Empathy, Ruminations, and the Way of the Fathers

In continuing the discussion of psychological antecedents to forgiveness, psychologists rightly place a high value on the trait of empathy. Riek and Mania write, “Empathy consists of cognitively perceiving the world from another’s perspective and emotionally experiencing what another feels (Stephan & Finlay, 1999; Wade & Worthington, 2005). A number of models of forgiveness posit empathy as a key variable in the process of forgiveness (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Worthington, 1998). On the basis of work linking empathy with altruism, McCullough and colleagues (1997) predicted and … [Read more...]

Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt fascinates people. Guilt in others arouses our curiosity. Guilt in ourselves prompts us to do something to assuage our guilty feelings. We all make mistakes that we could have avoided, mistakes that we feel responsible for, mistakes that have consequences that we regret. And our thoughts about those mistakes can take the form of guilt that in the best of scenarios includes an admission of wrongdoing, a feeling of responsibility, and desire to make some kind of amends. Yes, we are all interested in guilt, because it is intimately connected to our lives in one way or another. A cursory … [Read more...]

Some Patristic Thoughts and the REACH Model of Forgiveness

The REACH model of forgiveness is a secular model that may illumine our path. Early in the morning New Year’s Day in 1996, psychologist Everett Worthington received a call that would alter his life. It would also transform the work of a lifetime from the rarefied air of academia to the cruel practicalities of existence in a fallen world. He had just received a phone call from his brother that his 76-year-old mother had been murdered. Worthington had recently finished his book, To Forgive is Human. Yet, in the wake of his own mother’s murder, he lost sight of his research and writing. As … [Read more...]

Forgiveness in Writing

If failing to forgive is in large part due to an unwillingness to forgive, what are some practical means to increase our will to forgive?  We can commit ourselves to daily reading Scriptural passages on forgiveness or patristic texts such as those used in this series on forgiveness. We can pray for the strength to forgive even as we have been forgiven. We can also use the written word in other ways to strengthen our intentions. Putting something in writing is a powerful way to shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can clarify our thoughts in a way daydreaming never can. It can … [Read more...]

Forgiveness, Penance, and the Passage of Time

Forgiveness.  If it’s true that forgiveness is an essential part of healthy living, are there any circumstances when forgiveness may be denied or at the least withheld for a period of time?  Forgiveness can bring reconciliation, healing, peace and many gifts, but is it always beneficial for the forgiver and the forgiven? Does it always make people into better human beings ready to responsibly face the world and embrace important values? In other words, can the contrary argument be made that forgiveness may breed unhealthy lifestyle choices, lead to moral laxity, and help establish a pernicious … [Read more...]

But When Apologies aren’t Accepted?

The relationship between an apology and forgiveness seems simple enough in theory, but in practice we know that people don’t always react the way we hope they would, even if our apology is framed perfectly in terms of admitting our wrong doing, expressing our sorrow, and taking responsibility for what we have done. In his study “Apology With and Without a Request for Forgiveness”, Zenon Szablowinski writes, “When we apologise [sic] for hurts done to others, we expect that in the process of restoring the broken relationship the offended will eventually forgive us. Apology aims at forgiveness … [Read more...]

Forgiveness Requires Courage

Anyone who has experienced forgiving another human being recognizes that the act of loosening our grip and extending our hand that has recently been bitten requires courage, courage to act like Christ when our impulses drive us to act like wounded beasts. We know this on an experiential, intuitive level.  Psychologists, however, have confirmed that fact in their study of forgiveness. In his dissertation, John W. Beiter writes, “Thoresen (2001) highlighted that forgiveness was difficult, demanding and requiring courage.”  Courage can be defined as a willingness and ability to face fear, … [Read more...]

Learning How to Apologize for the Sake of Deep Forgiveness

“And I know how difficult it is for anyone, and most of all you, but I think that people need to hear it and I think unless you say it you are going to be haunted by it for the rest of your life.” Interviewer David Frost addressed these words to former President Richard Nixon in 1977 during their historic interview regarding Watergate. In asking the President to apologize, Frost recognizes the power of a sincere apology for both parties. In previous sessions, the President had offered his motives and his own justification for his innocence with no apology. Now, Frost urges Nixon to … [Read more...]

Distinguishing between I can’t and I won’t in efforts to forgive

I just can’t! How often have we heard these words from another person?  How often have we uttered them ourselves?  Often, other people hear these words as expressing not so much our inability to do something as our refusal to do so.  Distinguishing between the two is crucial.  We use the expression “I can’t” in order to absolve ourselves of making a choice, when in fact a choice has already been made. In the context of forgiveness, “I can’t” is often a pretext meant to imply that some force outside ourselves makes it impossible for us to forgive.  This force may be the one who has wronged us, … [Read more...]

Swift Forgiveness

Swift forgiveness may or may not be beneficial.  While we know that genuine forgiveness often takes time and may on occasion be contingent upon human factors such as the severity of the offense, the genuineness of the apology, and the extent of a prior existing relationship, the process of forgiveness can be accelerated and there is psychological and spiritual benefit to doing so. In his work concerning decision-based forgiveness models, Frederick DiBlasio makes an important point about how one comes to decide whether or not to forgive.  He writes, “An emerging theme in the literature is … [Read more...]