FORGIVENESS: The Basic Building Block of Loving Relationships

What comes to mind when you hear someone mention the term “therapy”? Do you envision a patient lying on a couch with a therapist sitting behind and nodding sagely as the patient talks about the shortcomings of his or her life? If so, it’s time to upgrade your thinking.

Liza Elliott (American film star Ginger Rogers) undergoes psychoanalysis by Dr. Alex Brooks (Barry Sullivan) in the 1944 hit “Lady in the Dark.”

Thanks to less-than-accurate portrayals in movie and television docudramas, that approach to therapy (known as psychoanalysis) is still dominant in the minds of most individuals. And while it is still practiced, it is in the minority. There are now an estimated 400 different kinds of therapy used by practitioners around the world.

That’s but one of the many mind-altering revelations in a just-published book called Introduction to Psychology by Jorden A. Cummings (Associate Professor) and Lee Sanders (Sessional Lecturer), both in the Department of Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  The book offers a comprehensive treatment of core concepts, grounded in classical studies and current/emerging research.

Another major revelation of the new book is its focus on Positive Psychology–the study of happiness. While psychology has traditionally focused on dysfunction–people with mental illness or other issues–and how to treat it, positive psychology, in contrast, is a field that examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled–in other words, what makes life worth living. 

Three Key Strengths

Within positive psychology, three key human strengths have been identified–forgiveness, gratitude and humility. While Introduction to Psychology provides meticulous coverage of those three strengths (Chapter 12.5), this post will focus on forgiveness. Here are excerpts from the book:

Forgiveness is essential to harmonious long-term relationships between individuals, whether between spouses or nations, dyads or collectives. At the level of the individual, forgiveness of self can help one achieve an inner peace as well as peace with others and with God.


“Forgiveness can be an avenue to healing. It is the basic building block of loving relationships with others.”
Introduction to Psychology


Because the potential for conflict is seemingly built into human nature, the prospects for long-term peace may seem faint. Forgiveness offers another way. If the victim can forgive the perpetrator, the relationship may be restored and possibly even saved from termination.

The essence of forgiveness is that it creates a possibility for a relationship to recover from the damage caused by the offending party’s offense. Forgiveness is thus a powerful pro-social process. It can benefit human social life by helping relationships to heal. Culligan (2002) wrote “Forgiveness may ultimately be the most powerful weapon for breaking the dreadful cycle of violence.”


“On a social level, forgiveness may be the critical element needed for world peace.”
Introduction to Psychology


Forgiveness studies demonstrate that self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive point of view. 

In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others (Enright, 2001).


ADDENDUM:

Introduction to Psychology has been created from a combination of original content and materials compiled and adapted from several Open Educational Resources (OERs)—teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing.

Compared to commercial textbooks and other commercial resources, OERs are: free to access, free to reuse, free to revise, free to remix, and free to redistribute.

This provides opportunities for instructors and learners to shape course content and meet the needs of specific learning contexts. Teachers and students become learners together, and content becomes a dynamic, always changing category to be engaged rather than a stable set of facts to be mastered.

This is called Open Pedagogy–the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. This dynamic, often called Open Education, is transforming lifelong learning in the process.


LEARN MORE:

What is the one, central issue about forgiveness that you would give to those who are preparing for marriage?

I would encourage them to get to know very deeply what forgiveness is (a moral virtue in which you practice goodness toward those who are not good to you) and is not (to forgive is not to excuse unjust behavior, to automatically reconcile when the other is a danger to you, nor to abandon the quest for justice). Then I would urge both people to examine the injustices which they suffered in their family of origin, forgive the people, and discuss the pattern of injustices together so that they do not reproduce the injustices in their own marriage.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Forgiveness Therapy Provides Quality of Life Benefits to Terminally-Ill Cancer Patients

 

I am finding no excuses for what my husband has done to me. When I try to forgive, it is very difficult for me to cultivate any sense of empathy toward him. What would you suggest to help me forgive?

You need not find any excuses for your husband’s behavior if you are to forgive him. Forgiveness is not based on finding excuses, but instead is based on seeing his worth, not because of what he did, but in spite of this. Further, try to see his inner world. Is he wounded in any way? Confused? Do you see a human being rather than someone who is less than human? These kinds of perspectives can increase empathy and foster forgiveness.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Do you think it is harder to forgive a person for one really bad offense or to forgive someone who constantly is doing small things to demean and does so almost every day?

The answer will vary by person and by how gravely serious the one offense is. Many people tell me that they struggle with forgiving those who hurt them on a regular basis. There are two reasons for this: 1) the 20th offense is harder than the first because there is a cumulative effect. The resentments get stronger as the problems persist; and 2) the person sometimes feels trapped, as if the problem will never end. This is why it is so important not only to forgive but also to seek fairness from the other. Living in harmony can occur when the one with a consistent pattern of unfairness comes to see this as unfair and is willing to change. Forgiving and correcting work well together as a team.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

I lost contact with a friend whom I want to forgive. Must I communicate directly with her for my forgiveness to be true forgiveness?

No, you do not have to go directly to your friend to say that you have forgiven. Forgiveness starts in the heart, as a change from resentment to empathy and compassion. You even can do a behavioral gesture of goodness in an indirect way toward your friend. As an example, you can donate some money to a charity in her name. This gesture of goodwill is a behavioral part of forgiveness.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?

“All is forgiven. . . .”

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story called “The Capital of the World.” In it, he told the story of a father and his teenage son who were estranged from one another. The son’s name was Paco. He had wronged his father. As a result, in his shame, he had run away from home.

In the story, the father searched all over Spain for Paco, but still, he could not find the boy. Finally, in the city of Madrid, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, the father placed an ad in the daily newspaper. The ad read: “PACO, MEET ME AT THE HOTEL MONTANA. NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN. PAPA.”

The father in Hemingway’s story prayed that the boy would see the ad; and then maybe, just maybe, he would come to the Hotel Montana. On Tuesday, at noon, the father arrived at the hotel. When he did, he could not believe his eyes.

An entire squadron of police officers had been called out in an attempt to keep order among eight hundred young boys. It turned out that each one of them was named Paco. And each one of them had come to meet his respective father and find forgiveness in front of the Hotel Montana.

Eight hundred boys named Paco had read the ad in the newspaper and had hoped it was for them. Eight hundred Pacos had come to receive the forgiveness they so desperately desired.


Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Darlene J. Harris and is reposted from her website And He Restoreth My Soul Project. Harris is a sought-after speaker and author, and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation. Visit her site.


Who is Ernest Hemingway?

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists, and is known for works like A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Born in Cicero, Illinois, Hemingway served in World War I as an ambulance driver for the Italian Army where he earned the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery. He served as a correspondent during World War II and covered many of the war’s key moments including the D-Day Landing. In 1953, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Old Man and the Sea and a year later won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Biography.com website.)