Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness is seen as a deliberate attempt to overcome unhappy feelings and thoughts in order to facilitate individual happiness, which usually requires the individual's perception of the wrong-doer (be it themselves or another person) to change, from adopting a negative view to adopting a more sympathetic view (Pargament, 1997). Forgiveness is thought to be an important factor in facilitating psychological well-being for the individual in clinical settings (Hebl & Enright, 1993; McCullough & Worthington, 1995). Another feature in the clinical literature is the relationship between forgiveness and religiosity, particularly within religious coping (Pargament & Rye, 1998; Pargament, 1997), and forgiveness and empathy, whereby individuals with higher levels of empathy should mak it easier to work towards forgiveness (McCullough & Worthington, 1995; McCullough, Worthington & Rachal, 1997). However, at present, the empirical investigation of forgiveness using psychometrically developed measures among non-clinical samples is limited (Mauger et al., 1992).

 

Although psychologists have long studied problems such as war and other forms of human aggression, the field has recently begun attending to more positive issues such as conflict resolution, peace, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In our view, in the process of developing a world view concerning the nature of human relationships, individuals develop a general orientation towards apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation: the more positive the orientation, the greater the likelihood of viewing apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation as valuable, desirable, and achievable following perceived transgressions.

 

Forgiveness and reconciliation are wonderful ideas. Together they  connect a repentant, regretful, and remorseful wrongdoer, now a sufferer too, with the injured person, who may be to some extent ready to offer compassion and empathy in spite of her or his suffering. In this moral balancing act, the wrongdoer’s suffering sends a message to the one he or she has wounded that the harm is acknowledged and the injurer's rights must be taken seriously. The offender also makes a claim on behalf of him or herself that he is human, moral, and “one of us”. The one who is hurt, depending on the depth of the hurt, and distance from it, her or his judgment of how sincere the wrongdoer is, and how much the wrongdoer has suffered too, is urged to extend some graciousness to the perpetrator, some empathy, — if not forgiveness, a kind word or a reprieve from total condemnation.

 

This idea of forgiveness is one in which both parties take seriously the nature and context of the crime, the depth of the hurt, and the need for reparation. Unilateral forgiveness, however, is more problematic. Forgiving an individual who is not repentant reconciles something within the forgiver, but falls short of an act of reconciliation. Still, it is exactly the inner reconciliation of unilateral forgiveness that is behind the recent advocacy of forgiveness as an individual, psychological project to be promoted in psychotherapy.