Dr. Suzanne Freedman and I did a scientific study in which we helped women who were incest survivors to forgive their perpetrators. This does not mean that we encouraged them to reconcile. They went through a 14-month forgiveness process that involved acknowledging their own anger and sadness, committing to forgive the offending person, trying to understand him as deeply as possible, trying as best they could to see how deeply wounded he is (not to condone or excuse him, but to better understand him), cultivating compassion when possible, and finding new meaning from what they suffered.
After the 14 months the women, who came to us psychologically depressed, had no depression at all. The absence of depression continued at least through the next 14 months when we reassessed their level of this challenging condition. It was the first scientific paper ever published to show that incest survivors not only can reduce depression but also eliminate it, at least for 14 months following the ending of therapy. Forgiveness made this healing possible.
Despite this positive outcome, we must not jump to the conclusion that everyone who tries to forgive will be depression-free at the journey’s end. Different people will have different outcomes. Yet, even for those who experience only some relief, this bit of improvement surely is better than never having tried to forgive and never experiencing any change in the level of depression.
Excerpt from the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright (W.W. Norton, New York City).