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Forgiveness is the mental, emotional and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment or anger against another person for a perceived offence, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution [1]. Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives, in terms of the person forgiven and/or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. In some contexts, it may be granted without any expectation of compensation, and without any response on the part of the offender (for example, one may forgive a person who is dead). In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgement, apology, and/or restitution, or even just ask for forgiveness, in order for the wronged person to believe they are able to forgive. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Popular recognition of forgiveness

The need to forgive is widely recognized by the public, but they are often at a loss for ways to accomplish it. For example, in a large representative sampling of American people on various religious topics in 1988, the Gallup Organization found that 94% said it was important to forgive, but 85% said they needed some outside help to be able to forgive. However, not even regular prayer was found to be effective. The Gallup poll revealed that the only thing that was effective was "meditative prayer".[2]

Forgiveness as a foundation for authoritarian control

Yoga teachers Joel Kramer and Diana Alstead analyse the use of unconditional love and the associated concept of foregiveness as a foundation for authoritarian control. [3] They survey religions worldwide to make their assertion that religious imperatives of forgiveness are often used to perpetrate cycles of ongoing abuse. They state that "to forgive without requiring the other to change is not only self-destructive, but ensures a dysfunctional relationship will remain so by continually rewarding mistreatment."

For instance, one Christian sect, the Anabaptists, take Christian imperatives to forgive particularly seriously, interpret them literally and apply them rigorously inside their closed churches. As such, they are a case where one can assess the effects of applying religious-based forgiveness in all situations, 'no matter what'. Not surprisingly, they have a well-deserved reputation for being gentle people but, inside their communities, rigorously obeying (Christian) religious imperatives to forgive, 'no matter what', has been reported to cause effects similar to what Kramer and Alstead theorize in their abstract analysis.[1], [2]. Kramer and Alstead also point out similar dynamics operating in Eastern 'Oneness' religions in their wide-ranging analysis of the religious roots of authoritarian control.

Kramer and Alstead assert that of faith-based ideals of forgiveness, while appearing selfless, contain implicit selfish aspects. They state that "when forgiving contains a moral component, there is moral superiority in the act itself that can allow one to feel virtuous". They ask: "As long as one is judging the other lacking, how much letting go can there be?" They note that "Where the virtue in 'moralistic foregiving' lies is also complicated by the fact that it is often unclear who benefits more from it, the one doing the forgiving or the one being forgiven." Not surprisingly, they note "that for many people, forgiving is an area of confusion both intellectually and emotionally."

Psychological theories about forgiveness

Only in the last few decades has forgiveness received attention from psychologists and social psychologists. Psychological papers and books on the subject did not begin to appear until the 1980’s. Prior to that time it was a practice primarily left to matters of faith. Although there is presently no consensual psychological definition of forgiveness in the research literature, a consensus has emerged that forgiveness is a process and a number of models describing the process of forgiveness have been published.

Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is regarded to have placed forgiveness on the map. He founded the International Forgiveness Institute and is considered the initiator of forgiveness studies.[4] Dr. Enright developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness.[5]

Dr. Everett Worthington, a known lecturer and author on the subject of forgiveness has developed the Pyramid Model of Forgiveness.[6] This model involves: recall the hurt; empathize; altruistic gift of forgiveness; commit to forgive; holding onto forgiveness.[7]

Dr. Guy Pettitt of New Zealand, provides a comprehensive set of materials on both the need and benefits of forgiveness as well as the process to accomplish forgiveness. These materials are available as a free download.[8]

Summary of differing views on forgiveness

  1. REDIRECT Template:Original research

The differing views on forgiveness can be delineated on the basis of whether one believes forgiveness must be earned as opposed to regarding it as a gift.[9] [How to reference and link to summary or text]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, forgiveness to be earned would be considered only properly exercised if forgiveness is requested or earned through means such as atonement, amends, restitution or sincere apology. Such forgiveness often requires some sort of promise that the offending act or behavior will not be repeated. Forgiveness under these circumstances would remain conditioned upon the actions or words of the perceived wrongdoer. Certain religious views of forgiveness would fall under this category, especially when considering receiving forgiveness from one’s God. An example of this would be penance practiced by Catholics and certain other Christian denominations and similar practices by other religions.[10] Such religious concepts may have a spillover effect towards one’s views on what is necessary for interpersonal forgiveness, even though most religions encourage interpersonal forgiveness without a requirement of it being earned as the religious sections above illustrate.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Magdalene Chan - "Forgiveness" “Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.” Dag Hammarskjöld

Viewing forgiveness as a gift would hold that forgiveness begins with a decision [11][12] the forgiver makes to let go of resentment held in the forgiver's mind of a perceived wrong or difference, either actual or imagined. As the choice of forgiveness is made in the mind of the forgiver, it can be made about any resentment, whether toward another, oneself, a group, a situation or even one's God. Under this view, forgiveness of another can be granted with or without the other asking for forgiveness.

When forgiveness is viewed as a gift [13]the forgiver gives to oneself and/or the perceived wrongdoer to free their respective minds of resentment and guilt. Such forgiveness does not require repentance, contrition or any other form of "payment" from the forgiven. The act of forgiveness has merit in and of itself and can stand alone without condition and therefore outside control of the perceived wrongdoer’s behavior. As a gift to oneself forgiveness allows the person granting forgiveness the opportunity to overcome some hurt or emotional turmoil by offering closure and the ability to move on from the perceived situation or circumstance that merited an act of forgiveness. [14] As a gift to the forgiven it provides a clearing for the forgiven to overcome the guilt, shame, stigma or other negative effects of their action or inaction that merited forgiveness. Advocates of this view generally maintain that forgiveness does not entail condoning the wrong or difference that occasioned the resentment.[15]

Forgiveness of this nature is sometimes referred to as a selective remembering, whereby one focuses only upon love or loving thoughts and lets go of negative thoughts.[16] Others hold that the act of forgiveness is less of a recognition of, or letting go of error, than it is an act of the recognition of the overriding good in another, thereby enabling both the one who would forgive and the one who would be forgiven, to actualize their greatest good.

Forgiveness is often associated with religious or spiritual teachings. However, religious or spiritual motivation or beliefs is not necessary for forgiveness. Forgiveness can be motivated by love, philosophy, appreciation for the forgiveness of others, empathy, personal temperament or pragmatism, including fear, obligation, appearances, harmony, or release[17].

Health aspects of forgiveness

Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments[18]. One study has shown that the positive benefit of forgiveness is similar whether it was based upon religious or secular counseling as opposed to a control group that received no forgiveness counseling.[19]

See also


  1. Marina Cantacuzino, The Forgiveness Project
  2. Gorsuch, R. L. & Hao, J. Y. "Forgiveness: An exploratory factor analysis and its relationship to religious variables", June 1993 Review of Religious Research 34 (4) 351-363.
  3. Kramer, Joel and Alstead, Diana, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, ISBN 1-883319-00-5
  4. (2006). Forgiveness and Health – History and Philosophy. URL accessed on 2006-06-18.
  5. Dr. Robert Enright, Forgiveness is a Choice, American Psychological Association , 2001 ISBN 1-55798-757-2
  6. Dr. Everett Worthington, Dimensions of Forgiveness, Templeton Foundation Press, 1998 ISBN 1-890151-22-X
  7. (2006). Forgiveness and Health – Frequently Asked Questions. URL accessed on 2006-06-18.
  8. (2006). The Heart of Healing. URL accessed on 2006-06-18.
  9. (2006). Earning God's Forgiveness. URL accessed on 2006-11-30.
  10. (2006). Catholic Encyclopedia. URL accessed on 2006-09-14.
  11. Dr. Michael Bourgeois, (2001). Forgiveness is a Choice, American Psychological Association. ISBN 1-55798-757-2.
  12. (2006). Journey Toward Forgiveness. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  13. (2006). Forgiveness (NLP URL accessed on 2006-06-17.
  14. Charles Stanley (1991). The Gift of Forgiveness, Thomas Nelson, Inc.. ISBN 0-7852-6415-9.
  15. (2006). Forgiving.Org – Research Projects. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  16. Williamson, Marianne (2002). Everyday Grace: Having hope, finding forgiveness, and making miracles, Hay House, Inc.. ISBN 1-57322-230-5.
  17. Emotional Competency Discussion of Forgiveness
  18. (2006). Forgiving (Campaign for Forgiveness Research). URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  19. (2006). Gregg Easterbrook: Forgiveness is Good for Your Health. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.


  • Forgiving and Not Forgiving: Why Sometimes It's Better Not to Forgive, Jeanne Safer, 2000, ISBN 0-380-79471-3
  • Hein, David. "Regrets Only: A Theology of Remorse." The Anglican 33, no. 4 (October 2004): 5-6.
  • Hein, David. "Austin Farrer on Justification and Sanctification." The Anglican Digest 49.1 (2007): 51–54.
  • Kramer, J. and Alstead D., The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, 1993, ISBN 1-883319-00-5
  • Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan; ISBN 1-4039-8527-8
  • Luebbert, M. C. (1999). The survival value of forgiveness. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Schmidt D. (2003); The Prayer of Revenge: Forgiveness in the Face of Injustice; ISBN 0-7814-3942-6
  • Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, Susan Forward, 1990.
  • The Railway Man: A POW's Searing Account of War, Brutality, and Foregiveness, Eric Lomax,

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