Forgiveness: The Key To a Happier Future

forgiveness

“Forgiveness undoes our own hatred and frees us from a troubled past.”- Christopher Peterson

People often link forgiveness with reconciliation, according to the definition, forgiveness does not always include reconciliation or even interaction with the perpetrator. Forgiveness is defined as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (“What is Forgiveness”, 2004)

Peterson describes it as a shift in thinking from “I’ll make them pay” or “I want to see them unhappy” to letting go of grudges. However, forgiveness appears to be more about you than then your perpetrator. As the ancient saying summarizes:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone—you are the one getting burned.”  -Buddha

 

Getting to Grips with Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be considered both a trait and a state. The difference between the two being the prevalence of forgiveness for an individual over time, whilst state forgiveness may be short term or apply to one situation, those who possess trait forgiveness will have a blanket approach towards stressful or painful situations where forgiveness is more easily achieved.

A study conducted in Taiwan by Wang (2008) researched the relationship between the big five personality traits and the tendency to forgive. The research found that those people who were agreeable and emotionally stable found it easier to forgive.

This evidence shows that through emotional stability and higher agreeableness you are more likely to forgive those who have wronged you.

 

The Benefits of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a key part of many religions and civil codes (e.g. Restorative Justice) because it helps societies to heal and function. Numerous studies have found that the positive effects of forgiveness are for those who forgive rather then those who are forgiven.

One such study found that those who forgave had less anger, less stress, less rumination and lowered reactivity in comparison to those who held onto their anger and pain (Harris et al., 2001).

 

Models of Forgiveness

Everett Worthington (2001) who had studied forgiveness for years, used his own REACH method to forgive the brutal murder of his own mother. Worthington’s five steps to become more forgiving include:

  1. Recall the hurt
  2. Empathize with the one who hurt you
  3. Offer an Altruistic gift of forgiveness
  4. Make the Commitment to forgive
  5. Hold on to the forgiveness

Enright’s (2005) Eight Keys to Forgiveness echo much from Worthington, but adds understanding what forgiveness is, forgiving ourselves and developing our “forgiveness muscles” into the recipe.  He also acknowledges how using our strengths can to help us forgive easier.

Enright (2005) acknowledges that the search for meaning in suffering helps with forgiving. He also stresses the need to acknowledge one’s own pain, without getting stuck in the hurt.

His eight keys to forgiveness are:

  1. Know what forgiveness is and why it matters
  2. Become “forgivingly fit”
  3. Address your inner pain
  4. Develop a forgiving mind through empathy
  5. Find meaning in your suffering
  6. When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths
  7. Forgive yourself
  8. Develop a forgiving heart

Forgiveness Exercises

Various forgiveness exercises have been tested in research. Peterson (2006) tells of getting his students to write a “forgiveness letter”. In the discussion after completion of the exercise, it was felt by all but one student that sending the letter would backfire, unless sent in response to an apology from the recipient; and that it might even be seen as accusatory. Peterson reports that the one student who sent his forgiveness letter has not yet been forgiven for sending it.

More success has been found in workshops which teach the steps to forgiveness, with the objective to change one’s own outlook (Harris, et al., 2001).

For more detail, try this forgiveness exercise based on Enright’s eight keys.

As a mediator and conflict coach, I see how so much pain could be avoided if people were more ready to forgive. For this reason I am motivated when I see that forgiveness can be taught and that its importance in healing is being recognized.

“Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.”  – Desmond Tutu

About the Author

This article was written by Nancy Radford of Roundtuit Coaching. For more information on her, her work or this article please contact her directly via her website

References

Enright, R. (2015). Eight Keys to Forgiveness. New York: WW Norton.

Harris, A. H., Luskin, F. M., Benisovich, S. V., Standard, S., Bruning, J., Evans, S., & Thoresen, C. (2001). Effects of Group Forgiveness Intervention on Perceived Stress, State and Trait, Anger, Symptoms of Stress, Self-Reported Health and Forgiveness (Stanford Forgiveness Project). Journal of Clinical Psychology 62 (6), 715-733.

Marsh, J. (2010, August 24). Fred Luskin Explains How to forgive. Retrieved from Greater Good: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/fred_luskin_explains_how_to_forgive

McCullogh, M. E., Bellah, C. G., Kirkpatrick, S. D., & Johnson, J. (2001). Vengefulness: Relationships with forgiveness, rumination, wellbeing and The Big Five. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27, 601-610.

Peterson, C. (2006). Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Vintage Books.

Seligman, M. (2007). The Optimistic Child: A Proven Program to Safeguard Children Against Depression and Build Lifelong Resilience. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Wang, T. (2008). Forgiveness and the Big Five Personality Traits among Taiwanese Graduates. Social Behaviour and Personality, 2008, 36(6), 849-850. 

What is Forgiveness. (2004). Retrieved from Greater Good: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

Worthington, E. (2001). 5 Steps to Forgiveness. New York: Crown.

Comments

  1. Susan Beley

    On January 1, 2011 my husband of twenty two years made a physical attempt to end my life. I survived and the healing process from that day forward has continued and is ongoing. I believe number five is within reach today and see the validity of REACH. Eight years have passed, eight years. With intensive coaching that I had sought out recently to overcome fear (a debilitating state of mind over time) I extended an olive branch in which I believe is necessary for my own healing. My understanding of accountability and connection with the “degrees of dominance” in a dance that occurs not only in dysfunctional relationships like ours but even in healthy relationships, I recognize that directing my focus on developing my forgiveness muscles and continuing to firm up boundaries of whom I allow into what I describe as my “Healthy Relationship Space” is critical to not only “surviving” but “thriving” as I lean into well-being.

    Reply
  2. Edward G Jan

    Thanks a lot for the great article, it has helped me a lot to forget few of the enemies and given me lot of happiness.

    Reply
  3. Kritika

    I want positive psychology book in free pdf version to study.

    Reply
  4. Nancy Radford

    Glad you found it helpful.

    Reply
  5. Oksana Kulay

    One of the most important topics to be tackled nowadays. I think that people need to be educated more on their emotions/feelings and its impact on their life-being. Many of us have physical sicknesses we can’t get rid of. We spend hours on doctors and researches. But the answer to it is in our head. Psychosomatic has lots of items in its list based on “non-forgiveness”. It’s important for us to be self-aware of our thoughts power.
    Like in a song “Let it go”

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    One of the hardest tbings in life is to forgive, but as long as you don’t work on learning how to forgive and not hold grudges , life is harder than it should be. Not forgiving only causes pain and anger to the person who does not forgive! An excellent way to try to forgive is to separate the person from the wrong doing.vlook at it as an act and tbat way you can put it into perspectiva and move on.

    Reply
    • Nancy Radford

      Thanks–that’s a great point.

      Reply
  7. Nona Simons

    Access to free book denied. They said my e-mail address was not legitimate. However, it was a legitimate e-mail address and my name was entered correctly as was the Anti-Spam code. Can you explain this? Thanks, Nona

    Reply
    • Nancy Radford

      Hi Nona
      Sorry for delay in responding. What free book did you want?
      I’ll look into it.
      Kind regards
      Nancy

      Reply
  8. Sandip Roy

    A well-rounded article that touches the most important points on Forgiveness. And of course, the best take home was Peterson’s forgiveness letter! It has practical usefulness for the reader who can put it to action.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

[first_name]
[first_name]