WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
A DEFINITION OF FORGIVENESS
Philosophical, Traditional (Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, Confucian, and Buddhist
traditions, among others), Psychological and Developmental principles. Gleaned
from a large survey of readings, professional dialogue, and stories of
forgiveness written by volunteers.
What it is:
It is a response to an injustice (a moral wrong).
It is a turning to the "good" in the face of this wrongdoing.
Merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge.
Generosity or offering good things such as: attention, time, remembrances on
Moral Love or contributing to the betterment of the other.
It is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer's actions
deserve it and giving the gifts of mercy, generosity and love when the
wrongdoer does not deserve them.
As we give the gift of forgiveness we ourselves are
A freely chosen gift (rather than a grim obligation).
The overcoming of wrongdoing with good.
2. What it is not:
Time passing/ignoring the effects of the wrongdoing.
Nothing that bad happened. It was only this one time. It won't happen
The person did this because.....it wasn't really their responsibility.
deserves to know
they have wronged me.
"Forgiving" with a sense of moral superiority.
Forgiveness is not a quid pro quo deal--it doesn't demand compensation
moral response to another's injustice
Reconciliation: Two parties coming together in mutual respect
A PROCESS MODEL OF FORGIVING
Robert Enright and
Department of Educational Psychology
of Wisconsin -Madison
research has been ongoing at the
of Wisconsin for over thirteen years. The psychiatrist, Richard Fitzgibbons, MD
recently said this about our research: "The research on forgiveness by Robert
Enright and his colleagues may be as important to the treatment of emotional and
mental disorders as the discovery of sulfa drugs and penicillin were to the
treatment of infectious diseases."
Our experience and
dedication to the teaching of forgiveness as a psychological health intervention
have led to the development of a process model of interpersonal forgiving. This
model has a series of 20 steps which are organized into four distinct phases.
This is our best estimate of the general pathway that people follow when they
forgive someone who has unjustly injured them. This process is not a rigid
sequence and individuals may experience all or only some of the steps. The
following is a brief description of the four phases of forgiveness.
During this phase
the individual becomes aware of the emotional pain that has resulted from a
deep, unjust injury. Characteristic feelings of anger or even hatred may
be present. As these negative emotions are confronted and the injury is honestly
understood, individuals may experience considerable emotional distress. Deciding
on the appropriate amount of energy to process this pain and still function
effectively is an important consideration during this phase. However, as
the anger and other negative emotions are brought out into the open healing can
begin to occur.
The individual now
realizes that to continue to focus on the injury and the injurer may cause more
unnecessary suffering. The individual begins to understand that a change must
occur to go ahead in the healing process. The individual may then experience a "
heart conversion" or, in other words, a life change in a positive direction. The
individual entertains the idea of forgiveness as a healing strategy. The
individual, then, commits to forgiving the injurer who has caused him/her such
pain. Complete forgiveness is not yet realized but the injured individual has
decided to explore forgiveness and to take initial steps in the direction of
full forgiveness. An important first step at this point is to forego any
thoughts, feelings or intentions of revenge toward the injurer.
Here the forgiving
individual begins the active work of forgiving the injurer. This
phase may include new ways of thinking about the injurer. The injured individual
may strive to understand the injurer's childhood or put the injurious event in
context by understanding the pressures the injurer was under at the time of the
offense. This new way of thinking is undertaken not to excuse the injurer of
his/her responsibility for the offense, but rather to better understand him/her
and to see the injurer as a member of the human community. Often, this new
understanding may be accompanied by a willingness to experience empathy and
compassion toward the offender. The work phase also includes the heart of
forgiveness which is the acceptance of the pain that resulted from the actions
of the injurer. This must not be confused with any sense of deserving the pain
but rather a bearing of pain that has been unjustly given. As the individual
bears the pain, he/she chooses not to pass it on to others,including the
injurer. This is often where the challenge of a "quest for the good" is most
evident. Indeed, the individual may now become ready to begin to offer goodwill
toward the injurer in the form of merciful restraint, generosity, and moral
love. This may or may not include a reconciliation. The goodwill may be offered
while at the same time taking into consideration current issues of trust and
safety in the relationship between the individual and the injurer.
In this phase the
forgiving individual begins to realize that he/she is gaining emotional relief
from the process of forgiving his/her injurer. The forgiving individual may find
meaning in the suffering that he/she has faced. The emotional relief and
new found meaning may lead to increased compassion for self and others. The
individual may discover a new purpose in life and an active concern for his/her
community. Thus, the forgiver discovers the paradox of forgiveness:
as we give to others the gifts of mercy, generosity, and moral love, we
ourselves are healed.
Forgiveness Institute - What is Forgiveness?