Term ............ ...................................... 8
The Purpose of the Study ..............................................9
Hypotheses ............ ............................................ 9
Significance of the Study ............... ........................... 10
2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE ...................................... 11
Why Now Forgiveness? .............................................. 14
What Is Interpersonal Forgiveness? ................ ................... 16
Philosophical Perspectives of Forgiveness .............................. 24
The Unforgivable ....................................................26
The Possibility of Forgiveness ............... ....................... 28
Conflicting View of Forgiveness ................ ..................... 33
The Parameters of Forgiveness ..................................... 34
What Forgiveness Is Not ............................................. 37
Definition of Forgiveness ............... ........................... 45
What Is Forgiveness? .............. ................. .............. 46
Foundational Definition .............. ............................ 51
Challenge of Forgiveness ............... ........................... 57
The Process of Forgiving ............................................. 61
How Do People Forgive ................. ............................ 62
Anger and Forgiveness .............................................. 71
The Model of Forgiveness Based on Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development... 74
The Forgiveness Model .................. .......................... 78
Uncovering ........... ............................................ 85
Work ................. ............................. 87
Outcome ................................ ...................88
The Role of Empathy ................................................ 89
How Does One Know When Forgiveness Has Taken Place? .................. 92
What Are the Benefits in Forgiving ................ ................... 93
Hostility, Anger, and Physical Health ................. .............. 99
The Role of Anger ................................................. 105
Theoretical Claims On the Physical Health Enhancing Potential of Forgiveness .. 108
How Forgiveness Might Influence Health ............................. 112
Possible Physiological Mechanisms ................................ 117
A Theoretical Framework ................ ......................... 122
3 METHODOLOGY ................................................ 126
Overview .................. .......................... 126
Definitions ...................................................... 127
Participants ...................................................... 128
Procedure ....................................... ................. 128
Psychological Variable Instruments .................... .............. 129
Descriptive Statistics for the Normative Samples .......................... 132
Anger Expression and Anger Control ................................... 132
STAXI-2 Scales and Subscales ........................................ 133
The 27-Item Version of the Cook and Medley Hostility Scale ................ 133
Physical Health Status ............... ............................ 135
Health-Risk Variables .............. ............................ 136
Study ............................................. 137
4 RESULTS ............ .... ....................... ...... 138
Descriptive Data ............. ..................................... 138
5 DISCUSSION ...................................... .......... 151
Research Implications ................ ............................ 155
Practical Implications .................. .............................156
Limitations ................ ..................... .............. 156
Future Research ................................... ............ 158
A VOLUNTEER INVITATION LETTER AND CHURCH BULLETIN NOTICE .. 161
B INFORMED CONSENT ................... ....... ...............163
C BASIC INFORMATION QUESTIONNAIRE ............................ 164
D ACTIVITIES AND HABITS QUESTIONNAIRE ....................... 166
REFEREN CES .................................................... 168
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............... ......................... 202
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
FORGIVENESS: A CORRELATIONAL STUDY BETWEEN THE SPIRIT OF
FORGIVENESS AND PHYSICAL HEALTH IN SENIOR CITIZENS
Thomas J. Connery
Chair: Mary Howard-Hamilton
Major Department: Counselor Education
Clients who seek counseling are often motivated by the desire to move beyond or
overcome past hurts and injustices. Though the desire may be there, the skill to do so is
lacking. As counselors, we facilitate the process by our knowledge and expertise. One
strategy to recover from past injustices is forgiveness. Forgiveness can be the catalyst for
healing and regaining one's peace of mind. Clients are reluctant to choose forgiveness for
it carries the stigma of defeat. Knowing that forgiveness is connected to improved
outcomes may be the appeal to select forgiveness.
This study involved 203 senior citizens, male and female, whose ages ranged
from 65 to 82. Sixty-six percent were between 65 and 75, 47% ranged from 76 to 79
and 22% were 80 and older. The volunteers were primarily from a Central Florida
Catholic Church. The following instruments were given to each participant: Enright
Forgiveness Inventory, The Anger Expression Scale, The 27-Item Version of the Cook
and Medley Hostility Scale, and the Physical Health Status and Health-Risk Variables.
Separate correlation analyses were performed for the EFI and anger and EFI and
hostility, EFI Anger and hostility and predictor variables and physical health measures.
Multiple regression analyses were performed with predictor variables and physical
health. Unlike previous research, these results did not show any significant correlation
between forgiveness and physical health.
Statement of the Problem
Health-related quality of life or the capability to function in the physical,
psychosocial and sociological domain of health is of growing interest in the field of aging
(Badger, 2001). Today, there are 78 million American baby boomers-persons between
ages 35 and 53--comprising nearly one-third of the total U.S. population. According to
psychologist and entrepreneur Den Dychtwald (1999), the 20t century had been in the
domain of the young, but the 21" century will belong to the "new-old." Two-thirds of all
the people who have ever lived past age 65 in the entire history of the world are presently
alive today. He predicts that this population, the aging baby boomers, will crave vigor,
vitality, and life extension. The irony of past medical successes, he believes, is that they
have produced legions of long-lived elders who wrestle with the very problems that the
American health care system is ill-equipped to handle, such as heart disease, cancer,
arthritis, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's.
These are the health risks that elderly face as they are graced with longevity. A
severe problem, often unmentioned, that plagues the senior years is the struggle with
depression. Depression is a serious problem among persons aged 65 and older and often
is missed in primary care practice (Butler, Cohen, Lewis, Simmons-Clemmons, &
Sunderland, 1997). Though the prevalence of major depression among people age 65 and
over in community surveys stands at 15%, another 15% suffer from some degree of
adjustment disorder, chronic depression, and other forms of minor depression (Diagnosis
and Treatment, 1991). Prevalence in nursing homes is 12% to 22% for major depression
disorder and over 15% to 30% for minor depression (American Psychiatric Association,
This is noteworthy because depression is linked with physical health problems
(Koenig, 1999). Depression, along with anxiety, in medically ill seniors both increases
the morbidity and mortality and burdens not only the individual but society with higher
health costs and utilization. It is also linked to a poorer functional status and outcomes
for patients (Kim, Braun, & Kunick, 2001). Ormel and colleagues (1998) noted that
depressive symptoms contribute more to functional disability, poor health perception,
and poor well-being than most chronic medical conditions. In persons aged 65 and older,
the incidence of depression increases with the degree of physical health problems. Higher
levels of mortality among depressed patients may have as a contributor psychological
stress, which triggers the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands and thereby
adversely affects the immune system. Unfortunately 70% to 90% of late-life depression
is undiagnosed (Koenig, 1999).
Untreated depression among older people can be deadly. The suicide rate in old
age is the highest of any age group: 67.6 suicides per 100,000 in persons age 85 and
older, five times the national rate for all ages of 12 per 100,000 (Butler, 1997). An
estimated one out of six patients seen by a primary care physician is suffering from
depression. In about 25% of cases of depression, a contributing factor may be chronic
physical illness such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease, arthritis, and
Parkinson's disease (Butler, 1997). Depression, especially in older adults, is prevalent but
often unrecognized in patients with other medical disorders. If left untreated, comorbid
depression may lead to a worsening of certain medical conditions such as coronary artery
disease (Evans, 1997).
Depressed patients suffer from symptomatic and fatal ischemic heart disease at a
higher rate than nondepressed patients. Alterations in sympathetic and parasympathetic
tone possibly make depressed patients more vulnerable to ventricular fibrillation.
Comorbid depression and cardiac disease are commonly encountered by any clinician
treating older patients. Furthermore, depressed patients have poorer outcomes than
nondepressed patients with similar degrees of heart disease. Depressed patients have a
higher than expected rate of sudden cardiovascular death. Patients with depression
develop symptomatic and fatal ischemic heart disease at a higher rate when compared
with a nondepressed group (Roose, Devanand, & Suthers, 1999).
Depression in older persons is associated with significant decrease in physical
mobility and increase in disability associated with activities of daily living. Depression
can adversely affect biological processes that may enhance susceptibility to disease or
cause neuromuscular factional decline (Penninx & Leveille, 1999). People who are
depressed have significantly greater mortality following a myocardial infarction (MI) and
are more likely to have a reinfarction. Senior citizens suffering from myocardial
infarction often present with restless agitation or confusion. Congestive heart failure can
produce anxiety, fatigue, or poor concentration. Hypertension, which affects 40% of the
elderly, is often treated with medication that has a high potential of causing depression
(Vickers, 1988) Depression puts enormous stress on a person's psychological system.
Serotonin levels are decreased in the brain of anyone who is depressed. It has been
reported that serotonin levels in platelet cells also might be decreased in depressed
people, making platelets more coagulable and increasing the risk of MI (Koenig, 1999).
Besides depression, another disorder confronting not only the senior population
but also all Americans is cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading
cause of illness and death in the United States. An estimated 14 million Americans have
a history of MI with costs to the health care system reaching $60 billion per year. The
three risk factors that can be modified to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and
death are hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, and cigarette smoking (Pennington &
These are just two striking examples of a myriad of illnesses that affect, in
particular, the senior population. Understandably, depression is not solely linked to a lack
of forgiveness as there are many causes and factors, yet learning to forgive can be an
important antidote. Forgiving is effective in resolving feelings of remorse, guilt, anger,
anxiety, and fear (Cerney, 1988; Fitzgibbons, 1986) The field is now ripe for innovative,
challenging treatment with increased potential to positively impact the lives of senior
citizens with psychiatric symptoms and disorders (Stanley, 2001) Considering the high
rate of incomplete response to antidepressants, the negative effects on the quality of life,
and costly increases in health care, it poses a challenge to the medical fields to find a
suitable option (Scogin et al., 2001). Using psychosocial treatments as adjuncts to the
antidepressant medication is an appealing option. Psychotherapy is designed to get to the
root of the problem, which medicated treatment is unable to target. Psychosocial
treatments can present coping strategies to utilize when facing stressors and the means
for dealing with demoralization and feelings of hopelessness and despair (Scogin et al.,
2001). Forgiveness can be a major component in the healing process. Forgiveness
interventions have been related to reductions in anxiety (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardes,
1995; Coyle & Enright, 1997; Freedman & Enright, 1996), reductions in anger (Coyle &
Enright, 1997), and reductions in depression (Freedman & Enright, 1996). Evidence has
emerged that positive emotional states, such as love, and conditions that foster positive
emotions, such as intimate relationships, have health-enhancing effects (Medalie &
Goldbourt, 1996; Medalie, Strange, Zyzanoki, & Goldbourt, 1992; Seeman & Syme,
1987). Forgiveness quite possibly can have an empirically discemable positive influence
on physical health.
Forgiveness involves the affective, cognitive, and behavioral systems. When one
forgives, certain elements are subtracted from each system. A key benefit is that negative
emotions, such as anger, hatred, resentment, hostility, sadness and/or contempt, are given
up (Richards, 1988). In the cognitive system, one gives up condemning and blaming
judgment and the plotting of revenge where this was occurring. In the behavioral system,
one chooses to no longer act out of revenge (North, 1987).
When one forgives, certain elements are added to each system. In the affective
system, the negative emotions are replaced by more neutral emotions and eventually by
positive acts, such as unselfish love (Cunningham, 1985; Downie, 1965; North, 1987).
On the cognitive system, the offender may realize he or she has a right to negative
emotions, yet is most willing to give them up (North, 1987). Positive thoughts now
emerge toward the offender (Smedes, 1984). There is the promising potential for the
forgiver to experience both inner release and healed relationship (Augsburger, 1981).
Although the relationship between forgiveness and positive emotions has yet to
be investigated empirically, present correlational data have shown significant positive
relations between forgiveness and a sense of well being (Ashleman, 1996; Nousse, 1997).
When one sincerely forgives, emerging positive emotions may greatly influence the
quality of the relationship between the two parties. Consequently, forgiveness may have a
substantial and lasting impact on the physical health of the offended.
The benefits from the effort to forgive outweigh the struggle to achieve it.
Significant among them are a decreased level of anger and hostility and increased
feelings of love and compassion (Medalie & Goldbourt, 1996; Seeman & Syme, 1987;
Shapiro, Schwartz, & Aston, 1996), improved ability to deflate anger (Coyle & Enright,
1997; Huang, 1990; Sarinopoulos, 1996), enhanced capacity to trust, and freedom from
the subtle control of individuals and events of the past. Of particular importance is the
decrease of the feelings of anger and hostility.
Although not entirely consistent, there is striking evidence for a relationship
between hostility and coronary heart disease (CHD). Miller and colleagues (Miller,
Smith, Turner, Guijarro, & Hallet, 1996) noted that hostility was independently
associated with objective evidence of CHD, for example, confirmed myocardial
infarction. Some evidence is beginning to emerge on some of the dire effects that
hostility might possibly have on the cardiovascular system. Hostility was found to be
associated with angiographic coronary stenosis (Barefoot et al., 1994; Williams et al.,
1980) and silent ventricular dysfunction (Burg, Jain, Soufer, Kerns, & Zaret, 1993).
Further, hostility has been connected to other life threatening illnesses and mortality
(Chesney & Rosenman, 1985; Friedman, 1992; Johnson, 1990; Matthews et al., 1986;
Smith, 1992). Schekelle, Gail, Ostfelt, and Paul (1983) found hostility scores to predict
mortality from not only CHD but from other illnesses as well. Impressively, Barefoot,
Dahlstrom. and Williams (1983) and Barefoot, Dodge, Peterson, Dahlstrom, and
Williams (1989) found that hostility singularly predicted all-cause mortality over 25-
and 28-year follow-up periods.
An impressive body of evidence has been gathered on the relationship between
anger expression and hypertension. Not only suppressed (Diamond, 1982; Harburg,
Blakelock, & Roeper, 1979; Harburg et al., 1973; Julius & Johnson, 1985; Thomas,
1997) but expressed anger (Engebretson, Matthews, & Scheier, 1989; Gentry, 1985;
Gentry, Chesney, Gary, Hall, & Harburg, 1982; Schalling, 1985; Spielberger et al., 1985)
have been found to be significantly related to elevated blood pressure and hypertension.
Links between stress or distress and immunity may have even more potent health
consequences for older adults because immune function declines with age, particularly
functional aspects of the cellular immune response (Murasko, Weiner, & Kaye, 1988;
Wayne, Rhyne, & Garry, 1990; Yoshikawa, 1983). Among adults over 75 years of age,
pneumonia and influenza together are the fourth leading cause of death (Yoshikawa,
Besides hostility, anger has also been shown to affect other common health
problems. Arena, Bruno, Rozantine, and Meador (1997) found that tension headache
sufferers stored significantly more suppressed anger compared to nonpain controls. In a
national sample of Black adults, Johnson and Broman (1987) found that increased levels
of outwardly expressed anger was associated with a greater number of health problems
(e.g., ulcers, cancer, hypertension, and diabetes). Supporting this premise, Vandervoort,
Ragland, and Syme (1996) found that both suppressed and expressed anger aggravated
health problems ranging from gastrointestinal to musculoskeletal health complaints.
The Role of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is closely, though not solely, connected to a religious/spiritual
outlook. Many elders turn to their religiousness to help cope with physical and emotional
problems (Koenig, 1999). Religiously committed older adults are notably healthier,
happier, and enjoy greater life satisfaction and are less depressed, anxious, and lonely
(Koenig, 1999). Religious coping has been related to lower rates of depression in both
cross-sectional (Idler, 1987; Koenig, Cohen, Blazer, Kudler, Krishnan, & Sibert 1995;
Pressman, Lyons, Larson, & Strain, 1990) and longitudinal studies (Idler & Kasl, 1992;
Koenig et al., 1992). A number of studies have demonstrated that religiously active older
adults have lower blood pressure (Larson et al., 1989), fewer strokes (Colantinio, Kasl, &
Ostfeld, 1992), fewer deaths from coronary heart disease (Goldbourt, Yaari, & Medalie,
1993), and longer survival overall (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Zuckerman, Kasl, &
Definition of Term
Enright and the Human Development Study Group [HDSG] (1991a) developed
their definition from a threefold approach: how one thinks, feels and acts toward the
offender. The definition includes judgments (how the forgiver thinks about the offender)
emotions (how one feels toward the offenderr, and behavior (how the forgiver acts
toward the offender) in the forgiveness process. This definition has been operationalized
in the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (Subkoviak, Enright, & Wu, 1992), which provides
the means for quantitatively measuring levels of interpersonal forgiveness in the
affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains.
The definition is as follows:
Forgiveness is the overcoming of negative affect and judgment toward the
offender, not by denying ourselves the right to such affect and judgment but by
endeavoring to view the offender with benevolence, compassion, and even love,
while recognizing that he or she has abandoned the right to them. (Subkoviak et
al., 1992, p. 3)
The Purpose of the Study
This study is an investigation of the relationship between forgiveness and
physical health in senior citizens that has yet to be empirically investigated. The
scientific evidence that anger and its related concept of hostility are health hazards has
grown rapidly over the past few decades (e.g., Friedman, 1996; Kranz, Baum, & Singer,
1983; Stone, Cohen, & Adler, 1979; Williams & Williams, 1993) and will be analyzed.
As well, there is evidence that indicates that wholesome emotions such as love and
healthy relationships with those close to us have health-enhancing effects (e.g., Coleman,
1989; Omish, 1998).
As forgiveness is a process in which negative emotions are replaced by positive
emotions and wounded relationships can be healed (Hope, 1987), forgiveness might have
an empirically discernable positive influence on physical health. Thereby, the main goal
of the present study is to access the relationship of forgiveness, hostility, and suppressed
and expressed anger with physical health while taking into account the impact of a
number of demographic and health risk factors (e.g., sex, body mass, smoking, alcohol,
salt, caffeine, and exercise).
The following hypotheses were investigated in this study.
1. Forgiveness will be positively related to physical health. High scorers on
forgiveness will have fewer physical health problems, and vice versa.
2. Hostility and both suppressed and expressed anger will be negatively
related to physical health. High scorers on anger and hostility will have
more physical health problems, and vice versa.
3. Forgiveness, anger and hostility will remain significantly related to
physical health after controlling for age, sex, smoking, liquor, caffeine,
body mass, exercise, and salt.
4. Forgiveness will remain significantly related to physical health after
controlling for anger and hostility.
Significance of the Study
Forgiveness can play a major role in the healing process. A number of mental
health professionals have suggested the expression of anger as a more appropriate way to
deal with negative emotions (Freud, 1963; Janov, 1970; Novoca, 1975; Rubin, 1970).
The expression of anger is not only important but salutary; but when solely relied on for
relief, it is inadequate to prevent serious complications because of the degree and
strength of unresolved anger from previous disappointments encountered in childhood,
adolescence, and adult life (Fitzgibbons, 1986). Forgiveness may fulfill that vital role for
The goal of the therapeutic process is to help people resolve painful and self-
defeating patterns of behavior. All therapists are confronted in their work with the
facts of injustice, the abuse of the weak by the strong, betrayer of trust, loyalty,
and innocence. One sees the results of these actions in adult clients in the patterns
of self-punishment and self-limitation in their distorted images of the social world
in the rage directed inward acted out against other or anesthetized with
substances. (Hope, 1987, p. 241)
As clients may resist or be hesitant to change or employ the paradoxical act of
forgiveness, the hope of enhanced physical health may prove to be an invaluable
incentive. If forgiveness can be seen as a gift that we give ourselves (Freedman &
Enright, 1996), clients may be more willingly to avail themselves of this salutary act,
leading to freedom and healing of the mind, body, and emotions.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Without forgiveness, resentment builds in us, a resentment which
turns into hostility and anger. Hatred eats away at our well-being.
(Archbishop Tutu, 1995)
Forgiveness as a psychotherapeutic goal was virtually untapped until the 1980s.
If one would examine the published voices examining interpersonal forgiveness, the
likely conclusion would be that the psychological treatment of forgiveness has been
overlooked until recently (McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997). Besides the
theological circles, forgiveness appears to have been ignored throughout all of academia,
not just in the social sciences (Enright & North, 1998). The major theories of personality
appear to have not been interested in the process of forgiveness (Shontz & Rosenak,
1988). It has been a long time since Augustine's City of God (413) discussed
interpersonal forgiveness, and it is from that date in history that forgiveness between
people fell deafly silent in published literature (Augustine, 397/1963).
From this dormant state, forgiveness now claims a reputable place in the main
stream of psychotherapeutic literature from many and diverse perspectives. Looking over
the past 15 years, forgiveness has crossed over from its acknowledged domain in
religious literature and practice into the scientific community. Empirical research has
shown impressive results, and practitioners are developing both an enthusiasm and
interest for its wide angle potential (Lampman, 1999). Once relegated to religious circles
and considered as the extra mile of mercy toward the offender that is required from a
"believer," forgiveness is now a viable tool for those striving to overcome estrangement
and negative emotions (Smedes, 1996). Forgiveness is now emerging in philosophy
(North, 1987; Richards, 1988), psychotherapy (McCullough, Pargament, & Thoresen,
2000), marital counseling (Boon & Sulsky, 1997), family therapy (DiBlasio & Proctor,
1993) and developmental psychology (Enright & HDSG, 1991a) as an important
component for positive health outcomes (Coyle & Enright, 1997; Freedman & Enright,
1996; Kaufman, 1984) and even inner healing for HIV/AIDS patients (Childs, 2001;
Redfield, 2001) and physical health (Sarinopoulos, 1999; Luskin et al., 2001; Witvliet, in
Forgiveness has been rare in the empirical literature possibly because it has been
so closely tied to theology, not science (Fitzgibbons, 1986; North, 1987; Shontz &
Rosenak, 1988). Understandably, forgiveness has always been recognized as important
for the healing process in biblical literature, particularly in Christian literature. Most
likely due to its strong religious connotation, forgiveness was ignored in psychotherapy
with only two professional articles before 1988 (Fitzgibbons, 1986). Fitzgibbons (1986)
speculates that the absence of forgiveness studies in psychology is likely due to the
concept's identification with theology.
Secular psychology has not dealt adequately with the topic. Seemingly, this has
been in the past due to the "paranoia" of secular psychology concerning its much-desired
"scientific" status. Psychologists historically have not wanted to address any topic that is
philosophical or religious (Van Leeuwen, 1982). No doubt, this belief is partially rooted
in the historical separation between the therapeutic professions and religion (Denton &
Martin, 1998). DiBlasio and Benda (1991) found that there is a strong bias in the
psychological community against using concepts that have religious connotations. They
point out that religiously oriented concepts are frequently presented in highly abstract
ways without practical application to everyday problems. Even counselors with a
religious background similar to that of their clients may believe that religious issues
belong outside the secular counseling session (Worthington, 1989). Wulff(1996) wrote
that the psychology of religion is rather descriptive (documenting the varieties and types
of religious experiences) or explanatory (seeking the origins of religious experience and
psychological, biological, or environmental events). The explanatory approach
(harboring such distinguished names as Sigmund Freud, James Leuba, and B. F. Skinner)
typically has been hostile to religion seeing it as a cause of pathology. This separation
has been said to reflect humanistic values thought to underlie therapeutic systems and
therapists (Bergin, 1980; McMinn, 1984). Writers such as Ellis (1960, 1980) have
emphasized their perspective that religion is a clear source for pathology and that
humanism can supply all the values of religion with none of the neuroses. It is no wonder
that forgiveness with its strong religious connections had gone virtually ignored until the
mid-80s. This lack of acceptance towards forgiveness due to its close connection to
spiritual principles is also its source of strength. It is its connection to spiritual principles
that adds to, rather than subtracts from, its strength. There is a spiritual reality and
spiritual experiences make a difference in our behavior (Bergin, 1988).
A major contribution of a spiritual perspective is that it anchors value in universal
terms. This is important because therapeutic interventions are not value-free. Values
determine the goals of the treatment. They also play a vital role in the selection of
techniques and in the evaluation of outcomes (London, 1986; Lowe, 1976). What values
determine the goals of treatment? How do we set those goals? All goals, whether they are
goals for symptom relief or goals to modify a lifestyle, are supported by value systems.
Rather than being a stumbling block, forgiveness' spiritual roots should enhance, rather
than subtract, its favor in the psychological field.
Another possible reason that there has been no investigation of forgiveness in the
psychoanalytic literature is that psychoanalysis resolves conflict by excusing. When, for
example, clients work through childhood injuries, they develop insight into why their
parents might have treated them as they did. Instead of judging their parents with
primitive standards, they learn to interpret their parents in more moderated and mature
ways (Gabbard, 1990). This new understanding explains their parents' behavior in a way
that makes them helpless victims of their own conditioning. Rather than remain trapped
in the patterns that trapped their parents, patients choose to find new ways of living for
themselves. They go forward on their own rather than go back to work things out with
their parents who are excused rather than forgiven (Veenstra, 1992). As well, the
paradoxical nature of forgiveness leaves it vulnerable, not to be understood or
appreciated as a helpful healing element. It appears on the surface as too simple,
impractical, or not applicable to the serious problems of life (Hope, 1987).
Why Now Forgiveness?
To what can one attribute this relatively new interest and respect for the role of
forgiveness in the field of mental health? Two movements may have heralded the role of
forgiveness. First, the Alcoholics Anonymous approach expanded to assist the adult
children of alcoholic parents grappling with the emotional aftermath of their childhood
abuse (Ackerman, 1987; Middleton-Moz & Divinell, 1986), and secular abuse began to
uncover the importance of forgiveness in releasing their patients from destructive
relationships with their abusive parents (Bass & Davis, 1988; Farmer, 1989). This insight
provided a crack in the defensive wall against forgiveness. Along with this, the 1980s
saw an appreciation toward issues of care and responsiveness as ways to solve moral
dilemmas (Gilligan, 1982). Notably absent from the discourse of moral psychology has
been the issue of mercy, on how people deal with injustices that have already taken place.
Mercy, as a new area of research within moral development, emphasizes a person's
willingness to go beyond duty, a willingness to go beyond the requirements of justice
toward beneficially aiding someone who may not deserve the kindness. Forgiveness calls
for such an attitude and approach (Hebl & Enright, 1993).
Up until the 1980s, the field of moral development was primarily based on the
Kohlbergian emphasis on justice. The former field has broadened its parameters to
include constructs such as caring (Brabeck, 1989; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor, 1988) and
forgiveness (Enright & HDSG, 1991b). By employing such constructs of care and mercy,
it has now been recognized by physicians working with cancer patients (Phillips &
Osbore, 1989) and by therapists interested in anger reduction in clients (Fitzgibbons,
1986; Hope, 1987; Kaufman, 1984).
This overdue recognition of the salutary effects of forgiveness has long been
awaited. Justice has dominated the study of moral development since Kohlberg's (1985)
landmark work. Yet, it is forgiveness, not justice, that is frequently labeled divine,
sublime (Morrow, 1984), humanizing (Calian, 1981), courageous (Cunningham, 1985;
Kaufman, 1984), healthy (Droll, 1984; Hope, 1987), restorative (Murphy, 1982), and
fulfilling (Beck, 1988). Psychiatrists (Kaufman, 1984), pastoral counselors (Cunningham,
1985), counseling psychologists (Eastin, 1988; Hebl, 1990), clinical psychologists (Cole,
1998; Fitzgibbons, 1986; Hope 1987), humanistic writers (Jampolsky, 1985), and
developmental psychologists (Enright, Santos, & Al Mabuk, 1989) all have begun
discussing and extolling the advantages of interpersonal or person-to-person forgiveness
within the helping professions. Philosophers such as Frankena (1973), however, are quick
to point out that a more complete view of morality must encompass not only justice but
mercy as well. The basic moral principle underlying justice is equality, whereas the
moral principle underlying forgiveness is the more challenging and noble task of love
tempered by its moral sense (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992).
What Is Interpersonal Foreiveness?
There are a number of ancient philosophical systems, which may not mention
forgiveness by name such as Buddhism and Confucianism but do emphasize the
constructs of mercy and compassion. These are the two key components in forgiveness.
Forgiveness is embedded in discussions of compassion, magnanimity, and altruism,
without sharp or even subtle distinctions among them. This approach is part and parcel to
its philosophy. From the many religious accounts of forgiveness, it is most thoroughly
and succinctly articulated by the world's great monotheistic faiths-Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam (McCullough & Worthington, 1999). These ancient systems, most
notably Judaism and Christianity, offer perhaps the most specific and clear cut ideas on
interpersonal forgiveness. Looking at these ancient religions along with Hinduism will
help contribute to our understanding and knowledge of the roots of forgiveness. Their
perspectives on forgiveness offer insight on how religion both influences and forms the
understanding and application of the psychological processes in forgiveness.
Pargament and Rye (1998) have proposed several ways in which religion can
contribute insight toward forgiveness. Forgiveness properly offered can be sanctified, or
imbued, with divine-like qualities. In theistic religions, forgiveness becomes the primary
means for imitation of God, fulfilling God's plan, or enhancing one's personal
relationship with the divine. In addition, religion provides numerous role models of
individuals who have forgiven despite profound injustices and who invite imitation.
Religion also offers world views that may be absent to help victims to reframe their
attitudes toward their offenders. Furthermore, religious faith can help individuals cope
with the uncertainty surrounding the choice to forgive.
The Hebrew Bible and the subsequent Jewish tradition represent the first
thorough expositions of divine and interpersonal forgiveness. The primary Hebrew word
salah occurs 46 times in the Hebrew Bible and is translated as "to forgive" (Vine, 1985).
In this religious context, it refers to God removing sin from the people. According to
Landman (1941), salah has both a spiritual and a moral connotation. It represents a
totally free act of God's removing sin or a person's removing of trespasses of another by
placing them out of sight. One of God's primary attributes is God's willingness to forgive
sinful individuals (Exodus 34:66-7), provided there are adequate repentance and a desire
to improve one's conduct (Landman, 1941). Two other words that incorporate
forgiveness in their range of meanings are kapar, to cover or atone for wrongdoing, and
nasa, to lift up a sin and carry it away (Vine, 1985). In Ancient Hebrew culture, there was
the well-defined practice of animal sacrifices, which was accompanied by repentance in
the removing of sin by the divine authority.
Forgiveness restores the offender to the relation once formerly enjoyed with the
other person and community. Such a relation in the Hebrew community demands
reciprocal love (Leviticus 19:18). Love here includes all psychological systems of affect,
cognition, and behavior (Deuteronomy 6: 5). Peace of mind is also restored (Landman,
1941). Forgiveness in Jewish tradition is not an option but a moral duty based on the
doctrine of "imitatio dei," the imitation of God as supreme forgiver (Newman, 1987;
One of the most important and distinguishing elements of early Judaism was the
core belief that God was capable of forgiving humanity for its transgressions (Klassen,
1966; McCullough, Sandage, & Worthington, 1997; Telfer, 1960). What now perhaps
seems expected of God-forgiveness was so innovative that it became the distinguishing
mark between Judaism and the other religious traditions in the region of Palestine
(McCullough & Worthington, 1999). The possibility of teshuvah (Hebrew for "return" or
"repentance"), which could lead to the gift of forgiveness from God, became the focal
point of Jewish moral life (Dorf, 1992, 1998; Neusner, 1997; Telfer, 1960). Judaism
holds that God forgives on the basis of repentance and that people should be so inspired
to forgive repentant transgressors as well (Dorf, 1992, 1998; Neusner, 1997). Thereby,
forgiving one's offenders following sincere repentance is not a moral prerogative or
expectation within Judaism but a religious duty (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992; Neusner,
1997; Newman, 1987).
In Jewish thought, forgiveness signifies that the very violation itself is removed.
The injured parties who forgive may still remove the transgression and retain the right to
take some precautions to make sure that they will not suffer that way again. By forgiving
the perpetrator, they now accept the individual and are open to a possible ongoing
relationship (Dorf et al., 2000). Forgiveness is a core element of the Jewish tradition. The
10 days between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur are holy days in which Jews search
their hearts for the wrongs they have committed and ask one another for forgiveness.
They desire to begin the new year with a clean slate initiated by the cleansing power of
forgiveness. Indeed, forgiveness is the primary work for the Day of Atonement. The
Talmud states that God created repentance before he created the universe (Rodden,
Forgiveness in New Testament Literature
Hannah Arendt, one of the foremost philosophers of the 20th century, attributes
the discovery of the role forgiveness in the realm of human affairs to Jesus of Nazareth
(Arendt, 1958). The theological understandings of forgiveness discussed below are
rooted in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, both of which provide numerous
examples of interpersonal forgiveness (Gladson, 1992; Pingleton, 1989). Interpersonal
forgiveness is understood theologically within the context of divine forgiveness and in
reference to the problem of evil. Forgiveness may be understood as something one
discovers rather than something one does or an attitude one has.
The predominant theological understanding of interpersonal forgiveness, as it is
depicted in the Christian scriptures, first and foremost in the teachings of Jesus, is that
interpersonal and divine forgiveness are inextricably related. One cannot be separated
from the other. Theologically, one cannot consider the forgiveness of another person
outside unless viewed through the context of God's forgiveness. Soares-Prabhu (1986)
states that the reason the Christian Scriptures consistently relate forgiveness to God's
forgiveness is because our openness to forgive others is not "just a happy trait of
character or an acquired psychological disposition. It is a religious attitude rooted in the
core Christian experience of an utterly forgiving God" (p. 59). Rubio (1986) further
emphasizes that every experience of forgiveness has God as its ultimate foundation and
can only be explained in reference to God. God always plays the leading role in
A second predominant feature in our understanding of forgiveness is from the
theological perspective of sin and evil. Sobrino (1986), in his sober analysis of Latin
America as a place of both sin and forgiveness, states that sin is a physical evil for the
victim and a moral evil for the perpetrator. The role of forgiveness is to free the sinner
(the perpetrator) from this evil and convert and recreate him/her. For Sobrino, the
fundamental message regarding forgiveness is that for the radical healing of the sinner to
take place, it can be only accomplished through the power of love expressed through the
context of forgiveness (Sobrino, 1986). He compares this to how Jesus acted and how
many Christians are challenged to act: "Forgive with love in the hope that this love will
transform the sinner" (p. 51). Dumortier (1993) describes forgiving as being able to
envision a future that would not be a continuation of the past but at the same time, not
ignoring the transgressions that occurred in the past and acknowledging that it is part of
one's life. In the strength of the present and the strength of forgiveness coexists a tension
between the unerasable past and the promise of the future. In his view, forgiveness opens
one to the hope of a better future through a God of mercy and a God of forgiveness.
The New Testament writings preserved the terminology and carried over the
concepts and metaphorical images of forgiveness in the Old Testament and reapplied
them directly to the efficacious results of Christ's death, which provided sinners the
righteous basis for divine forgiveness. Human forgiveness resulted from the realization
that one has received the unmerited gift of divine forgiveness (Colossians 3:13). A
composite picture of God's forgiveness in the New Testament was gained by combining
the definitions of the 12 main Greek terms used by writers of the New Testament. As the
Lamb of God, Christ came to take away, or bear away, the sin of the world (John 1: 29; 1
John 3: 5). Those who repented and put their faith in Christ had their sins forgiven,
blotted out, or obliterated (Col. 2: 14) from their personal record. This action of blotting
out, or covering sin (1Peter 4: 8), flowed from God's love and mercy for the sinner.
Rather than treat the sinner in the way he deserved, as an act of unconditional favor, God
graciously forgave him (Col.l: 13; Luke7: 42, 43), canceled his debt (Coll: 14),
pardoned him, and removed his guilt; and he was discharged (Mark 2: 5), set free from
further obligation Matt 18: 27). Forgiveness resulted in the sinner being loosed from his
sins and washed clean from its stain (ICor 6:11). Preeminently, it is Christ's command to
his followers that they are to forgive as God has forgiven them (Lukel 1:4). This remains
the guide and model on how we are to forgive. Christians are to offer their enemy
forgiveness in return for a transgression. Through forgiveness one becomes like the
"heavenly Father" (Matt. 5:48) and is the means to obtain peace.
In the New Testament, the most common words denoting forgiveness in the
original Greek are (a)eleao (and cognate nouns), show mercy (78 times) and (b) aphiemi-
release, discharge, put away (64 times). It signifies that sins are sent away, divine
punishment is removed, and a harmonious relationship between God and the formerly
sinful person is now restored (Vine, 1985). Another word used, though infrequently but
in a striking way, is splanchnizomai. This term is commonly understood as "feeling sorry
for" or "having a compassionate perspective for someone." Its origin is from the word
"intestines." A literal translation would be to pour out one's insides (Williams, 2000).
Three other Greek words that include forgiveness in their scope of meanings are
charizomai, to bestow a favor unconditionally; apouo, to release as quasi judicial act or to
give up negative judgments and/or behavior toward an offender; and agape, to
unconditionally love in a charitable or benevolent fashion (Strong, 1984; Vine, 1985).
Forgiveness possesses the dual qualities of God's casting away our sin (conditionally on
repentance and acceptance of Christ's sacrifice) and drawing the person in love (without
Interpersonal forgiveness in Christianity is to be strictly analogous to the divine
form, similar to the mentioned "imitatio dei" (Matthew 18:21-22, Vine, 1985). As one is
forgiven, the individual has the duty to practice forgiveness toward others. The forgiver
is exemplifying agape by unconditionally drawing the other in love. As in the Hebrew
community, love is an addition of elements to affect (positive feelings), cognition
(positive thoughts), and behavior (giving back to or serving the community). Similar to
the Jewish teachings, both the forgiven and forgiver are restored to a sense of peace and
well being (Galatians 5:22). Most Christian theologies still emphasize the constant need
to seek forgiveness from people and from God. It is expected of Christians to grant
forgiveness to one another as an exercise in the learning to live as brothers and sisters in
God's kingdom (MacKintosh, 1927).
The Hebrew and Christian conceptions of forgiveness are more developed than
the ancient systems. Some notable differences are (a) they do not embody the concept
into general discussions of mercy, (b) they clearly see forgiveness as occurring in the
face of considerable injustice, (c) they specify the interpersonal and the interpersonal
quality of forgiveness, (d) they consciously bring forgiveness into the arena of ethics by
postulating moral love as the foundational principle, and (e) they expound on the precise
outcomes (inner peace, communal harmony) through its practice (Enright, Eastin,
Golden, Sarinopoulos, & Freedman, 1992)
God's desire and ability to forgive all sins is an essential quality of God's
character in Muslim theology (Ayoub, 1997). Islamic scriptures and piety similar to
Christianity encourage its inherents to forgive others to the same extent that they
themselves desire to be forgiven (McCullough & Worthington, 1999). In the eyes of
some scholars, the desire to be more forgiving is more virtuous and endearing to God
than is the pursuit of justice (Hathout, 1997). Those who forgive instead of gaining
revenge can expect a special blessing from God (Rye et al., 2000).
The concept of forgiveness in the Qur'an is expressed primarily in three terms: (a)
'afw, used 35 times; (b) safhu, used 8 times; and (c) ghafara, used 234 times. 'Afw means
to pardon, to excuse a fault, an offense, or a discourtesy, waiver of punishment, and
amnesty. Examples of usage in the Qur'ran are verses 42:40, 2:187, and 5:95. Safhu
means to turn away from a sin or a misdeed. Examples of such usage in the Qur'an are
verses 2:109, 15:85, and 43:89. Ghafara or maghfira means to convert, to forgive, and to
remit. Examples of usage in th Qur'an are verses 2:263, 42:37, and 43:43 (Asad, 1980).
The God Allah is the ultimate power who can forgive. One of Allah's 99
attributes is Al-Ghafoor, the Forgiving One. Forgiveness means "closing, an account of
offense against God or any of his creation"(Ali et al., 2000, p. 21). However forgiveness
must meet the criteria of sincerity. An offense may be against (a) a person; (b) a group of
persons or society; (c) other creations of God such as animal, plants, land, atmosphere,
and bodies of water and the life therein; and (d) God, Allah. Muslims understand that an
offense against the creation of God is an offense against God (Ali et al., 2000, p. 21)
Like Christianity, those who desire to be forgiven for their own offenses must
learn to forgive others (Luke 11:4). Especially if they seek forgiveness from God, they
should learn to forgive others for their offenses. If they desire that God overlook their
weaknesses, they should learn to overlook the weaknesses of others. Forgiveness is
important for two reasons:
1. It is very important, for the afterlife. We forgive to gain forgiveness. Seeking
forgiveness exemplifies humility, and forgiving others is a sign of magnanimity.
2. Seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness brings happiness in the present life.
Further, forgiving improves relations with people by bringing good reputation and
gaining respect. (Ali et al., 2000)
Ksama, or ksamata, is the word most commonly used to signify forgiveness. It is
usually joined with words for mercy such as kripa, prasada, daya, or compassion, karuna.
The far-reaching concepts of forgiveness, duty, righteousness, forbearance, compassion,
and patience are explored in the epics and the dharma sastras (treatises on righteousness).
It is paramount to put these virtues into practice. Through karma (principle; role of cause
and effect), individuals deal with the consequences of their actions in subsequent
reincarnations. Therefore, one can presume that if one fails or refuses to forgive the
negative feelings and unresolved issues along with the hostility and seething anger,
negative karma is destined to spill over into future births. Those who desire to follow the
path of dharma must follow the path of forgiveness, compassion, and forbearance.
Forgiveness holds great importance in the Hindu tradition (Beck et al., 2000).
Philosophical Perspectives of Forgiveness
Moral philosophers have largely ignored the concept of forgiveness, certainly
when one compares it to attention received by the related concept of punishment.
Plausible reasons may be that forgiveness is viewed as supererogatory, possessing an
ethical significance but yet standing peculiarly outside the range of moral obligation or
fault. From this framework, the pedestrian conception of forgiveness as the prerogative
of someone wrongly harmed by another might be understood to imply that forgiveness is
like a favor or a fortuitous act. As a favor, it cannot be demanded. At a farther extreme
still, one could imagine the ideal of forgiveness as harmful or an outright wrong, by
analogy. For example, Spinoza's rationalist criticism of repentance, often understood to
be a condition for forgiveness--"He who repents what he did is twice miserable" (Ethics,
Part IV, Prop. 54, 1994), suggests that someone who forgives a person who repents may
be worse off than before.
Most of the great moral philosophers of the past have recognized the intrinsic
worth of retribution as a response to wrongdoing. Kant (1964) tied retribution in the
framework of the moral law by arguing that the desire for retribution arises from the
perception that one's rights have been violated by the wrong doer, and these rights
belong to us in virtue of our rational nature. Kant held that all persons are of equal
intrinsic worth. As a consequence, we ought to punish the wrongdoer for the willful
disregard for us as ends in ourselves. Further, Kant not only regards forgiveness as
problematic but literally impossible. Once wrong has been committed, it cannot be
undone, even by God. God is a Divine Judge against whose law the wrongdoer has
consciously and willfully transgressed (North, 1987). On one hand, Kant is correct. The
wrong can never be erased, but the effects it has on us can be defused to the point that it
has no effect on us. It no longer has to ensnare and control the victim. Hegel (North,
1987) proposes that the violator has freely chosen violence and pain as the maxim of his
action and therefore has a right to be punished. Punishment is an act of respect for the
wrongdoers. Forgiveness does not demand that there be no accounting of justice.
Equitable punishment is permissible, even when another forgives. Forgiveness frees the
individual from the chain of hostility and hate. The offender may have freely chosen to
inflict violence as Hegel suggests, but only forgiveness puts an end to the cycle of
mistrust and hatred and brings peace of mind and healing to the wounded (North, 1987).
Golding (1984) posits the question of whether there are wrongs that are so
heinous, so atrocious that they cannot or should not on moral grounds be forgiven. He
implies by example the holocaust, and perhaps now we can imagine the bombing of the
Twin Towers, that certain acts are beyond forgiveness. He states "granting forgiveness to a
malefactor who is not regretful often seems tantamount to condoning the wrong" (p. 22).
This is the great challenge of forgiveness that can easily, at times, tax our human
capability. This is the great inner struggle to suggest forgiveness or to hold onto the scars
of hate and vengeance. It is foolhardy and destructive to suggest forgiveness as a means
to mental health if by forgiving are we condoning or tacitly complying with the evil. We
may not only be unable to forgive but would be prudent and wise not to forgive all
misdeeds if simply overlooking or condoning acts of evil on whatever scale they may be.
The book The Sunflower (1976) wrestles with this very dilemma. The book
relates how a German soldier on his deathbed asks Simon Wiesenthal, a prisoner, to
forgive him for the atrocities he has committed against the Jewish people. As the prisoner
clasps Wiesenthal's hand, he walks away refusing to offer any forgiveness, despite the
fact that the soldier, who is clearly about to die, seems remorseful and is pleading for his
forgiveness. Golding a philosopher who responds to the book, argues that Wiesenthal's
conduct is correct because the only people who could possibly forgive the German for
killing Jews are the victim themselves, but they are in no position to render forgiveness.
Furthermore, Golding says, despite the deep regret apparently felt by this German
soldier, the wrongs "may be" of such a magnitude that they lie beyond the scope of
forgiveness. These wrongs (and by implication those who committed them) exemplify
The moral dilemma described by Wiesenthal cannot be resolved or simply
dismissed by maintaining that Wiesenthal was in no position to forgive. The fundamental
question is whether the Nazis are unforgivable because their deeds were so atrocious that
they owe an unpayable moral debt or, despite the atrocity, can be forgiven. To argue his
position, Golding presents four factors that would count toward establishing deeds as
1. The only people who could appropriately forgive the atrocity are dead.
2. The deed is clearly inexcusable.
3. The deed is of such great magnitude that direct or indirect victims could never
appropriately be compensated for it in one's lifetime life.
4. The deed is so atrocious that resentment of it will forever be justified. (Govier,
The philosopher Lang (1994) concurs with Golding-there are such deeds that
are unforgivable. He offers his five features of acts relevant to their status as
unforgivable. These are
1. voluntarism, especially if evidenced over a prolonged time;
2. the violation of an important, valued moral principle;
3. the magnitude of the consequences;
4. the lack of acknowledgment or repentance by the offender for the evil of the act
or acts; and
5. the inability or refusal of the offender to provide compensation to the victim.
Lang (1994) holds that there can very well exists unforgivable deeds and that these
conditions would justify for holding a deed or deeds as unforgivable.
All these claims link the unforgivability of wrongdoers to the unforgivability of
their deeds at times horrendous beyond description (Govier, 1999). Admittedly, if people
have committed barbaric acts of atrocity, it is far more difficult to forgive, or even to
have the desire to forgive them, than those acts which, though wrong, are not as severe.
The psychological obstacle, the emotional stumbling block that prevents forgiveness or
the desire to forgive, is that the deeds are appalling and that the victims have suffered so
much. The insult to both humanity and to moral principles is just too profound. In this
context, it would appear nearly impossible, if not impossible, to envision the wrongdoer
as a person and, just as challenging, to comprehend why anyone would commit such acts.
These and similar acts make it nearly impossible to feel empathy with, or compassion
for, the offender (Govier, 1999). It would appear beyond the capability of the ordinary
individual. In the face of such evil, forgiveness is nearly if not impossible.
The Possibility of Foreiveness
Despite the difficulty, the possibility of offering forgiveness still remains
plausible. Working through this innate resistance and maintaining that the principle of
forgiveness remains a viable option, the result is that objections to the gift of forgiveness
are no longer infallible. Forgiveness is offered to a person, not an act. The insistence that
some people cannot reform is objectionable. By clarifying this position, it may allow one
to overcome the major obstacle to the gift of forgiveness and have the confidence in
utilizing it as ajustifiable and honorable tool. One errs if one stubbornly insists that some
people have become so indelibly evil that there is no possibility of their moral change.
One can, and does, admit that there exist deeds that are "unforgivable" as a way of
making our strong and intense moral disapprobation for them. At its essence, it is people
who are the recipients of forgiveness or the lack of forgiveness, not the deed. People can
change. Many persons have, do, and will change, and even those who have been guilty of
horrendous acts have changed.
In an experimental study at a drug rehab where the residents have struggled with
addictions for years and where some had resorted to a life of crime, homelessness, and
violence, some were introduced to forgiveness as a counseling variable while the control
group received only their normal drug treatment. Those who received forgiveness in
conjunction with the drug treatment showed a marked decrease in anxiety, hopelessness,
and depression. Despite years of addiction and failure, change was possible (Enright,
I wrote about a man who had murdered a 7-year-old girl. I asked, can such a man
be forgiven? In the months since I first met him, this man has undergone a
remarkable change. Whereas at first he was emotionally numb and saw his crime
as the inevitable, if awful, result of society's ills, he has now begun to accept full
responsibility for his own actions. And he has begun to agonize over his need for
repentance-to weep for others, not for himself. Can such a man be forgiven? If
we truly believe in the power of forgiveness, we will be certain that he can. We
will never condone his crime, but we will not deny him God's grace either, and
we will not doubt that even he can repent and be changed. (Arnold, p. 158, 1997)
To dismiss cavalierly and dogmatically reject these possibilities, to treat some
person as forever and necessarily incapable of moral change is in the final analysis to be
blind to acknowledge and recognize the innate and moral capacities of people to choose
another path. To regard a perpetrator of evil as conditionally unforgivable because they
have not acknowledged and do not wish nor make any effort to separate themselves from
the evil acts is morally justifiable. It expresses our innermost conviction that those acts
are what they are-evil- and our profound alienation from them and any individual that
willingly and knowingly partake in them. But to regard a perpetrator, even a perpetrator
of the worst atrocities imaginable, as absolutely unforgivable is another matter. By that
position one is declaring that no one should ever forgive an individual-no matter how
they feel, no matter what one says and does. That attitude is morally indefensible
Margaret Holmgren (1993), based on her unwavering belief for the respect for the
individual, upholds the position of unilateral forgiveness. She claims that victims of
transgressions must work through the delicate process of responding to unjust acts in
order to attain a state of genuine forgiveness. This process remains central to the
restoration of a victim's self-respect, and forgiveness is both psychologically and
ethically inappropriate whenever it is incomplete. Holmgren takes the courageous stand
that forgiveness is always appropriate, whether the offender repents or not. Holmgren's
views stem from a respect-for-person's theory. All human persons are capable of choice
and thereby are autonomous. All, she holds, have intrinsic value, and equal intrinsic
value. Grounded on this framework, the morally appropriate attitude to extend toward all
human beings-wrongdoers included-is an attitude of sincere goodwill. For these
ultimate moral reasons, attitudes of resentment, hatred, and ill-will are morally
objectionable and ultimately inappropriate responses to a wrongdoer. Sustained and
festered anger and ill will presume that the wrongdoer's character and potential are
immutable and limited to his wrongdoing. Consequently, the wrongdoer as a person is
nothing more than his wrongful deeds and is incapable of reform or for any morally
autonomous transformation. In its attribution of moral fixativity and inability or
unwillingness to recognize the offender's capacity for moral change, the unforgiving
attitude amounts to a staunch attitude of disrespect for the wrongdoer as a person.
Robin Casarjian (1992) believes that within everyone is an essence. When people
act in abusive ways, we do not see the totality of that individual but only the fear-based
fragments of them. Forgiveness helps us see beyond the limits of their persona to the
potential of their essence that is worthy of respect and love. Gerald Jampolsky (1985)
said forgiveness is a choice to see the "light instead of the lampshade" (p. 76). According
to Calian (1981), "forgiveness is an attitude of lavishness and utter openness where we
refuse to be bound by the brokenness of our life together" (p. 441). Forgiveness does not
permissively condone violence, but it is our option of freeing ourselves from our need to
judge others and ourselves (Borysenko, 1990). Forgiveness allows us to absorb the full
impact of the evil committed while not losing sight of the perpetrator's common
humanity (Gartner, 1988).
To forgive someone is to overcome our resentment or anger toward that person
and to be willing to regard the individual again as a member of the moral community.
Forgiving the individual is overcoming the toxic emotions of anger, resentment, or moral
hatred towards the individual. To adamantly refuse to forgive is to make no effort to
overcome such feelings. It is to stubbornly cling to them, perhaps even to cultivate them,
and perhaps to harbor visions of revenge. This hardness of heart and frame of mind can
only lead to stagnation and the continuance of pain for the individual.
Forgiveness is either something we extend or do not extend toward a person, and
it fundamentally affects the core of the relationships between persons. And yet it remains
the deeds, not the individual, that are said to be unforgivable. Persons are clearly distinct
and separate from their actions and remain capable of choice, originality, deliberations,
autonomy, and moral reform. These are core tenets of existentialism, humanistic
psychology, and respect-for-persons ethical theory and hold viable not only in theory but
even in the face of human injustice. We may hate, despise, and decry the wrongdoing
without at the same time and in the same way hating, decrying, and refusing to forgive
the wrongdoer. There lies the challenge of forgiveness.
A person who has murdered is a murderer, one who has stolen is a thief, and one
who has tortured is a torturer. In a deeper and real sense, a human and existentialist one,
such people are not only murderers, thieves, or torturers. Their essence cannot be defined
by their works. They are first and foremost human beings, whose past lives have included
evil but whose future remains open to the possibility of new and more noble choices. It is
always persons, the moral agents not their deeds, who are forgiven or held bound
Jean Hampton defines forgiveness as "a change of heart toward the wrongdoer in
which one drops any emotion of hatred or resentment toward them and their deed, takes a
pro-attitude toward them, and is disposed to make the offer of reconciliation" (Murphy &
Hampton, 1988, p. 84). Hampton cautions about an unwillingness to forgive or even
consider the option because it is much too easy to be unfair in evaluating others or
naively presume that we can see into their hearts and fully comprehend what they are
doing and why. Hampton observes that wrongdoers are too often pathetic, frustrated, and
abused. Moral hatred blinds us. If we were to come to know their desires and emotions,
their pained past, we may alter our thinking. We may come to regard even the
perpetrators of atrocities as human beings, like ourselves, and not as brute monsters. We
may come to understand that perpetrators may have serious problems and feel
compassion, empathy, and benevolence toward them (Murphy &Hampton, 1988).
Supporting this position is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairman of South
Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Objecting to a newspaper column in
which perpetrators of atrocities under apartheid were referred to as moral monsters, Tutu
However, monstrous deeds do not turn the perpetrators into monsters. A human
person does not ultimately lose his or her humanity, which is characterized by the
divine image in which every individual is created. The premise underlying the
commission is that it is possible for people to change, insofar as perpetrators can
come to realize the evil of their actions and even be able to plead for the
forgiveness of those they wronged ... the scales can fall from the eyes of those
who believed firmly in apartheid, and they can in fact see that what they believed
was wrong. (p. 3)
Who, in reality, can forgive the most heinous atrocities committed against another
individual and race of people? Simon Wisenthal, the prisoner in a Jewish concentration
camp, struggled with the same dilemma, when asked by a dying Nazi soldier for
forgiveness. Simon could not and would not offer forgiveness but still remained troubled
by his decision. The book, The Sunflower (1976), asks prominent citizens what they
would have done in the same situation. There is no consensus. Some would forgive,
others not. In a study conducted in Israel (Mazor, Gampel, Enright, & Orenstein, 1990)
where the subjects were Holocaust survivors, many felt an obligation not to forgive their
Nazi perpetrators. They reasoned that this would be the same as forgetting and, therefore,
tacitly condoning the atrocities, which would be condemnatory.
A crucial point is the distinction that must be made between the deeds and the
agents. Forgiveness, and hence unforgivability, applies to the agents and not deeds.
Based on this premise, no moral agents are ever absolutely unforgivable (Govier, 1999).
Forgiveness is virtuous because one's anger is relinquished but without abandoning
correct judgment about the severity and perhaps cruelty of the offense and the culpability
of the offender (Roberts, 1995).
Conflicting View of Forgiveness
The basis for the reluctance and fear of forgiving an offender who is guilty of a
serious crime (especially an unrepentant offender) is the supposition that, by forgiving,
we are essentially agreeing with the claim that we do not deserve a full measure of
respect. In effect, we are saying "That's okay, it doesn't matter that you mistreated me.
I'm not that important." The refusal to forgive may be based not so much on a motive for
revenge but on a healthy desire to maintain one's own self-respect (Holmgren, 193).
Paradoxically, it is in forgiving that one not only maintains but increases in self-respect
or rises above the base drive for retribution. To accomplish this, one begins by looking at
the incident from one's own perspective. One must recognize that the wrongdoer is/was
mistaken about the individual's worth and status as a person. One must be unwavering in
this conviction, in our worth, and value. The individual acknowledges feeling intense
grief and anger about the incident and that each person is not only owed but deserves
restitution. Accomplishing this, one can acquire a more objective point of view.
Once accomplished, the person now views the offender now in a different light.
The individual acknowledges and honors sharing the same human condition. That
individual can recognize the offender as a valuable human being, as is the victim who
struggles with the same needs, pressures, and confusions. The individual can then ponder
the circumstance and come to understand it, though not necessarily agreeing with why
the perpetrator did what was done. In doing so, one will recognize that the incident really
may not have been about oneself in the first place. Instead it was about the wrongdoer's
misguided and painful attempt to meet his/her own needs. Regarding the offender from
this point of view (regardless of whether the perpetrator repents and regardless of what
was done or suffered), one places oneself in a position to forgive the wrongdoer. This
true self-respect leads to genuine forgiveness of the offender. When one acts out of self-
respect, one's self-respect increases. Every action taken toward forgiveness increases the
individual's self-respect (Holmgren, 1993).
The Parameters of Forgiveness
What Needs to Be Forgiven?
Veenstra (1992) holds that not every problem that occurs between two people
requires forgiveness. Sometimes there are just difficulties that merely require mutual
problem solving. However, acts that are injurious and unjust usually create a sense of
being wronged, offended, or insulted and seek a more salutary method to heal and mend
the wound and initiate the necessary corrective process.
Who Can We Forgive?
O'Shaughnessy (1967) claims that forgiveness can exist only in relationships that
are preexisting, close, and loving ones, as it would be inappropriate and improbable for
strangers. Kolnai (1973-74) restricts forgiveness only to interpersonal equals. It is the
opinion of this author and others (Cunningham, 1985; North, 1987) that forgiveness is far
broader, for it is a gift freely bestowed upon anyone who has offended another.
A Skeptical View of Forgiving
Nietzsche (1887) claimed that forgiveness is a sign of moral weakness and that
those who forgive are weak and unable to assert their right for a just solution. On the
contrary, forgiveness is performed by the strong, not the weak. Acceptance or absorption
of pain without counteracting with similar emotions, thoughts, or behavior is at the very
heart of forgiveness. The offended person soaks up the pain, as a sponge does water, so
that they do not transfer that pain back to the offender or others. This highlights the gift
like quality of forgiveness, as the forgiver puts an end to the cycle of revenge that
otherwise may harm or destroy the offender and others. "To be able to forgive, you must
have the guts to look at the wrongness, the hardness, the wickedness of what somebody
did to you. We cannot camouflage, we cannot excuse, we cannot ignore, we eye the evil
face to face and we call it what it is" (Smedes, 1996, p. 7). This task is not for the weak
but rather for the strong.
A modem psychological study (Trainer, 1981) elucidates why perhaps this view
is not uncommon. Trainer found various approaches to forgiveness, one of which he
labeled role-expected, which coincides to Nietzsche's viewpoint that forgiveness is not
chosen but forced upon another. In this approach, the forgiverr" senses a moral or
religious imperative from an outside authority to forgive even though he or she neither
desires nor is convinced of it merits. Unable to retaliate against the superior who
offended, the forgiverr" grudgingly forswears justice all the while harboring resentment
and low self-esteem. This, though falling under the heading of forgiveness, is a
description of pseudo, or false, forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness, in contrast, is centered
in a courageous free act of giving as North (1987) defends. North maintains that
forgiveness is truly an act of courage, not cowardice, involving time and demanding
emotional struggle, which is hardly characteristic of the weak. Holmgren (1993) further
advanced North's position by arguing that forgiveness is an act of self-respect. In
contrast to the Nietzchian position, others claim that "forgiveness" rather than
subjugating the forgiver, puts the individual in a one-up position, thus dominating the
"forgiven" (Augsburger, 1981; Cunningham, 1985; Smedes, 1984).
Droll (1984) impressively believes that forgiveness might separate us from our
lower nature as aggressive beings. Initially, retaliation is more natural. Many in the
helping profession claim that it is the deep and long lasting anger, not the gift of
forgiveness, that can be alienating to self and others (Brandsma, 1982; Fitzgibbons, 1986;
Hunter, 1978). Forgiveness. rather than destroy our regard for self and the other, restores
positive evaluation and affect toward the other and self. It has the subtle potential to
restore relationships, which is the antithesis for alienation.
Another negative view against forgiving is that it may not only work against
justice but even perpetuate injustice. This points to another misconception of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not require that we forgo punishment altogether or that we should, in
forgiving, attempt to annul the existence of the wrong done (North, 1998). Rather,
forgiveness entails the cessation of negative affect and replacing it with positive affect,
such as compassion and love. Forgiveness puts an end to condemning judgments and
allows for the presence of more positive judgments. If present, there also can be the
cessation of negative behaviors (e.g., revenge) and the presence of positive behaviors
(helpfulness, overtures toward reconciliation) (Enright & HDRG, 1991a). There remains
the fear that the abuser, if forgiven, will continue to abuse as long as the recipient of
one's mercy. This fear is based on a false notion of forgiveness. To forgive does not
mean to easily acquiesce blindly to harsh demands. To forgive first demands an inner
conversion and to begin seeing the other in a new way, as a member of the human
community rather than as evil incarnate. This enlightenment and the offer of a gift of
forgiveness leaves open the possibility of the other's transformation, which may lead to
not only negotiation but also for heartfelt mutual respect, understanding, and goodwill.
"What is annulled in the act of forgiveness is not the crime itself but the distortion effect
that the wrong has upon one's relations with the wrongdoer and perhaps with others"
(North, 1987, p. 500).
What Forgiveness Is Not
Before defining forgiveness, it is perhaps wise and better suited if first we
distinguish what forgiveness is not. Too easily, forgiveness is misinterpreted, associated,
or confused with similar but distinct terms, which impedes an adequate understanding
and appreciation for it.
Forgiveness Is Not Condonation
To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, not acknowledge it or to pretend as if it
were good (Smedes, 1984). Condoning involves refusing to label a given act as
objectionable; condoning may be viewed as refusal to acknowledge that a debt exists.
Forgiveness, in contrast, first and foremost requires recognition that harm did occur,
along with a conscious decision to release the perpetrator from the debt (Exline &
Baumeister, 2000). Those who condone injustice overlook the unfairness. Philosopher
Robert Roberts (1995) pointed out that condoning is double-minded. When we condone,
we admit that an action is morally wrong but then at the same time deny the seriousness
of the action. Condoning moral offenses does not lead to character development,
adequate solution, or mental health (McCullough, Sandage, & Worthington, 1997). The
forgiving person in contrast, open to perhaps a harsh reality, acknowledges the injustice
but determines to no longer judge the person exclusively in terms of what they did. The
forgiver sees beyond the immoral action and discovers a person who possesses inherent
worth (Al-Mabuk, Enright, & Cardis, 1995).
Forgiveness Is Not the Same as Excusing
To excuse is to judge the seemingly harmful event as not worth a quarrel (Kolnai,
1973-74). In forgiveness one does acknowledge the right to a quarrel, but willingly
abandons it (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992).
Forgiveness Is Not Indifference
The forgiver does not minimize or negate the harm done by the act by dismissing
the injury as unimportant, but recognizes the harm done and chooses to overcome it,
which at times can demand great effort and energy (Eastin, 1988).
These first three misconceptions of forgivingness-condoning, excusing, and
indifference-are theoretically not really forms of forgiveness. In all of these, the
injuring person has done nothing wrong. There has been only a misunderstanding, a
difference of opinion, or a disagreement that has created the conflict between the two
people. Where there is no wrongdoing, there is no need for the forgiveness. No doubt
these three concepts are often called forgiveness but, in truth, are false representations of
it (Veenstra, 1992).
The moral development of forgiveness takes place in the context of a serious
injustice that is recognized as serious. Those who condone injustice choose to overlook
the unfairness. Forgiveness, in contrast, is not blind to but acknowledges the injustice, for
the forgiver no longer judges the person exclusively in terms of what they did. The
forgiver looks beyond the action to discover a person who possesses inherent worth
(Enright & Human Development Study Group [HDSG], 1994). Because a forgiver
acknowledges the other's injustice, forgiveness cannot be equated with condoning or
excusing the other's actions. To condone is to put up with the injustice because of
mitigating circumstances, fear of confrontation perhaps while still smoldering with
resentment (Enright et al., 1992). Whereas condonation denies resentment, forgiveness
strives to overcome it with compassion and love (North, 1987).
Forgiveness Is Not Forgetting
Calian (1981) considers the cliche "forgive and forget" and states that it is not
humanly possible, humanly or even biblically sound. He believes that precisely because
we are asked to forgive without forgetting, forgiveness becomes more the challenge
involving possibly a painful, lengthy process.
Elizondo (1986) contends that the real virtue of forgiveness reveals itself not
when the sting of the injury may etherized in the recesses of one's memory but in
forgiving precisely while remembering and still feeling the hurt. For Elizondo, to forgive
is not to forget but while still conscious of the wrong, one chooses to be liberated from
the inner anger, resentment, and desire for vengeance that consumes an injured person.
Deeds forgiven need not require to be forgotten. When we forgive we may certainly still
remember wrongs that were done, and we are more than likely to remember them if these
wrongs were serious. It is hardly plausible, if not impossible, to think that someone like
Nelson Mandela (1999) can forget his 27 years in prison and afterward forgive his
oppressors, whose apartheid regime had put him there. Poignant are his words regarding
healing from the wounds of injustice.
We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, forgiving where forgiveness
is necessary-but not forgetting. By remembering, we can ensure that never again
will such inhumanity tear us apart, and we can eradicate a dangerous legacy that
still lurks as a threat to our democracy. (1999, p. 2)
To forgive is not to be overcome by some peculiar form of amnesia regarding the
wrongs suffered but rather to regard ones' perpetrators and the wrongs themselves in the
moral light of acceptance and compassion rather than in sting of resentment and hatred
(Govier, 1999). Father Lawrence Jenco, a hostage in Beirut in 1980 for 19 months,
admitted that though he had forgiven his captors, he has not forgotten. Admittedly, he
would have to suffer some grand blackout to forget such a wrenching painful ordeal.
Clearly a deep psychological trauma is rarely wiped from memory (Kolnai, 1973-74;
Smedes, 1984) unless other psychological defenses come into play, which is never a cure
or healing but a quick entrance to other emotional and psychological scars.
Forgetting ignores the justified needs of the offender by driving the sense of being
wronged deep into one's own being where resentment awaits to do its slow destructive
work. Whereas forgetting is negative, passive, forgiving is positive and creative
(Augsburger, 1988). "Forgetting is dangerous. To forget is to repress and deny what
happened, which is self-destructive. It allows you to suffer the same hurt repeatedly"
(Smedes, 1996, p. 7).
Forgiveness is not simply a slow diminishing of angry feeling across time
(Horsbrugh, 1974). Forgiveness demands action and ownership and requires energy
(Fitzgibbons, 1986; Horsbrugh, 1974). It is a constant struggle to release the other while
you are still in the grips of hurt and anger (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992).
Forgiveness Is Not Tolerance
Tolerance can only eventually lead to pain and turmoil. Tolerate everything
someone does, and you will be in for a lot of bad trouble (Smedes, 1984). Forgiveness
confronts the evil rather than be dominated by it; it overcomes its toxin through love.
Forgiveness Is Not Self-centering
Forgiving another is not solely motivated by the desire to be rid of strong
negative emotions (Richards, 1988). The forgiver also looks toward the other, with an
openness and willingness to join in community with him or her (Enright & HDSG,
1991b). Forgiveness is both a gift to oneself and to the other.
Forgiveness Is Distinct from Justice
Justice involves reciprocity of some kind, whereas forgiveness is an unconditional
gift given to one who does not deserve it (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992). The objective of
justice is to restore equality where inequality exists. In forgiveness, the offended person
does not restore equality (nor do they seek its restoration from the other-this is the
realm ofjustice). Instead, in forgiveness the offended, relative to the offender, recognizes
the equality of their commonly shared humanity. This equality existed before, during,
and after the hurtful event. Thus, we do not restore what was never taken away--our
humanity, our basic worth. Forgiveness helps us recognize that such equality has existed
unconditionally toward another. In sum, the equality we strive for injustice concerns
how we treat one another. The equality implied in forgiving others concerns who we are
regardless of how they treat us (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992).
Forgiveness Is Not Pardonine
Forgiveness is an inner personal choice. Pardon is usually thought of as a public,
behavioral release, such as where a prisoner is set free from jail (Hunter, 1978) Yet, one
can forgive even as the other is serving a judicial sentence (Enright, Gassin, & Wu,
1992). Forgiveness is not incompatible with punishment. Forgiveness can follow
punishment. In fact, it may lead to a reconciliation as a result of the punishment. The
offender, through the punishment, may be led to acknowledge and feel remorse for one's
wrongdoing (Govier, 1999). Forgiveness demands the renunciation of vengeance, but it
does not require the abandonment ofjustice. Pope John Paul II, who forgave his would-
be assassin, never suggested that he should go unprosecuted or be released from prison.
There remains a consensus in the philosophical literature that pardon involves the
world of jurisprudence, not interpersonal relations (Downie, 1985; Hunter, 1978; Kolnai,
1973-74; Lauritzen, 1987; Murphy 1982; Murphy & Hampton, 1988; Smart, 1968;
Twambley, 1976). Forgiveness is separate from the judicial system. No court or law can
enforce forgiveness. A judge who deliberates on the fate of a criminal should never be
the one directly hurt by the breaking of the law. Forgiveness is a personal response to
one's own injury. We can still offer forgiveness and still bring legal justice to bear as
required by the situation. Cases of pardon usually involve a just authority overseeing
laws by which the degree of punishment is established for each violation. The authority
that commutes the sentence is rarely, if ever, the one personally hurt by the defendant
(Enright & HDSG, 1991b).
To exonerate by applying a statute of limitations (primarily a legal concept) has
practical consequences similar to those of forgiveness but also excludes a number of the
latter's conditions. It entails neither acknowledgment of wrongdoing nor offers assurance
of altered conduct in the future; it requires no assent on the part of the person harmed and
may in fact be contrary to the individuals wish. When a statute of limitations wipes the
legal slate clean, it cannot on its own clear the moral slate. It must come from the
individual. If anything, it possibly may add weight to the latter as the injury nullified
legally remains morally unrequited, leaving the person responsible for inflicting the
injury unmoved, untouched, and unrepentant by the judgment (Lang, 1994).
Forgiveness Is Not Reconciliation
Perhaps the most common misconception of forgiveness is to equate it with
reconciliation. A common argument against forgiveness is that it potentially leaves the
forgiver open to further abuse. This is invalid because it confuses reconciliation with
forgiveness. Forgiveness is a single individual's or group's stance toward another.
Reconciliation, though predicated on forgiveness, is distinct from it. Reconciliation
occurs when two people come together in a behavioral way. In the case of continual
abuse from an offender, a forgiver may realize that the other still does not wish or is
unable to offer respect and, under these circumstances, does not reconcile. The forgiver,
however, on his own volition can still reduce negative thoughts and behaviors and
increase positive ones toward the other and wait with expectant hope that the other
changes. Those who forgive are not blind to the other's faults but take steps to protect
themselves from any future harm (Enright & HDSG, 1996).
Forgiveness and reconciliation are occasionally confused even in the published
literature (e.g., Lauritzen, 1987) Forgiveness is an internal release; reconciliation is a
behavioral coming together again. Forgiveness may be a necessary prerequisite for
reconciliation, but reconciliation demands more. Forgiveness is not reconciliation or a
coming together again (Trainer, 1981). One may be able to forgive but not able to
reconcile with his/her transgressor. In fact, in certain contexts this distinction works in
favor of the victim. When a feeling of having been violated or victimized by another, or
when one senses that something unfair or unjust has transpired, one may be incapable to
consider reconciliation. In these contexts, therapeutic efforts that deliberately make the
distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation might facilitate the client's willingness
to address one's anger or hurt, which they may have previously resisted doing because to
do so would have seemed to imply that they were willing to contemplate reconciliation
Though reconciliation may be the result of forgiveness, forgiveness can be
obtained without the aid of reconciliation. Though there may not be reconciliation, there
is always the openness and willingness for that to take place (Smedes, 1984). While
forgiveness is an internal, psychological response to injury, reconciliation is a behavioral
coming together again, often following negotiation. It is possible for someone to forgive
without reconciliation, but one who forgives has the hope that the other may change
(Piaget, 1932). Forgivers leave open the door to reconciliation, but no one can compel the
offender to walk through it. In order for reconciliation to take place the offender must be
willing to change one's harmful behavior (Eastin, 1988).
Reconciliation can only occur if the offender is fully aware of the reality of the
wrong committed and is able to listen without defenses. The offender promises never
intentionally to hurt the forgiver again (Smedes, 1984). Forgiveness does not mean that
you knowingly or naively lay yourself open to certain abuse. You can forgive and then
limit or even end the relationship. The one who is forgiven is placed under no obligation
to the forgiver as a condition for forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a quid pro quo but rather
it is a gift freely bestowed. If there is to be an ongoing relationship, then the one forgiven
must try to learn from the mistakes and not reinjure anyone who has offered the gift of
forgiveness (Coleman, 1989). A forgiver extends loving acceptance, but the recipient
may either reject the offer or change and be willing to enter again into a relationship for
reconciliation to take place. Forgiveness occurs internally within a person, whereas
reconciliation occurs behaviorally between two people (Horsbrugh, 1974; Kolnai, 1973-
74; Enright et al., 1992).
These inadequate definitions of forgiveness warrant a suspicious attitude toward
forgiveness. This may be the reason why forgiveness is not viewed as a healthy option.
When one behaves from these false conceptions of forgiveness or even denies that one
had been offended or wounded, the individual has chosen a path that leads to unhealthy
responses. An individual certainly may choose to "be nice" and avoid confrontation in
the name of forgiveness, but this is definitely not forgiveness. Such tactics, rather than
heal, can ultimately result in seething anger, resentment, hatred, and grudge bearing that
ultimately leads to visions of revenge. Rather than change and improve the situation, it
can lead to a greater harm under the ideal of mercy and kindness. This surrendering or
"giving in" is a false type of forgiveness and likely will produce just the opposite effect.
Taken to its extreme, "giving in" may lead to a masochistic martyrdom that undermines
and severely damages one's self-esteem and personal integrity (Cunningham, 1985).
Definition of Forgiveness
It is by clarifying this concept of forgiveness that it can be better understood that
learning to forgive can be an important and perhaps core element in the therapeutic
process (Hope, 1987). Individual researcher's conceptualizations of forgiveness are quite
diverse. In particular, no consensual definition of forgiveness exists (Worthington, 1998).
In fact, some interpret the lack of consensus in definition to be one of the most glaring
drawbacks for promoting this counseling tool (Elder, 1998; Enright & Coyle, 1998;
Enright, Freedman, & Rique, 1998; Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992). That stated, the
following are offered as commonly understood definitions of forgiveness, concluding
with the operational definition for this study. All of the existing definitions seem to be
built on one core feature: When people forgive, their responses toward (or in other words,
what they think of, feel about, want to do to, or actually do to) people who have offended
or injured them become more positive and less negative. One moves from the negative
toward the positive.
Although a specific interpersonal offense (or a series of offenses) caused by a
specific person (or a group of persons) once elicited negative thoughts, feelings,
motivations, or behaviors directed toward the offender, these responses have
become more prosocial over time. (McCullough, Pargament, & Thoreson, 2000,
What Is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is simply a special case of mercy directed at an injuring person.
Clinicians who help clients forgive agree that the forgiving journey may take time and
can be quite an ultra psychic struggle (Coleman, 1989; Enright & HDSG, 1991a;
Fitzgibbons, 1986; Hope, 1987). Despite the necessary effort, forgiving and receiving
forgiveness may be positively transforming and benefiting for self, the injurer, and the
communities (Gentilone & Regidor, 1986).
The philosophical literature is in general agreement that forgiving another person
occurs in the face of deep, unjust hurt (Kolnai, 1973-74; Murphy & Hampton, 1988). In
forgiving such an offense, the individual who forgives freely relinquishes the resentment,
hatred, and/or anger toward the other and replaces it with a stance of love and
compassion (North, 1987). The forgiver, well aware that the offender has no right to such
benevolence, offers it nonetheless (Piaget, 1932).
To clearly understand and appreciate the gift that is forgiveness, clarification is
given by the following four concepts, which are often are mistaken for the true gift of
forgiveness (Enright et al., 1998).
First, forgiveness is far more than a mere accepting or tolerating the injustice. In
contemporary culture, people talk about "moving on" or "putting the past behind us," but
this is not forgiveness. It falls short because the attitudes involved (benevolence,
goodwill, empathy) need room in our lives or hearts for the offender. When we forgive,
we make room in our lives or hearts for the perpetrator. North clarified forgiveness as
"outward-looking and other-directed" (North, 1998, p. 19).
Second, forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. A deep injustice suffered is
rarely, if ever, wiped from one's consciousness. When someone forgives, he or she still
remembers but in different ways from those before forgiveness occurs.
Third, forgiveness is more than holding back our anger toward the injurer. A
complete forgiveness position includes not only the cessation of the negative, most
notably the anger, but also the inclusion of the gift-like positive qualities, such as
compassion, goodwill, and empathy.
Forgiveness demands more than a neutral stance toward our perpetrator. It is not
enough to no longer desire retribution or revenge. One must be willing to extend a
positive outreach toward the offender. This challenging task is not embraced by all.
McGary (1989), representative of this position, believes that a forgiver need do nothing
more than cease resentment for the good of self and to others with whom one interacts.
Fourth, forgiveness is more than a self-remedy, a prescription to make oneself as
forgiver feel better. Forgiveness is outside focused and is a gift to others. The paradox is
that when a forgiver abandons the focus on self and gives this gift to the injurer, the
forgiver commonly experiences psychological healing (Enright et al., 1998).
In examining the psychological literature, one discovers that forgiveness is
described as a powerful therapeutic intervention and as an intellectual exercise in which
the injured makes the decision to forgive (Fitzgibbons, 1986). Forgiveness is a voluntary
act and decision about how one will positively deal with the past (Hope, 1987). It is an
erasing of the record of wrongs and a need for vengeance and resentments, as one
relinquishes the seat of condemnation and/or judgment of the offender (DiBlasio, 1992).
As Holmgren (1993) clarified, our intrinsic worth is not commensurate with some
imaginative score on a moral scale. All people are capable of error and good; and because
all people have this capacity for good, even the malefactor, we can then respect all
people, including the offender. Forgiveness displays respect toward the offender as a
The failure to understand this point of separating the person from the deed often
prevents forgiveness from taking place. Holmgren (1993) confirms that this thought is
based on Augustine's (397/1963) dictum of separating the offenders and offenses. We
continue to view realistically an unjust offense for what it is, wrong. Yet we still retain
good will toward the offender, not because of the unjust act but because he or she is a
person capable of good will. The forgiver, therefore, is showing respect for morality by
judging the offense as wrong, but the offender as at least capable of committing good
acts in the future.
Philosopher J. Kellenberger (1995) holds that forgiveness is morally possible
because of the inherent value of all persons. Kellenberger notes that the moral status of
an offender may be troublesome and difficult, but that does not diminish or eradicate his
or her inherent worth as a person. Forgiveness is a relational stance of acceptance and
belief in the unchanging inherent worth of another person even after judging the action
wrong. This arduous task of mastery over a wound and the process through which an
injured person first fights off, then embraces, then conquers a situation that nearly
destroyed him/her (Flanigan, 1992), both intrapsyhically and interpersonally (Benson,
1992), and giving up one's right to hurt back proceeds through forgiveness (Pingleton,
Forgiveness is a broad topic whose definition encompasses many facets. There
are many angles that one may focus on in defining the term. A truly comprehensive
definition of forgiveness needs to integrate not only the cognitive, affective, and
behavioral components but also the volitional, motivational, spiritual, religious, and
interpersonal aspects of forgiveness (Gorsuch & Hao, 1993). Pingleton (1989) holds that
the spiritual dimension of forgiveness is an important and essential component of
forgiveness as well as the volitional element. Monbourquette (1992) stresses how
forgiveness encompasses the whole person, for in forgiving all our faculties are
mobilized: intellect, judgment, imagination, and faith.
Studzinski (1986) defines forgiveness as a willful process in which the forgiver
chooses not to retaliate but rather respond to the offender in a compassionate way.
Walters (1984) sees forgiveness as a voluntary process that usually demands courage and
multiple acts of the will to complete. He views forgiveness as a needed and essential
process due to the destructiveness of not forgiving, and he asserts that to forgive is to
give up all claims on the offender, including letting go of the emotional consequences of
the hurt. In Walters' stringent view, the offended has two alternatives in dealing with the
hurt: to be destroyed by resentment leading to death psychologically, emotionally, or
even physically or to forgive which leads to healing and life. This sense of forgiveness as
eradicating the negative consequences of the offender's injustice and a merciful reaching
out to the offender is consistent with ancient Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, and Confucian
Cunningham (1985) views forgiveness as more than an act of the will in changing
one's heart to one's offender:
Forgiving is an act of the will that seeks wholeness and opens one's self to the
expensive process of change and transformation. It is a process of willing that
allows one to be less willful, less demanding, and less dogmatic. Forgiving is a
process whereby one is restoring a relationship with God that gracefully comes as
a harmony with life and a renewed courage to be vital and live in risk It is an
experience that confirms us in the knowledge that as we forgive, we are forgiven
The process of forgiveness enables one to change, grow, and evolve into a more
mature individual characterized by an enlightened self-awareness. Forgiving another
requires that a person confront one's feelings, values, motives, and needs as well as one's
own inclinations toward pride and self-righteousness. The forgiver challenges his/her
own demands for perfection, both for oneself and others as well as the unrealistic
demands for others to relate perfectly to oneself and to meet and fulfill one' needs.
Forgiveness involves the humble task of confronting one's own level of immaturity, state
of sinfulness, imperfection, and irresponsibility (Cunningham, 1985).
Augsburger (1981) defines forgiveness as "a release from a whole spectrum of
negative emotions like fear; anger, suspicion, loneliness alienation, and mistrust" (p. 68).
Pargament (1997) offers a rather lofty, metaphysical definition of forgiveness:
Forgiveness is a process of re-creation a transformational method of coping, often
religious in nature, that involves a basic shift in destinations and pathways in
living. Through this process, the individual departs from a life centered on pain
and injustice and begins to pursue a dream of peace. Toward this end the person
starts to think, feel, and act in very different ways about him- or herself, the
offender, and the world more generally. (p. 303)
From these definitions we process five essential points in understanding
forgiveness (Enright & HDSG, 1996):
1. The one who forgives has suffered a deep hurt, which elicits resentment.
2. The offended person has a moral right to resentment, but overcomes it
3. A new response to the other emerges, including compassion and love.
4. This loving response occurs despite the realization that there is no obligation to
love the offender (Hebl & Enright, 1993).
5. We realize the other person has no moral right to that love, but we nevertheless
freely give it (North, 1987).
The foundational definition of forgiveness is shaped primarily from North's
(1987) perspective. She defines forgiveness in the following passage: "Forgiveness is a
matter of a willed change of heart, the successful result of an active endeavor to replace
bad thoughts with good, bitterness and anger with compassion and affection" (p. 506). It
should be noted that North acknowledges two psychological characteristics of a
forgiver's affect: a cessation of negative affect (e.g., resentment, anger) and the presence
of positive affect (e.g., compassion, love). The same holds true for judgments or
cognitive components. There is the letting go of condemning judgments and the presence
of more favorable judgments (Enright & HDSG, 1991a). There also can be the cessation
of negative behaviors (e.g., revenge, for example) and the presence of positive behaviors
(e.g., helpfulness, overtures toward reconciliation). This process of forgiveness includes
six key components: absence of negative affect, judgment, and behavior toward an
offender and the presence of positive affect, judgment, and behavior toward the same
offender. These occur in the face of deep, unwarranted hurt (Enright & HDSG, 1991b).
It is from this foundation that Enright and the Human Development Study Group
developed their working definition adhering to those same core elements: a change in
cognition and affect but now including behavior, how one acts toward one's offender, as
well. It is this definition of forgiveness that involves the three key components,
cognition, affection and behavior that is the basis for this research and is arguably the
most comprehensively formulated and clearly articulated definition in the psychological
literature. In addition, this definition has been operationalized in the Enright Forgiveness
Inventory (Subkoviak et al., 1992) thus providing a means for quantitatively measuring
levels of interpersonal forgiveness in the affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains.
The definition is the following:
Forgiveness is the overcoming of negative affect and judgment toward the
offender, not by denying ourselves the right to such affect and judgment but by
endeavoring to view the offender with benevolence, compassion, and even love,
while recognizing that he or she has abandoned the right to them. (Subkoviak et
al., 1992, p. 3)
This process is quite involved and complex when we realize that forgiveness
involves the total person's affective, cognitive, and behavioral systems and spiritually.
When one forgives, certain elements are subtracted from each system. Negative
emotions, such as anger, hatred, resentment, sadness, or contempt, are given up
(Richards, 1988). Often this may occur slowly, but it is eventually accomplished if
pursued diligently. In the cognitive system, one ceases condemning judgments and the
planning of revenge where this was occurring. In the behavioral system, one no longer
acts out the primordial motive of revenge (if such were occurring, however subtle)
(Enright & HDSG, 1991b).
When one forgives, certain elements are added to each system. In the affective
system, the negative emotions are replaced by more neutral emotions and eventually by
positive affect, such as agape (see Cunningham, 1985; Downie, 1965; North, 1987). The
latter includes the willingness, through compassion and love, to help the other. In the
cognitive system, the offender may feel justified in holding onto the negative emotions,
yet is willing to forego them (North, 1987). Where there once were negative thoughts,
now positive thoughts emerge toward the other, such as wishing them well (Smedes,
1984) and viewing them respectfully as a moral equal (Cunningham, 1985). In the
behavioral realm, there is a willingness to join in "loving community" with the other,
with the hopes of possible friendship. There may even be steps taken to initiate and
foster a friendship. Such overtures will depend on true change in the other. There is the
potential for the forgiver to experience not only an inner release but a healed relationship
This description of forgiveness can be further deepened and clarified by the
following 13 points (Enright & HDSG, 1991a).
1. Interpersonal forgiveness is between people, not between a person and an
inanimate object (Kolnai, 1973-74; Lambert, 1985; Murphy, 1982;
One does not forgive hurricanes or floods. The willingness to join again in loving
community with a hurricane most certainly would be absent.
2. Forgiveness follows a deep, personal, long lasting injury or hurt from the
The injury will vary; it might be psychological, emotional, physical, or moral
(Kolnai, 1973-74; Murphy, 1982; Murphy & Hampton, 1988; Smedes, 1984). In real life
a deep injury may very well involve all of these areas at once (Eastin, 1988).
O'Shaunghnessy (1967) claims that the relationship must be personal, which would then
exclude those who hurt us but are strangers to us. The forgiver, therefore, does not
forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust unless he or she was personally involved (Gingell,
1974). Nevertheless, we acknowledge personal, indirect involvement, for example,
children whose parents are Holocaust survivors. On their part they are able to forgive the
3. The offense is an objective reality, not merely a perception by the one
Kahrhoff(1988), in contrast, claims, "Everything that happens outside our minds
is neutral" (p. 3). In this view, an offense can be so only if we perceive it as such. We
acknowledge, for example, individual differences in physical abuse victims' perception
of the violence. No one due to various factors will experience the same depth or duration
of emotional distress as another, yet all will experience a certain emotional pain because
of the objective occurrence.
4. Forgiveness is possible only when a person has a sense of justice.
One cannot feel a deep sense of moral injury without a sense of fairness
(Brandsma, 1982; Hunter, 1978; Kohlberg & Power, 1981). This implies that children as
young as four or five might not only need but be able to forgive (Enright, Franklin, &
5. There is usually an initial reaction by the injured party toward the injurer.
The injured may pass throughout the stages similar to grief, that is, one of
experiencing the hurt as profound, followed by shock or disbelief, and culminating in
anger or even hatred (Eastin, 1988; Fitzgibbons, 1986; Linn & Linn, 1978; Smedes,
6. With the passing of time, the injured party no longer seeks retaliation
This is an internal response by the one injured (Droll, 1984), and may involve
giving up of narcissistic tendencies of disavowing the hurt (Cunningham, 1985).
7. It is not necessary for the offender to apologize for the injured person to
forgive (North, 1987; Twambley, 1976).
Forgiveness is not based on the other's repentance (McCullough, Sandage, &
Worthington, 1997). In his book, Bound to Forgive, Father Jenco (1995) describes an
encounter with yet another captor shortly before his release. Sayeed, a guard who had
beaten Father Jenco several times asked the priest if he remembered the first six months
of his captivity (when most of the abuse took place). Father Jenco responded that he did
remember all the pain and suffering Sayeed had caused him and the other hostages.
"Abouna, do you forgive me?" Father Jenco recounts his reactions:
These quietly spoken words overwhelmed me. As I sat blindfolded, unable to see
the man who had been my enemy, I understood I was called to forgive, to let go
of revenge, retaliation, and vindictiveness. And I was challenged to forgive him
unconditionally. I could not forgive him on the condition that he changes his
behavior to conform to my wishes or values. I had no control over his response. I
understood I was to say yes. (p. 14).
If this were not true the offended may be caught in a web of unforgiveness. If the
offender were to die before a change of heart, the offended is trapped in unforgiveness
(O'Shaughnessy, 1967). Further a gift given need not await a prior inviting response
from the other person. In fact, many see it as wedded to the unconditional self-giving
character of forgiveness (Cunningham, 1985; Downie, 1965; Smedes, 1984; Torrance,
8. The offender need not have intended the wrong (Downie, 1965).
9. Naturally, the difficulty in arriving at a forgiveness solution will vary with
such external variables as the severity of the offense our disposition at the
time and the quality of the relationship prior to the injury (Newman,
It will also vary with such internal psychological qualities in the offended person
as their ability to understand forgiveness and to chose a forgiveness, in contrast to a
justice, problem-solving strategy.
10. It is not always the case that only one party offends and the other is
As Beatty (1970) insists, forgiveness is relational. Thus, it is conceivable to have
an offended offender. Consider an unjustly fired worker who writes a scathing letter to
their former boss. The boss is both offender and now offended by the letter. Both may
need to forgive the other.
11. Trust is vital when one is entering into a relationship again with the
In certain cases, such as continual and chronic abuse, one can forgive without
trust in this one problematic area and without reconciling. The forgiver does see the other
as human but realistically acknowledges their inability at that present time to change in
the one area (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992).
12. Forgiving has the power both to transform self and the other because of
the sincere love extended to the other.
Forgiveness in some cases may not only restore the relationship to its original
quality but also may enhance and improve what was once damaged (Enright, Gassin, &
13. Forgiveness must always be a free choice and should never be forced
either overtly or subtly onto a person. A gift must be freely offered and
freely received (Enright et al., 1992).
In summary, Enright & HDSG (1991a) describes a psychological response, which
is forgiveness that includes six components: absence of negative affect, judgment, and
behavior toward an offender and the presence of positive affect, judgment, and behavior
toward the same offender. These occur in the face of a deep offense against them.
Challenge of Forgiveness
Forgiveness has been an extremely complex phenomenon to operationalize for
empirical investigation. The act of forgiveness must not be forced on a person who is not
open or ready to forgive. The utility of encouraging forgiveness is also in question if
clients lack desire to forgive (Cunningham, 1985). Forgiving out of a sense of duty or
fear of retaliation may produce the opposite effect of increased negative emotions and
thoughts regarding the offense and the offender over time (Trainer, 1981). Counselors
who suggest forgiveness as a means of healing should also be sure that the client's
motive for forgiving is to achieve the positive benefits of forgiving and not employ it as a
means for revenge or self-righteousness. If so, it may exacerbate the negative emotions
concerning the offense and the offender (McCullough & Worthington, 1994a).
As forgiveness is such a demanding and complex task many often fail to meet the
above mention criteria. In the effort to forgive, such challenging questions may arise in
the process of forgiving. Have I truly forgiven if I still retain some resentment? Have I
forgiven if I am unable to resume a former relationship; if I am wary of my offender?
Understanding that the process of forgiveness is so involved and ongoing, Nelson (1992)
developed Categories of Forgiveness. They were designed to help clarify the various
degrees and levels of forgiveness. Nelson has introduced into the literature three types of
forgiveness: detached forgiveness, limited forgiveness, and complete forgiveness.
Detached forgiveness is a "reduction in negative affect toward the offender, but no
restoration of the relationship" (Nelson, 1992, p. 4381). Limited forgiveness is a
"reduction in negative affect toward the offender and partial restoration of an increased
emotional investment in the relationship" (p. 4381). Full forgiveness includes "total
cessation of negative affect towards the offender and full restoration and growth of the
relationship" (p. 4381). Nelson's findings suggest that the type of offense and the degree
of relationship prior to the offense are predictors of the type of forgiveness a person
attempts (Flanagan, 1992). These categories, though helpful, do not equate to North's
(1987) or Enright and the Human Development Study Group's (1991a) definition. Their
goal of forgiveness is to achieve a complete wiping away of resentment and is a desire
for communion, if possible, which would only correspond to the third category of
complete forgiveness. As well, it makes the common mistake of mistaking forgiveness
with reconciliation. Forgiveness is not reconciliation (Trainer, 1981)
In analyzing this process of forgiveness, Trainer (1981) was the first to undertake
an empirical research on the psychology of interpersonal forgiveness. Examining 73
divorced and separated participants, she found three characteristic patterns:
1. Role-expected forgiveness that is behaviorally demonstrated, but internally void
of the proper attitude. The person may say he or she forgives, but still harbors
fear, anxiety and resentment. Forgiveness is externally motivated by a grim
obligation to do so.
2. Expedient forgiveness, also entails an overt gesture of forgiving behavior but is
accompanied by condescension and hostility. Forgiveness is seen as the means to
the end of showing a certain superiority over the other because the offended had
3. Intrinsic forgiveness, which is a genuine form of forgiveness and actually the only
example of true forgivingness, is demonstrated by an overt gesture of kindness
toward the offender and internal transformations from resentment to beneficence
and goodwill. The forgiving is active, genuine, and healing.
Trainer, by her work, has contributed to the understanding of forgiveness by
developing a conceptual framework with types of forgiveness and the common and
unique processes associated with these types can be operationalized. Though she uses the
word forgiveness for each type, which would not adhere to this paper's position based on
Enright's definition (Enright & HDSG, 1991a), it does highlight the stages that one goes
through in the process of forgiving. It also initiates and points the way to empirically test
some of the hypothesized relationships. Trainer pioneered the development of a
Forgiveness Scale and a three-fold typology of forgiveness to facilitate investigation into
the dynamics underlying forgiveness attitudes and behaviors of 73 divorced and
separated male and female respondents. The category, called General forgiveness,
encompasses all the elements of the three typologies proposed by Trainer: role-expected,
expedient, and intrinsic forgiveness. General forgiveness involves one or more of the
following elements: (a) overt gestures of forgiveness; (b) cessation of overt hostile
responses;(c) management of hostile impulses, gradual letting go of resentment; (d) re-
emergence of positive attitudes and feelings toward the one who has done the injury; and
(e) gestures of good will. This compares quite favorably to the definition of both North
(1987) and Enright & HDSG (1991b).
The first typology of forgiveness is Role-expected forgiveness, which exhibits the
outward manifestation of forgiveness but lacks the internal motivation to forgive. It
displays an overt manifestation of forgiving behavior but is accompanied by such
negative emotions as fear, anxiety, and resentment. According to Trainer, Role-expected
forgiveness includes: (a) overt gestures and words of forgiveness, (b) cessation of hostile
responses, together with (c) a tremendous amount of resentment. The underlying
motivation in Role-expected Forgiveness is not from the individual's belief system but
from a forced compliance to externally exposed norms. The Role-expected forgiver may
outwardly comply with the expectations of self or the expectations of some external
authority because of the lack of will to fight back or feeling too weak or helpless to
confront the transgressor. The Role-expected forgiver conforms to perceived role
expectations without any inner transformation and release (Trainer, 1981, p. 71).
The expedient forgiveness typology consists in an overt manifestation of
forgiving behavior performed as a means to an end and accompanied by condescension,
resentment, and hostility. Expedient forgiveness, like Role-expected forgiveness,
contains the first two elements of General forgiveness (a) overt gestures and words of
forgiveness, and (b) cessation of overt hostile responses. Trainer (1981) claimed,
expedient forgiveness functions as a power strategy whereby one asserted
superiority devaluing both the injury and the one who injured. It accomplished
revenge in subtle ways through a condescending forgiveness or through the
transference of the task of retaliation to God or to life. (pp. 71-72)
Intrinsic forgiveness stems from an inner conviction that is characterized by an
inner change in attitudes and feelings toward the one who had done the injury, as well as
by benevolent behavior. Intrinsic forgiveness derives from a personal decision to freely
disengage from hostile behaviors and to dismiss harboring hostile attitudes, thoughts,
fantasies, and feelings. Intrinsic forgiveness involves all five elements in the general
definition: (a) overt gestures of forgiveness, (b) cessation of overt hostile responses,
(c) management of hostile impulses, gradual letting go of resentment; (d) re-emergence
of positive attitudes and feelings toward the one who has done the injury; and (e) gestures
of good will.
Trainer (1981) stated that intrinsic forgiveness entails five steps: (a) disengaging
from hostile impulses, (b) restoring a person's sense of self-worth or personhood,
(c) moving out into activities where one encounters the possibility of being hurt again,
(d) displaying a willingness to reexamine the hurtful event and broader ways of
constructing others that may give rise to reemergence of benevolence towards the other,
and, the final step, (e) "the person re-experiences closeness to the other, and the vitality
and joy of reconciliation with self, and under certain conditions between self and the
other" (p. 47).
The Process of Foreivine
"Forgiving is not pretending that things are other than they are. Forgiveness is not
cheap. It is facing the ghastliness of what has happened and giving the other person the
opportunity of coming out of that ghastly situation"(Tutu, 1995).
Forgiveness is not cheap nor is it an easy process. It can be at times messy,
challenging, and demanding. Forgiveness is seldom simple, linear, fast, or even
necessarily complete. "Forgiveness is not a clear-cut, one-time decision (Simon &
Simon, 1990, p. 17). No matter how sincere and earnest one may be to forgive,
forgiveness takes time. In fact, anger may remain after forgiveness (Van Biema & Cole,
1999). Forgiveness as an option is not easy. It requires time, risk, and the possibility of
being wounded again. It is a decision to let go of the past and recommit oneself to the
future unaware of what lies ahead.
Forgiveness originates from the decision to act lovingly even though you are
justified in refraining from loving. By forgiving you are not stating that you agree with
what was done but that you refuse to reject the other for their unjust act. Forgiveness
requires a strength and at times an extraordinary leap of faith. It allows the forgiver to be
vulnerable to being hurt again. Forgiveness does not require that you knowingly place
yourself in harm's way (Coleman, 1998).
Forgiveness is difficult precisely because it requires that we make comprehensive
changes in who we are and how we relate to others. It involves the whole person.
Forgiveness is such a demanding task that it requires a certain maturation on the part of
the individual. In this process one confronts one's own shortcomings and weaknesses.
There is no way that we can live a rich life unless we are willing to suffer
repeatedly, experiencing depression and despair, fear and anxiety, grief and
sadness, anger and the agony of forgiving, confusion and doubt, criticism and
rejection. A life lacking these emotional upheavals will not only be useless to
ourselves; it will be useless to others. We cannot heal without being willing to be
hurt. (Peck, 1987, pp. 226-227)
Enright et al. (1991a) examined a unique developmental issue in forgiving. They
focused on the conditions under which a person is willing to forgive. Their
developmental analysis suggested that children sometimes confuse forgiveness with
revenge. Adolescents on the other hand, forgive under the conditions of social pressure,
such as demands or pressures from peers, family, or certain institutions. Only in late
adolescence and adulthood do they see and have unconditional understanding of
forgiveness based on the internal working moral principles of beneficence and love
towards an offender.
How Do People Forgive
How do people forgive? It is quite rare that it is immediate, one step, one act
behavior. Typically, there is a process with its loops forwards and backwards and with its
struggles and successes. The following describe various processes in the path of
forgiveness. Though distinct, they share these five common interpersonal processes:
(a) experiencing an awareness of negative psychological consequences, (b) developing a
sense of need for resolution; (c) deciding among restitution strategies; (d) examining
motives for forgiveness; (e) deciding to forgive. (Enright & HDSG, 1991a; Romig &
Forgiveness requires that we develop a forgiving character (McCullough,
Sandage, & Worthington, 1997). Forgiveness follows a deep, long-lasting injury from the
other person. The injury may be psychological, emotional, physical, or moral (Smedes,
1984). The need for forgiveness begins with a wound. A wound violates physical, moral,
or psychological boundaries. Having suffered, the person then organizes his or her
thoughts and psychological defenses to protect injured boundaries (Means, Wilson,
Sturm, & Biron, 1990). The injury often damages the injured person's worldview or
philosophy of the world as they comprehend that we do not necessarily live in a "just"
world (Flanigan, 1987).
Essentially, when we are deeply hurt, it is about one or a combination of three
1. Loss of love or lovability.
2. Loss of self-esteem.
3. Loss of control or influence.
The person wishing to forgive must begin by asking, "What loss have I incurred?"
Determining the areas) of loss then points the person in a direction of healing. It informs
the person what needs to be repaired. Now the individual, if willing, can commence the
arduous task of forgiveness (Coleman, 1998).
Forgiveness declares both an assertion and an affirmation. As an assertion, one
confronts the unhealthy, destructive, ill-motivated, unacceptable behavior head on. One
neither condones the offense nor overlooks the wrong done, but one refuses to limit the
person to this behavior nor hold that this behavior is the sum measure of what the person
is in their deepest self. One asserts at times with enormous effort that this person
possesses worth no matter what decisions, choices, or actions were committed or
intentions are held. In forgiving another, one honors the healthy, the constructive, the
right motivated, the responsible center of the person. One consciously chooses to affirm
and to believe that this is the real, the possible, the acceptable, and the accountable core
of the person. One returns to that real center no matter what has surfaced into the
relationship (Augsburger, 1988).
How does an individual arrive to this healing state? How may a counselor enable
a client wounded by an injustice to attain a positive, healthy outlook? In some therapeutic
strategies, one may typically have the client explore the past, discover and express
repressed feelings about past events, but is that sufficient? How does a person free
oneself from the pain of a major disappointment, injustice, humiliation, victimization, or
assault in order to live more productively in the present? There are differences of
opinions and approaches regarding this essential stage in therapy. In individual therapy it
is the stage in which working through old wounds via the transference relationship is
important. There is the model of mourning the past and letting go of old injuries, and
through this process one learns to accept the past. Yet, both the concepts of letting go and
acceptance are somewhat passive in nature. What is being required is that one accept or
let go of incidents that bum with injustice and unfairness, that have resulted in patterns of
feelings and behavior so upsetting and destructive that it has brought the person to
therapy in the first place.
How does one accept the unacceptable? This problem so challenged the
psychotherapeutic field that it led some to consider and examine forgiveness as a viable
means for restoration of one's well being. Forgiveness is seen as part of the
psychotherapeutic process by a number of authors (Coleman, 1989; Fitzgibbons, 1986;
Hope, 1987; Wapnick, 1985). Psychotherapy initially includes a shedding of
psychological defenses, which involves the client admitting that they were deeply hurt by
another. Subsequently, this is followed by a dialogue between the two people to better
understand how and why the hurt occurred. Eventually, forgiveness occurs in which the
one hurt abandons resentment in favor of understanding and unity.
This process of forgiveness is necessary to restore one's self-respect and peace of
mind. Margaret Holmgren (1993) claims that victims of wrongdoing must work through
a process of responding to that wrongdoing in order to reach a state of genuine
forgiveness. This process is central to the restoration of a victim's self-respect, and that
forgiveness would be psychologically and ethically inappropriate whenever this is
incomplete. Holmgren argues that this process is always appropriate regardless whether
the offender repents or not. The following is an outline to identify the task an individual
may need to complete if they are to respect oneself and truly forgive their offender.
First, the victim of wrongdoing must recover their self-esteem. Implicit in the
wrongdoer's act of abuse is the claim that the victim is not valuable. If John were to
sexually abuse Jane, he is implicitly claiming that her needs and feelings are not
important or at the very least that they don't count as much as his. Thus, the victims must
clarify for themselves that the claim implicit in the act of wrongdoing is false. Crucial is
the recognition that the individual is just as valuable as every other person and that their
needs and feelings matter very much. They must come to see that the wrongdoer is
seriously confused about her/his status as a person. If the individual were to attempt to
forgive the wrongdoer before this step is taken, the forgiveness will not be fully
appropriate. Until the victim is assured about one's own worth, he or she would fail to
sufficiently respect his/herself. Further, this type of forgiveness is not complete nor is it
fully genuine. It amounts to condoning the wrong rather than forgiving the wrongdoer. In
order truly to forgive the offender, the victim must first understand the nature of the
wrongdoing and to do so, one must recognize one's own status as a person.
A second task for the victim of wrongdoing is that they must recognize that the
perpetration against them was wrong, and they must also understand why it was wrong.
That is, they must understand that they have certain rights and that anyone who violates
those rights wrongfully harms them.
Third, the victim of wrongdoing faces the task of acknowledging one's feelings.
A decent person will typically feel anger toward someone who harms her/him. The
individual will also grieve over the loss, and, depending on the circumstances, may
experience an array of conflicting emotions. In order to respect oneself, the injured
person must honor such feelings and give oneself permission to experience them in full.
One must recognize that these feelings are basic and legitimate human reactions to what
has happened-reactions that will help to understand what is so stressful about the
incident. The victim must also recognize that it is psychologically destructive to deny
these feelings, and that by doing so, one is prolonging the harm. Thereby, victims who
attempt to cut off their emotions in order to forgive the offender fail to respect
themselves. By denying this integral part of one's humanity, one deprives oneself of an
opportunity to understand the incident with all its ramifications and treats oneself in a
psychologically destructive manner. This type of forgiveness, if one may use this label, is
inappropriate to the extent that it is incompatible with the victim's self-respect. In
genuine forgiveness, the injured person must overcome any negative feelings held toward
the offender because of the offense. These feelings cannot be overcome in any
meaningful sense until they are acknowledged. Until the victim fully experiences
emotions with all the pain, a genuine internal resolution of the issue will be forestalled.
Fourth, depending on the circumstances, it may be important and necessary for
the victim to express these beliefs to the wrongdoer. The individual may need to tell the
wrongdoer that the action was wrong, and that it is not acceptable to be treated in this
manner. The individual does so unless this course of action would be dangerous or
detrimental to oneself or to others. At the very least, the individual should not withhold
feelings under the false assumption that these feelings are not valid or important, or not
as important as the wrongdoer's.
Fifth, the victim of the perpetration faces the task of assessing the situation with
respect to the offender. If the victims are to respect themselves and avoid being hurt
again, they must consider the wrongdoer's attitude and behavior patterns. The injured
person must determine the steps necessary to avoid further victimization. The
self-respecting victim's goal, then, is to not forget the incident altogether but to reach a
point where the incident is no longer remembered vindictively or is not allowed to
interfere with an attitude of real goodwill toward the offender.
The final task for the victim of wrongdoing is to determine whether to seek
restitution from the offender. In order to achieve self-respect, the victim must recognize
that he/she has been wrongfully harmed and deserves restitution where possible. Respect
for one's own integrity also requires that the individual look objectively and with some
compassion at the wrongdoer's situation. One must then make a mature, reasoned
judgment about how one wishes to proceed. If the victim overlooks this task in an
attempt to hasten the process of forgiveness, the victim exhibits a lack of self-respect;
and the state of genuine forgiveness is also forestalled or forfeited. In this case, the victim
has not achieved a full internal resolution of the issue. The incident will not be brought to
closure until the victim determines the course of action with respect to seeking
These steps permit the victim to heal and restore self-respect. Once initiating
these steps, the victim can now let go of the hurt and pain and focus inward. The victim
now has the freedom and opportunity to take a more objective and compassionate
perspective (Holmgren, 1993).
There are other processes that are worth examining. McCullough and
Worthington, (1994a) constructed a developmental progression of understanding
forgiveness that is far more involved than most. Their progression is consistent with the
investigations of both Trainer's (1981) and Enright et al. (1989) in that the patterns
concern people's reasoning in the areas of strategy used to forgive, the external and
internal manifestation of forgiving, and the conditions under which forgiving is offered.
The progression follows the logic of Selman's (1980) social perspective-taking and
Kohlberg's (1985) moral development descriptions. There is movement from concrete to
subtler abstract thought forms, and from emphases on the external to the internal. There
is an increase in cognitive complexity as more involved reciprocal perspective follows.
Finally, there is the transformation from the situational, as the person may or may not
offer forgiveness to the exercise of more internally consistent principles. This suggests
that as individuals develop cognitive skills, they become more able to take the
perspectives of others, to empathize with their predicaments and shortcomings, and to
value and accept them as people despite the pain they have inflicted in the past
(McCullough &Worthington, 1994a). (See Table 2-1).
Romig and Veenstra (1998) postulate a simpler, more concise four step process:
1. View the offender's behavior in context (Hargrave 1994).
2. Develop empathy toward the offender (Cunningham, 1985).
3. Identify with the act by the offender to gain compassion (Benson, 1992).
4. Realize the individual has needed forgiveness from others in the past
Fitzgibbons (1986) further condensed the process to two monumental steps. He
states that forgiveness emerges after the therapist has analyzed the origins of the client's
pain and after the client has spent considerable time on the cognitive level of
understanding what forgiveness is. The intellectual decision to forgive is then followed
by emotional forgiveness, which reduces anger, making healing possible. Hope's (1987)
view of forgiveness is somewhat paradoxical. As the client gives up the right to revenge
or power and assumes a more humble position, it is then that the client feels empowered.
Wapnick (1985) encourages the client to reinterpret past events. The objective is to
challenge the client's distorted ways of thinking and of perceiving other people, thus
liberating the client from unwanted and excessive guilt, anger, and other dysfunctional
patterns that result from the distortions.
Table 2-1. The Development of Forgiveness
Revengeful Forgiveness Strategies: One considers ways to get back at the
offender. Overt aggression is considered.
External manifestations such as words or gestures are indicative of the
person's forgiveness; internal hostility may remain and may be openly
Physical or psychological revenge or compensation must occur before
forgiveness is possible.
External Forgiveness Strategies: One uses passive coping strategies while
External manifestations are indicative of forgiveness. The person is aware
of inner frustrations festering but suppresses them.
Pressures from social groups to forgive are sufficient to elicit forgiveness.
Internal Forgiveness Strategies: One actively seeks to understand the
other's motives and thoughts and to reinterpret the event in light of the
perspectives of self and other.
Forgiveness is primarily an internal activation of the beneficence principle
which promotes inner release and possibly reconciliation.
Forgiveness occurs unconditionally out of the principle of beneficence or
Source: McCullough & Worthington, 1994a
Cunningham (1985) offers his own four stages in the process stressing the
challenge and strenuous task in the act of forgiving.
1. Judgment versus denial. Forgiving is not a nice and neat endeavor to undertake.
On the contrary, it means willingness to die to oneself within realities that are
painful in others as well as in one's self.
2. Humility versus humiliation. When offended and wounded, many of us have a
natural tendency to internalize the injury and turn it against ourselves. This results
in the painful state of humiliation that leads to the view of one's self and one's
offender as adversarial and alien to one another.
3. The opportunity of mutuality and negotiation. In this stage the forgiver becomes
different; he or she becomes open to change and growth. He or she becomes free
from the need and desire to accuse and the compelling need to punish and to seek
4. Forgiveness. This is characterized by the actual living out of the forgiving process
where perspectives on one's self, others, and God take place. This transforming
stage of forgiving is the ongoing process of redefining one's relationship with the
offender based upon an enlightened awareness of one's self and the offender. It is
being conscious of not only of his or her limitations and capacities for sin and
evil, but also of his or her kinship and commonality in humanness under God.
Here, relationships are renegotiated and entrusted with new promises and new
hope and new covenants are formed.
Underlying all these processes there are three commonly recognized general
stages, whether stated or implied, preceding the final stage, forgiveness. There is the hurt
stage, the anger stage, and the information-seeking stage (Linn & Linn, 1978). These
factors are ordinarily found in most processes of forgiveness. To enflesh this process, it is
helpful to look at other factors that are involved in the challenge of forgiveness. There
are at least eight factors that relate to the ability to forgive-four to consider in
relationship to the offended party and four that relate to the offender. The factors
associated with the offender are the following:
1. Severity of wrong-the more severe the more difficult it is to forgive.
2. The offender acknowledges the offense and is genuinely sorrowful for the
outcome. It is more likely that forgiveness will be experienced.
4. Frequency-infractions that are committed again and again are harder to forgive
when all other factors are constant.
The four factors relating to the offended that facilitate or impede forgiveness are
1. If the offended person has a deep commitment to the individual who offended
them, the person is more likely to be willing and able to forgive in order to restore
2. Ego-strength of the offended person. Those who do not posses a strong healthy
self-love will be more likely to hold grudges and not be as able to reframe
situations so as to find good coming from bad situations.
3. Decision to forgive on the part of the offended can be a crucial mitigating factor.
4. The person's personal history with forgiveness may make a difference. If a person
has been forgiven, they may find it easier to forgive. (Rosenak & Harden, 1992)
Anger and Forgiveness
Fitzgibbons (1986) clarifies the process of forgiveness through the understanding
of anger and its role in healing. "Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure and antagonism
aroused by a sense of injury or wrong" (p. 64). Soon after a hurt or disappointment, this
emotion occurs and is closely associated with a degree of sadness from the hurt. Anger
and how to deal with it is often a stumbling block in the forgiving process.
Anger develops as a natural inborn response of the failure of others to meet one's
needs for love, praise, acceptance, and justice and may be experienced any place where
there is human interaction, be it in the home, school, community, and place of
employment. The experience of anger can lead to a desire for revenge, which does not
diminish until the presence of the resentful feelings is recognized and subsequently
resolved. Without this recognition and release, anger can be displaced for many years and
erupt decades later toward the undeserving as in loving relationships or with significant
others. It will not be fully resolved until a conscious decision is made to liberate oneself
from the desire for revenge and to forgive.
Three basic mechanisms are used to deal with this emotion: conscious or
unconscious denial; active- or passive-aggression expression, and forgiveness. Denial is
the major coping strategy for dealing with anger in early childhood. As a result of denial,
most people carry into their adult lives significant amounts of unconscious anger from
their family of origin. The active expression of anger may be appropriate, excessive, or
misdirected. The passive-aggressive expression of anger directs this emotion toward
others in a covert manner while the person acts as though they are not angry.
Many mental health professionals have viewed the appropriate expression of
anger as the more healthy way to deal with this emotion (Freud, 1963; Janov, 1970;
Novoca, 1975; Rubin, 1970). In Fitzgibbons' (1998) view the expression of anger is
valuable and healthy; but when relied on solely for relief, serious problems can develop
because of the degree and intensity of unresolved anger from previous disappointments
encountered in childhood, adolescence, and adult life. The reenactment of past traumatic
events accompanied by the expression of anger toward those who inflicted pain does not
fully resolve the anger experienced in different life stages. Nor does the expression of
anger result in a veritable sense of justice or freedom from responses by making them
even more angry or aggressive with one another (Strauss, 1974). It adversely affects
children (Gardner, 1971), increases guilt and shame (Lemer, 1985), reinforces
inappropriate ways of relating, ruins friendships, and aggravates psychosomatic illness
Recognizing and understanding the harm anger can cause, it is expedient that a
sound and healthy strategy be found to cope with it. Forgiveness may be that remedy.
Forgiveness works directly on the emotions of anger (and related constructs), such as
resentment, hostility, and hatred, by diminishing its intensity or level within the mind and
heart. Each time it is successfully applied to a disappointing or traumatic life experience
within someone, it removes some of the anger from that hurt. Understandably, the more
severe the emotional wound, the greater will be the time and effort needed to arrive at a
control or resolution of the associated anger. Fitzgibbons (1998) explains how an
individual can be assisted in this process of forgiving. An individual can be helped to
move toward forgiveness by concentrating on a specific memory or a long series of
painful memories. This process may then proceed in one of three levels: cognitive,
emotional, or spiritual.
On the cognitive level, an individual, after analyzing the origins of their pain,
makes a decision to forgive, that is to let go of anger or the desire for revenge. Initially,
the person may not be inclined or have the proper disposition to forgive. For most people
the forgiveness process begins with this cognitive level and usually remains on that level
for a period of time. Fitzgibbons (1998) labels this step the cognitive level because the
person decides to forgive, thinks it is good to do, but as yet does not feel compassion or
love toward the offending one. As the anger level diminishes through regular forgiveness
exercises, the intellect is bothered less by the negative effects of anger and subsequently
grows in understanding the offender and his/her weaknesses.
Emotional forgiveness is that phase of forgiveness process in which the client
comes to understand deeply the offender and his/her struggles, develops a certain degree
of empathy for the "wounded boy or girl" within the adult, and as a result, feels truly
inclined to forgive. This level or stage of the process of forgiveness is usually preceded
by a significant amount of time in the utilization of cognitive forgiveness exercises.
Growth in understanding the weaknesses and life struggles of the offender is the major
path that leads to emotional forgiveness. Some clients feel upset or even guilty when this
process moves slowly. They may even balk at the cognitive forgiveness, for they believe
that it is not forgiveness at all since they do not truly feel like forgiving. The crucial need
here is to recognize that forgiveness is a process with several stages, and that in time,
perhaps slowly, the feelings will follow.
The third approach to the use of forgiveness is spiritual. This approach is utilized
when someone suffers from such severe pain that they cannot let go of resentment
against the offender either cognitively or emotionally. In utilizing a modification of the
AA Twelve Steps program, the person tries to reflect: I am powerless over my anger
and want to turn it over to God" or "Revenge or justice belongs to God" or "God, forgive
him, I can't" or "God, free me from my anger" (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1952).
Hopefully this will lead to the former step of the cognitive exercises, which in turn
emotional forgiveness may follow (Fitzgibbons, 1998).
The Model of Forgiveness Based on Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
Perhaps the groundbreaking work on moral development is Kohlberg's (1969,
1973, 1976) explanation of the development of sense ofjustice. It is this standard that
Enright and colleagues and others (Enright, Gassin, & Wu 1992; Enright & HDSG,
1991b; Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989; Nelson, 1992; Spidell & Libeman, 1981)
have used to describe the acquisition of reasoning about forgiveness. These models
suggest that as individuals develop cognitive skills, they become more able to take the
perspective of others, to empathize with their predicaments and frailties, and try to value
and accept them as people despite the hurts they have inflicted in the past. In Table 2-2 the
models of Enright's group (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992; Enright & HDSG, 1991a) are
placed alongside Kohlberg's to show how they correspond to each other. Each stage
Table 2-2. Developmental Models of Forgiveness and Their Relationship to
Stage 1. Punishment and obedience
orientation. Justice should be decided by
an authority or one who punishes.
Stage 2. Relativist justice. A sense of
reciprocity defines justice. ("If you help
me, I will help you.")
Stage 3. Good boy/good girl justice.
Group consensus determines what is right
and wrong. The morality of behavior is
based on the approval of others.
Stage 4. Law and Order Justice. Societal
laws determine conceptions ofjustice.
Laws are upheld to maintain an orderly
Stage 5. Social contract orientation.
Interest in maintaining the social fabric,
with the realization unjust laws exist. It is
just and fair to work in the system for
Stage 6. Universal ethical principle
orientation. Sense of justice is based on
maintaining the individual rights of all
persons. Conscience rather than laws or
norms determines moral behavior.
Stage 7. Life is valued from a cosmic
Source: Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989
Stage 1. Revengeful forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not possible without
punishment to a degree of pain similar to
the pain of the offense.
Stage 2. Restitutional/compensational
forgiveness. Forgiveness can occur out of
guilt or if the offender offers some form of
Stage 3. Expectational forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a response to social
Stage 4. Lawful expectational forgiveness.
Forgiveness occurs in response to societal,
moral, or religious pressure.
Stage 5. Forgiveness as social harmony.
Forgiveness restores social harmony and
Stage 6. Forgiveness as love.
Forgiveness promotes love. The offense
does not jeopardize love. Forgiveness
increases the likelihood of reconciliation
between the offender and the forgiver.
in Kolberg's model corresponds with one, and only one stage, in Enright's model. In the
lowest stages-Revengeful Forgiveness and Restitutional Forgiveness-forgiveness can
only occur after the wrongdoer has been subjected to revenge or appropriate punishment.
In the middle stages-Expectational Forgiveness of Forgiveness as Social Harmony-
forgiveness can be gained only if pressures from significant others are present. It is only in
the highest stage of the model-Forgiveness as Love-that forgiveness is conceived as an
unconditional attitude and is seen as promoting positive regard and good will. This
ultimate stage in theory best illustrates the difference between the Piaget and Enright
conceptions of forgiveness. According to Enright and the Human Development Study
Group (1994), forgiveness due to its gift-like character, does not entail any kind of
reciprocity as conceived by Piaget (1932). Nelson (1992) and Enright's Group (Enright,
Gassin, &Wu, 1992; Enright & HDSG, 1991a; Enright et al., 1989) considered the earliest
signs of reasoning concerning forgiveness to occur when cognition is predominately
egocentric and preoccupied with avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Nelson (1992) called
this stage of reasoning about forgiveness the precognitive. Individuals resent authority and
have a limited capacity for intimacy with and empathy for others.
Forgiveness' prime motivation is a self-interest and desire for revenge and
restitution. Such individuals feel hurt by even minor offenses. Enright's group (Enright,
Gassin, & Wu, 1992; Enright & HDSG, 1991a; Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989)
divided this period into two stages. During the stage of revengeful forgiveness,
forgiveness is motivated by an egocentric desire for revenge. During the stage of
restitutional-compensational forgiveness, forgiveness is driven by a desire to receive
compensation and restitution for offenses that one has experienced. This period of
forgiveness reasoning coincides with the stages of justice reasoning that Kohlberg (1969,
1973, 1976) called punishment and obedience orientation and relativist justice.
Nelson (1992) and Enright's group (Enright, Gassin, & Wu, 1992; Enright &
HDSG, 1991a) considered an intermediate period of reasoning concerning forgiveness to
occur when individuals are preoccupied with rule-governed behavior and desire to appear
good in the eyes of others. Enright and associates subdivided this period into expectational
forgiveness, during which forgiveness results from social pressure. Lawful expectational
forgiveness grants forgiveness due to the influence of institutional, moral, or religious
pressure; or as social harmony in which forgiveness is used to maintain social harmony
and good relationships. This period of forgiveness reasoning coincides with Kohlbergs's
(1969, 1973, 1976) stages of justice reasoning called good boy/good girl justice, law and
order justice, and social contract orientation.
The third period of reasoning concerning forgiveness is characterized by genuine
interest in the well being of others and for promoting love and interpersonal harmony.
Enright and associates labeled this stage simply as love. This period of forgiveness
reasoning parallels Kohlberg's (1969, 1973, 1976) universal ethical principle orientation
stage ofjustice reasoning.
Enright et al. (1989), Huang (1990), and Park, Enright, and Gassin (1993) found
evidence for a developmental view on reasoning concerning forgiveness in American,
Taiwanese, and Korean samples. In these studies, reasoning concerning forgiveness
(according to the model of Enright et al. (1989)) was moderately correlated with justice
reasoning. Reasoning concerning forgiveness also increased with age.
The Forgiveness Model
The following model proposed by Enright and the Human Development Study
Group will be utilized in this study. It incorporates the ideals of the prementioned models.
It is, at best, an estimate of the general pathway many people follow when they forgive.
This model is not a rigid, step-like sequence but is instead a flexible set of processes with
feedback and feed-forward loops. In the process of forgiving some may skip entire units.
When people do decide to forgive, they seem to need time to accommodate slowly
to the idea. Enright and the Human Development Study Group observed two patterns of
change. In the first pattern, most people will consider forgiving another person when their
emotional pain is so intense and discomforting that they must do something to change this
stressful situation. When they do decide to forgive, it is primarily a self-interested activity;
the person forgives in order to feel better. Only after a period of time does the forgiver
understand the gift like quality of forgiveness. Gradually, the forgiver does focus on the
other person rather than on the self. Over time, people who continue to practice
forgiveness may actually alter their primary worldview or their own sense of identity to
integrate forgiveness into their own philosophy of life and that view of themselves.
In the second pattern, once focusing on the other with the intent of forgiving, the
forgiver operates by one of three moral principles. The first is finding that practicing
merciful restraint is sufficient in itself. Merciful restraint is the holding back of a negative
response, such as punishment, when the offended has the power or the "right" to punish.
In merciful restraint, the forgiver gives up the initially attractive option of revenge or
condemnation. Later, he or she may have the strength and inner fortitude to give
generously to the other. Generosity goes further than refraining from the bad; it includes
the dimension of giving such positive elements as occasional friendliness and attention to
the offender. Still later, some forgivers may offer the gift of moral love, in which the
forgiver willingly enters into the other's life in the hope of positively transforming the
other and the community. The forgiver's degree of trust toward the other and the amount
of time passed since the offenses) play a significant part in these unfolding patterns
(Enright et al., 1998).
The moral judgment literature suggests that forgiveness is developmental (Enright,
Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989; Piaget 1932/1965). As forgiveness is both a psychological
and social process, it should be subject to developmental influences (Romig &Veenstra,
1998). As people mature, they may be more willing to forgive a deep offense against them
(Subkoviak et al., 1992). Piaget highlighted some pertinent factors that influence and
affect our ability to forgive. Piaget (1932/1965) placed forgiveness within a
developmental framework because in his view it possessed certain developmental
characteristics. The first is maturational aspect. Young children have a difficult time
understanding forgiveness. It is only in late middle childhood that the concept emerges.
The second is manipulation of the object. Without practicing forgiveness, it is difficult to
forgive. Third is social input. Certain religious beliefs and cultural supports and models
from significant others encourage forgiveness. Fourth is equalization. When a person tries
to forgive there can be periods of confusion, stress, and struggle before the "balance of
forgiveness" (Fitzgibbons, 1986; Kaufman, 1984). Forgiveness according to Piaget (1932)
emerges late in childhood, once the child passes through heterogamous and into
autonomous moral reasoning.
Forgiveness is more than a moral matter; it is an interpersonal process that
represents a possible response to wounds or injustice we encounter in relational context.
How a person conceptualizes and experiences relationships, particularly the more personal
and intense relationships, should influence the process of reconciling a relationship
unraveled by unjustly induced pain. One's psychosocial development may also have a
significant influence in how one reacts to a painful injury and the processes selected for
coping with such injury. Erikson's theory of psychosocial development provides means
for understanding the process of resolving significant relationship injuries (Romig &
Erikson (1963) developed a sequence of eight developmental stages that are
hierarchically ordered and expand over one's entire life. At each particular stage one is
confronted by a unique crisis or conflict, although each conflict remains present in some
form throughout the life span and is never entirely resolved. Romig and Veenstra (1998)
analyzed the primary stages and how they relate to forgiveness The key stages are the first
(trust vs. mistrust), sixth (intimacy vs. isolation), and seventh (generativity vs. stagnation),
which examine primarily relational issues. A person who does not resolve the trust versus
mistrust crisis in an adequate manner perceives the world as unpredictable, menacing, and
unsafe; is likely to view people with suspicion; and is hyper vigilant on being exploited. It
would be most challenging for this individual to respond to an injustice with forgiveness.
Even if forgiveness were offered, it would be primarily from the vantage of self-
The failure to resolve the intimacy versus isolation crisis satisfactorily could direct
one toward self-absorption, fear of intimacy, and profound ambivalence toward being in
committed relationships. A defensive wall goes up to protect the individual from what he
or she most craves and needs. An unjust injury would only aggravate this tendency to
remain distant and fearful of and isolated from intimate relationships.
Failing to resolve the generativity versus stagnation crisis would greatly contribute
to a person living primarily for selfish gratification and remaining inconsiderate to the
well being of others. Forgiveness requires making a decision to promote justice for the
sake of showing mercy and compassion and a concern for the well-being of the offender,
and this would most likely not be present in anyone who fails to resolve this stage (Romig
& Veenstra, 1998).
Finally, what does the process of forgiveness look like? Recall that forgiveness has
been defined as a "voluntary forgoing of negative affect and judgment by an injured party
directed at someone who has inflicted a significant, deep, and unjust hurt; this process also
involves viewing the wrongdoer with love and compassion" (Enright & HDSG, 1991 a;
Forgiveness is a process of struggling with and ultimately abandoning negative
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed at the injurer, while gradually and actively
incorporating positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the same. This general
process may involve some or all of at least 20 subprocesses based on Enright's model
(Gassin & Enright, 1995).
The foregoing model has been shown effective in three works to date. Freedman
and Enright (1996) in an intervention with female incest survivors, used the model in a
once-per-week educational program. The participants explored the ideas of each unit at
each woman's own pace for an average of 1 year to complete the program. This was an
experimental and controlled design that was randomized. After the experimental group
completed the educational program, the women who composed the original control group
participated in the discussion, thus becoming the second experimental group.
Table 2-3. Process of Forgiving
1. Examination of psychological defenses (Kiel, 1986).
2. Confrontation of anger; the point is to release not harbor, the anger (Trainer, 1981)
3. Admittance of shame when this is appropriate (Patton, 1985)
4. Awareness of catharsis (Droll, 1984).
5. Awareness of cognitive rehearsal of the offense (Droll, 1984)
6. Insight that the injured party may be comparing self with the injurer (Kiel, 1986).
7. Realization that oneself may be permanently and adversely changed by the injury
8. Insight into a possibly altered "just world view (Flanigan, 1987).
9. A change of heart conversion, new insights that old resolution strategies are not
working (North, 1987).
10. Willingness to consider forgiveness as an option
11. Commitment to forgive the offender (Neblett, 1974).
12. Refraining, through role taking, who the wrongdoer is by viewing him or her in
context (Smith, 1981).
13. Empathy toward the offender (Cunningham, 1985).
14. Awareness of compassion, as it emerges, toward the offender (Droll, 1984)
15. Acceptance, absorption of the pain (Bergin, 1988).
16. Finding meaning for self and others in the suffering and in the forgiveness process
17. Realization that self has needed others' forgiveness in the past (Cunningham,
18. Insight that one is not alone (universality, support).
19. Realization that self may have a new purpose in life because of the injury.
20. Awareness of decreased negative affect and, perhaps increased positive affect, if
this begins to emerge, toward the injurer; awareness of internal, emotional release
Source: (Gassin & Enright, 1995, p. 39)
Three findings are worth noting (Freedman & Enright, 1996). First, a comparison
of the experimental group with the control group after the 1st year of education, showed
that the experimental participants gained statistically more than the control group in
forgiving and hope. The experimental group decreased statistically significantly more than
the control group in anxiety and psychological depression. Second, after the 1st year,
participants from the original control group became an experimental group for the entire
2nd year. Thus, one could compare their outcomes within the 2nd year (as experimental
participants) with their own outcomes during the 1st year (as control participants). This
comparison yielded results similar to the first aforementioned finding about the
experimental group and the control group. The changes in the 2nd year compared with
those of the 1st year within this group were statistically significant: There was a greater
decrease in anxiety and depression. The third comparison examined the original (1st year)
experimental group scores at the I-year post test within their scores at a 1-year follow-up
(1 year after intervention ceased for this original experimental group). These participants
maintained their change patterns on all scales, thus showing that there was no washout
The two other interventions also validated this model of forgiving. Al-Mabuk,
Enright, and Cardis (1995) reported positive mental health outcomes following short-term
workshop on forgiveness education for college students who had been deprived of
parental love. Hebl and Enright (1993) demonstrated forgiving responses in the elderly
following an 8-week program. In the latter study, both experimental and control groups
decreased in anxiety. The overall pattern across these diverse samples suggested that the
model of forgiving is effective in bringing people to a forgiving stage toward an offender.
Units 1 through 8 represent the preforgiveness interpersonal conflict following a
deep, unfair hurt. Psychological defenses (unit 1) mask emotional pain that may be too
intense. Anger (unit 2) is one of the initial signs that the individual is confronting the
offense. Anger, though uncomfortable, is considered a necessary part of the forgiveness
journey in its initial phases (Hope, 1987). Common behaviors such as shame, attaching a
greater deal of emotional energy to the problem (carthexis), rehearsing the event over and
over in one's mind (cognitive rehearsal), and similar patterns are common (units 3 through
5). In some cases the person must at some point confront a permanent negative change
(e.g., paralysis from an accident, broken relationship, loss of sexual innocence) in unit 6.
Unit 7 can be particularly painful, as the injured party (who acknowledges his or her own
loss) sees no such deficit in the injurer. All of this may lead a person bitterly to conclude
that life can be profoundly unfair (unit 8).
In units 9 through 11 the injured party becomes aware that there are other
possibilities and paths that one can choose to travel. There lies a glimmer of hope that life
still offers worthy opportunities. There is no set time, situation, or condition that the
individual may discover this possibility.
Units 12 through 20 compare the processes of change directed toward forgiveness.
The injured can now rise above the hurt and look beyond the self to consider the other.
Refraiing (unit 12) is the process of viewing and understanding the offending person in
context-examining the developmental history, their deficits, and the pressures they were
under at the time of the injury. One does not condone but desires to understand the
phenomenological view. Many, including Guest (1988) and Trainer (1981), advocate this
strategy. Empathy (unit 13) is the essential emotional counterpart to cognitive reframing.
From this understanding, compassion (unit 14) can emerge, making the acceptance
of the injustice and the gift of forgiveness a possibility. The insights gained from unit 15
enable the forgiver to realize that both self and other are imperfect and fallible, which may
make the next unit easier to achieve. When one absorbs the pain (unit 16), it prevents the
conflict from being directly transmitted to individuals in present and/or future generations
(Bergin, 1988). Unit 17 helps the offended find life meaningful and forms the solid
foundation of positive psychological adjustment (Frank, 1959). Some people, as they head
toward psychological healing, develop a new purpose in life. Out of the ashes comes a
new promising life and vision (unit 18). The incest survivor, for example, decides to use
the insight gained and counsel other survivors. As the person experiences a decrease in the
negative emotions (e.g., resentment, hostility), forgiveness, which once seemed
unattainable, now becomes a real possibility (unit 19). Finally, in unit 20, the wounded
party experiences a release of most (if not all) negative, toxic emotion directed at the
Fitzgibbons (1998) offers insight into what occurs under the broad categories of
the forgiveness process during this challenging task. The stages are listed below.
In the uncovering phase the nature and role of anger is discussed, including the
methods of dealing with this potent emotion and the many forms that anger reveals itself
at various life stages. In this phase, the clients learn how they can resolve any anger that
they may discover within themselves. Quite often, people are more likely to admit and
own their anger if there is an option for dealing with it that does not require expressing it.
Cognitive exercises are put into practice at this stage. The cognitive exercises
enables one to admit anger, perhaps previously denied, and to work with it, thereby
initiating the process of the healing journey.
In the decision phase, forgiveness is presented as the preferred method, along with
promoting its many advantages as the avenue to pursue for healing. To inspire and
motivate the individual, successful cases, histories of others with conflicts, are presented
to encourage. To clarify any false misconceptions, forgiveness is explained for what it is
and for what it is not. Many people in this initial stage of their healing are so
overwhelmed that they cannot even consider offering compassion, generosity, and love
toward those who have hurt them grievously. Many will only decide to begin the process
after they have been reassured that they do not have to become vulnerable toward the
person whom they wish to forgive. They are reassured that forgiving does not preclude
expressing anger or pursuing justice where appropriate. The resolution of anger with an
offender and the investment of trust toward that person are related but remain distinct
During this phase, for those fortunate enough not to be suffering from severe pain
or betrayal, they are informed that, as they work on surrendering their anger, they most
likely will come to experience compassion and love toward those who have hurt them.
Forgiveness is possible through a process of sincere attempts to understand the emotional
development and to empathize with their life stresses of those who have inflicted the pain.
As that process occurs, there is a keen awareness that the behavior of many offenders can
be attributed not as an innate evil but to their own emotional scars. If possible, the stage
methods of forgiveness are presented-cognitive, emotional, and spiritual.
In the work phase the therapist describes refraining as understanding. For most
people, forgiveness begins first, as an intellectual pursuit in which there is no emotional
attachment to the thought of forgiveness. If their anger existed toward a parent, they
would be asked to identify a number of areas in which they were disappointed with each
parent and to spend time forgiving the parent of any or perceived injustices at different
developmental stages. Most likely, this would be met with resistance. Also, some come to
realize that they have been hurt so deeply that they cannot even utter the word
forgiveness, and they are more comfortable stating that they are willing to rid themselves
of their desire for revenge. For those with deep embedded anger, the release of resentment
can be facilitated by a process that begins with the physical expression of anger. Caution
is exercised so that no one will get hurt. This is immediately followed by cognitive
forgiveness exercises directed at letting go of the desire for revenge.
It is during this crucial stage that the major obstacles to forgiveness are reviewed.
These may include a lack of parental modeling for the task, significant others who
continue to disappoint and frustrate in a regular manner and/or a personal basis,
narcissism, and a compulsive need to control. Also, since anger is often used to defend
against feelings of inadequacy and fear, particularly the fear of betrayal, many individuals
are not able to relinquish their anger and move ahead with the forgiveness process until
their self-esteem and basic ability to trust are reestablished.
It is important to point out that, although forgiveness diminishes the level of anger,
it does not completely heal the wounds of sadness and mistrust. For many who have
sustained major loss, only through a sense of being loved in a new and unique way can
allow them to accept the pain.
The benefits from the effort to forgive far outweigh the struggle it entails. The
significant benefits range from a decreased level of anger and hostility to an increased
feelings of love and a marked ability to control anger, improved capacity to trust, and the
freedom from the subtle control of individuals and events of the past. Other advantages
are a letting go of negative, parental, emotional, and behavioral patterns, improved sleep
patterns, self-confidence in relationships, improved academic and work performance,
improved concentration skills, and a resolution of physical symptoms and illnesses caused
by hostility (Barefoot et al., 1983; Schekelle et al., 1983).
These preceding stages seem to occur (a) slowly, (b) with a little understanding
toward the other (such as seeing the other person as imperfect), (c) in confusion over the
emotions (as you sort out the mix of emotions), (d) with a residue of anger left over (it
seems to go away then emerges, but over time it lessens), (e) a little at a time, (f) freely or
not at all (the other is no longer under obligation to you for what they did) (Eastin, 1988).
When one has received forgiveness, it is easier to forgive others (Smedes, 1984).
In reviewing the literature, the following five components appear to be crucial in
the process of forgiveness:
1. The acceptance into awareness of strong emotions such as anger an sadness.
2. Letting go of previously unmet interpersonal needs.
3. A shift in the forgiving person's view of the offender.
4. The development of empathy for the offender.
5. The construction of a new narrative of self and other.
(Malcolm & Greenberg, 2000)
Though this process may appear fixed and orderly, forgiveness does not always
flow as smoothly as it may seem. The first and most vital step in the process is making the
commitment to forgive. Forgiveness is first and foremost an act of the will. There is no
universal process that fits each person's situation. "There is no cookbook formula for
forgiveness. I inform people that they must choose to be forgiving. If they wait until they
feel forgiving before they choose to forgive, it may be a long and arduous wait"
(Coleman, 1998, p. 76)
The Role of Empathv
Perhaps the sine qua non character trait for the role of forgiving is empathy.
Studzinski (1986) sees the capacity to forgive another as the hallmark of a mature
personality, a considerable advance over the brute desire for revenge. It is through an
advanced maturity that we are able to look beyond our needs and our wounds and forgive
and empathize with another. Forgiveness requires focusing our understanding on the other
person, as well as seeing oneself just as capable of hurting others, intentionally or
unintentionally (Lampman, 1999). A key ingredient in our ability to forgive apparently
originates from the injured person's ability to identify or empathize with the offending
individual (Rowe et al., 1989). The ability to feel with another person represents a
transformation of one's narcissistic tendency to a socially beneficial direction. Empathy
lays the emotional foundation for the later cognitive capacity for taking social perspective
for examining situations from the other person's vantagepoint. The injured person
concludes that the offender is also human and capable of committing mistakes and also
might perceive that the offender needs to be forgiven in the same fashion that the injured
person would want to be forgiven if the situation were reversed. Through this maturation,
one may even consider that there is a common bond, a sense of unity between the forgiver
and the offender, for they share the most fundamental quality, that of being human
A number of theorists (Brandsma, 1982; Cunningham, 1985; Fitzgibbons, 1986;
Hope, 1987; Enright & HDSG, 1991a; McCullough, 1997) have identified the capacity for
empathy as the primary element in successful forgiveness. McCullough, Worthington, and
Rachal (1997) have proposed and investigated an empathy model of forgiveness and
McCullough, Worthington, and Rachal (1997) have concluded that empathy and
forgiveness are intimately, maybe even causally, linked. Empathy can be defined as "an
active effort to understand another person's perception of an interpersonal event as if one
were that other person, rather than judging the other person's behavior from the
perspective of one's own experience of that event"(Malcolm & Greenberg, 2000, p. 180).
Worthington (McCullough & Worthington, 1994b) developed an empathy-
humility-commitment model of forgiveness. In this three-part model, forgiveness is
hypothesized to be initiated by empathy for the offender, advanced by humility in the
offended, and then reinforced through a public commitment to forgive the offender. The
driving force is empathy. Narcissism, the inability to move beyond oneself, has an
inhibitory effect on the forgiveness process. Difficulty in empathic functioning is a glaring
shortcoming in narcissism, and empirical evidence of a negative association between
empathy and narcissism has emerged (Ehrenberg, Hunter, & Elterman, 1996; Porcerelli &
Sandler, 1995; Watson, Grisham, Trotter, & Biderman, 1984). Worthington states that
"forgiveness is the natural response to empathy and humility" (Worthington, Sandage, &
Berry, 2000, p. 64). The hypothesized link between empathy and forgiveness has been
empirically confirmed in a series of correlative and intervention studies by McCullough,
Worthington, and their associates (McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997). The lack
of empathy is an unfortunate characteristic of a narcissistic personality and accounts in
part for the difficulty people with such a disorder have in forgiving injuries done to them
In this whole process of forgiveness, as challenging as it may be, the core element
that facilitates forgiveness is empathy. Empathy for the offending partner acts as the
central facilitative condition that induces forgiveness. A variety of pro social phenomena,
such as cooperation, care, altruism, and the inhibition of aggression may facilitate the role
of empathy for the other person (Batson, 1990, 1991; Batson & Oleson, 1991; Eisenberg
& Fabes, 1990; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987; Hoffman, 1981, 1990; Moore, 1990; Rusbult,
Verette, Whitney, Slovik, & Lipkus, 1991; Tangney, 1991). French philosopher and
educator Jean Piaget, writing in 1932, saw forgiveness as an advanced stage of moral
development, arguing that empathy is the cognitive operation making forgiveness possible
because it entails the compassionate recognition that the other is also human.
Empathy is the cognitive awareness of another's internal states that reflect their
thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and intentions (Ickes, 1997). Empathy is the involvement
of the psychological process that makes a person have feelings that coincide with
another's situation more than with their situation (Hoffman, 2000).
Robert Enright (1999) suggests the following questions to help "the injured person
view the offender as a vulnerable human being":
1. What was it like for the person as they were growing up? Did the offender come
from a home in which there was conflict or even abuse?
2. What was happening in the person's life at the time they hurt you?
3. Can you see the person as having worth simply by being a member of the human
In answering these questions one may gain the necessary insight and emphathetic
understanding to forgive one's perpetrator.
How Does One Know When Forgiveness Has Taken Place?
Having put into practice the aforementioned steps, how does one know that one
has achieved an adequate level of forgiveness? Flanigan (1998) found that interviewees
considered forgiveness complete when they had achieved one of these four end-states or
some combination of them.
1. When they no longer harbored resentment or hatred toward the offenders.
2. When they felt neutral toward their offenders.
3. When they once again experienced some degree of trust in their offenders.
4. When they have achieved reconciliation with their offenders.
Smedes (1984) states simply and clearly that you will know forgiveness has begun
in you when you recall that person who hurt you and now are able to wish him/her well.
Rosenak and Harden (1992) state that internal signs for the forgiver are lack of pain, an
inner sense of peace, the ability to enjoy life, the discovery of the resources to pray, and
not being preoccupied with past hurt (Wilson, 1994). Eventually, over time, with full
expression of thought, feeling, and behavior, the one who is injured gradually becomes
aware that he/she has relinquished the right, insistence, need, or desire for revenge (Hope,
1987; Smedes, 1984). Retaliation is no longer an option that seems beneficial to healing
the self (Jampolsky, 1985). One can truly and with heartfelt sincerely begin to wish the
other well (Smedes, 1984).
Forgiveness is a process primarily concerned with the experience of resolution, of
moving on: of healing the past. It strives to get unstuck from the agony and burden
of past injuries. The future holds an immediate sense of being on the verge of
bright, new beginnings and is again available where previously it was not; the past,
although neither forgotten nor rationalized away, no longer is a haunting, heavy,
and troubling issue. (Rowe et al., 1989, p. 242)
Fow (1988) believes that forgiveness has taken place when "being angry ceases to
be as figural and disturbing... one no longer experiences the violation as an unresolved
blocking of everyday life, of one' unfolding future" (pp. 89-90).
Over time the injured person receives the gift of no longer being held bound to
repressed anger, resentment, and desired revenge. At this stage of forgiveness, the person
would no longer feel, think, or act as if they were in bondage to the harmful event or to the
individual that injured them (Flanigan, 1987). A possible side effect or by-product of this
release is that the injured person may not only be free from negative emotions but actually
have positive feelings toward the injurer (Eastin, 1988). When this occurs, one can safely
assume that one is well on the road of forgiveness.
The critical dimension of forgiving is that one experiences an alteration in one's
understanding of, and relationship to the other, oneself, and the world.... There is
an experience of reclaiming oneself, which at the same time, implies a shift into a
larger perspective. (Rowe, 1989, pp. 241-242)
What Are the Benefits in Forgiving
Despite the effort and the strenuous demands in the forgiving process, there are
many benefits derived from it. We have modem examples of those who suffered
tremendous injustices and yet were able to forgive. In 1985, Pope John Paul II went into
the bowels of Rome's Rabiibia prison to visit Menet Ali-Akhga, a hired assassin who tried
to kill him in 1981 and almost succeeded. In 1992, Christipher Wilson, a Black
Californian, forgave two White teens who doused him with gasoline and set him afire,
yelling at him "Die nigger, die" as he rolled in agony. Reginald Denny, who is White,
forgave two Black men who pulled him from his truck and tried to beat him to death
during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. They claimed that by forgiving they have a greater
sense of peace and calm. These examples point to the salutary effects and healing power
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