The Psychology Of Forgiveness

The Psychology Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness stills resentment and guilt, and places common sense in control. Forgiveness towards others discards petty resentment and enables fair judgment. Forgiveness towards oneself frees the mind from the debilitating pain of guilt. Resentment and guilt resemble the futile actions of a bird flailing against a cage. The emotions are the unhealthy yelps and squeals of the primitive regions of the brain against unacceptable situations.

Forgiveness quiets those regions. It is a process, which accepts the offensive situation, making way for the calm responses of wiser regions of the brain. While it does not imply acceptance of evil, psychological forgiveness accepts reality and strengthens the mind to move forward.

  • Forgiveness leads to a healthier and happier life.
  • Forgiving is difficult, because people associate it with weakness and as an acceptance of evil.
  • Resentment and guilt are negative emotions, which can be stilled.
  • The mind control tips in this website suggest ways of stilling emotions.
  • Forgiveness does not support injustice and is not a method of regaining goodwill.
  • Forgiveness is effective, when practiced as a virtue, but can also become a failing.
  • Religious views of forgiveness.
  • The Worthington program of reaching forgiveness.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – Benefits
The true act of forgiveness removes resentment, bitterness and guilt from the subconscious mind. Numerous studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. When troubling visceral responses, which accompany bitterness, resentment and guilt are stilled, calm and compassionate views of the world emerge, enabling wiser decision making. The positive benefit of forgiveness have been seen to be similar whether it was based upon religious or secular counseling.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – The Difficulty Of Forgiving
A Gallup Poll in 1988 found that, while 94% said it was important to forgive, 85% felt they needed outside help to be able to forgive. Communities resent people who lie, steal, cheat, sell out, or betray their own values, since they threaten everyone. Guilt is also subconsciously triggered, when a person acts against accepted social norms. People fear that, if they still the anger or guilt, they will not act to rectify the wrong. They fear that forgiveness could be seen as weakness. The fear of the docile acceptance of evil makes it difficult to forgive.

Both forgiving an offense and forgiving oneself for wrongdoing feel instinctively wrong, because of a false impression of the psychological process of forgiveness. It is not the submissive acceptance of wrongdoing. It is an internal stilling process, not condonation of evil. It is about stopping subconscious accusations and complaints. Stilling mental turmoil creates the ability to look calmly at the offense. Such calming exercises are difficult for ordinary people.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – Competing Control Systems
Forgiveness is needed, because resentment and guilt are the sterile responses of your mind to harmful events. Such responses are triggered by the most primitive parts of your “triune” brain. Within the brain, three evolutionary intelligences compete for control. At the lowest level, a reptilian brain produces territorial responses like anger or raw fear. At the next level, a mammalian brain controls the system through social emotions, like guilt and shame. These are the more primitive responses, which have a hapless way of taking charge of your mind.

It is within your power to free your mind by stilling such negative emotions. When the mind becomes still, a highly developed human level brain in the prefrontal regions switches in to make a rational interpretation of your world. With your primitive responses stilled, your compassionate common sense takes control. Forgiveness is its natural state, when negative emotions are stilled. There are simple routines, which can still the mind and create conditions where forgiveness takes charge.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – On Stilling Resentment & Guilt
Resentment and guilt are triggered by subconscious search drives, which seek vengeance, or to avoid social disapproval. Such searches go on, while you look at a lunch menu, or chat with your friend. But, when those subconscious searches encounter the painful results of failure, visceral reactions hit you. You may not even be aware of the causes of your discomfort. The mind control tips in this website suggest exercises for relaxing your body so that negative emotions cannot take hold.

These exercises can disperse the adrenal hormone cortisol, which supports the fight or flight response, including increased heart rate. Self awareness, which requires practice, can identify the physical symptoms of resentment, or guilt, instantly stilling the emotions. That leads to the sudden appearance of a surprisingly unemotional viewpoint. While these mind control tips present one of the ways of achieving forgiveness, the remainder of this article deals with the psychology of forgiveness.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – Forgiveness Is Not Injustice
First, a person can forgive another for a perceived offense. In this case, forgiveness stops resentment and the vindictive drive to inflict punishment. As Jean Safer suggests, it is not necessary feel okay about terrible things. Psychological forgiveness is not a process, which halts the operation of normal justice. After discarding vindictive resentment, calm and compassionate steps should be taken to prevent a recurrence such incidents, even if it requires punishment. Forgiveness is a process of replacing subconscious bitterness and resentment with compassionate common sense. That is not a piece of mental acrobatics, but a process achieved through relaxation and self awareness.

Second, a person may seek forgiveness for an offense committed against another. Forgiveness is not a process of achieving goodwill from the victim. Neither is it a matter of seeking divine pardon. Forgiveness of offenses, without a change in behavior by the offender, leads only to destructive relationships. Self forgiveness is about a decision to atone for the offense, while stilling a humiliating sense of guilt. It is a common sense admission of having committed an offense, with a calm determination to change. Stilling self punishing guilt feelings is the same self awareness process of enabling common sense to take control.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – Forgiveness As A Virtue
A conscious decision to forgive may, or may not result in the disappearance of resentment over the commitment of an offense by another. Such a decision may be more effective, if one feels it to be an act of virtue. The satisfaction of virtue may cause the mind to avoid reliving the issue with resentment. This virtuous satisfaction may increase if the offender persists with the offense. In such cases, the virtue becomes a failing.

A virtuous approach may cause subconscious anger to pile up, and explode into view against an innocent victim. By permitting someone to persistently break the bounds of courtesy, the virtuous person is also damaging society. The offender will harm others too. It is equally the duty of the virtuous person to prevent, or avoid becoming a victim of future offenses. This may be impossible in many cases, particularly when the offenders are in positions of power. The satisfaction of being virtuous, or a conscious resignation to the situation will both be equally effective in such situations.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – The Religious View
Christianity believes that a key divine quality is forgiveness. Such forgiveness requires the believer to forgive his brother. Protestant denominations suggest that divine forgiveness requires a sincere expression of repentance. Even a gift at the altar should be offered only after forgiving others. For the Catholic Church, acts of penance mediated by the church can also bring divine forgiveness. The grant of such divine forgiveness is formally expressed through ritual acts by the church.

In Judaism, a person cannot obtain divine forgiveness for wrongs they have done to others. It is the responsibility of the wrongdoer to recognize their wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness from those who have been harmed. A person can only obtain divine forgiveness for acts against divinity. Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews will ask forgiveness of those they have wronged. On the day itself, they fast and pray for divine forgiveness.

For Islam, divinity is the source of all forgiveness. One must ask for divine forgiveness through repentance. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.

In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful emotions from creating havoc with one’s sense of well-being. Since feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on the mind, forgiveness encourages the cultivation of wholesome emotions. They consider the offender to be the most unfortunate of all and requires compassion.

The Psychology Of Forgiveness – Worthington
Everett L. Worthington recommends decisional and emotional forgiveness. A decision, not to seek revenge, or to avoid the person, reduces the stress. But, the objective should be to replace resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, and fear with love, compassion, sympathy, and empathy. This prevents subconscious obsessions about the wrong done to you. This can lead to anxiety, depression and even hives.

Worthington has devised a 5-step program called REACH to achieve emotional forgiveness. First, recall the hurt objectively, without blame and self-victimization. Then, empathize by trying to imagine the viewpoint of the person who wronged you. After that, altruism involves experiencing the feeling of being forgiven by someone else. This is followed by a commitment to forgiveness and holding on to forgiveness.


Self awareness suggested in this website enables the prefrontal regions to look calmly at the hurt. Empathy is a process of experiencing the emotions of the offender. This process may not lead to a calming effect. Rather than empathy, a common sense view of the twisted logic of the offender can enable the acceptance of reality – the world as it really is, with all its sores and warts. Self awareness enables this. The experience of being forgiven by another is a valuable reinforcement to forgiveness. Constant self awareness and ability to identify the emotion at its inception is the requirement to prevent a recurrence of resentment and guilt.

This page was last updated on 01-Jan-2014



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