What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the voluntary decision to let go of resentment-based thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward one who has caused unjust harm and to develop positive regard toward them, whether in the form of affection, compassion, sympathy, or pity. Forgiveness, which can include forgiveness of others, forgiveness of self, and receiving forgiveness, is a powerful and healing act that can promote recovery and growth after trauma and a number of psychological and physical health benefits.
Crashing: I Love You. Forgive Me.
How does a father look the man who took his daughter in the eye? How does a man let go of his anger toward the woman who isn't there when he needs her most? How does he forgive himself for doing the unthinkable?
In Crashing: I Love You. Forgive Me, Trauma Informed's Executive Director, Mark O'Brien, grapples with these questions in a raw and powerful examination of love, loss, growth, and most of all forgiveness, taking readers on a harrowing journey from trauma and loss to rebirth and redemption.
The voluntary decision to let go of resentment-based thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward one who has caused unjust harm and to develop positive regard toward them, whether in the form of affection, compassion, sympathy, or pity.
Characteristics of Forgiveness
While most of us have a general idea of what we mean by forgiveness, research has identified some specific components of forgiveness that distinguish it from other related concepts.
Forgiveness must be given voluntarily, without pressure or duress, to a person who has caused unjust harm.
Forgiveness is one person's response to another and can be offered unconditionally regardless of the other person's remorse.
Forgiveness is different from excusing, condoning, or ignoring the harmful behavior, and in many cases, forgiveness must also be accompanied by justice and accountability.
Forgiveness is different from reconciliation because it doesn't require that the forgiver renew their relationship with the wrongdoer.
Reconciliation, at a minimum, requires that the person who has caused the harm recognize their responsibility and work to change their behavior.
Three Forms of Forgiveness
One who has been unjustly harmed by another willingly abandons condemnation and resentment in favor of generosity, compassion, or even love.
One who recognizes their role in unjustly causing harm willingly accepts or seeks forgiveness without engineering or compelling it to be offered.
One who has failed to live up to their own moral standards willingly lets go of their self-resentment in favor of a more generous and loving self-appraisal.
Trauma and Forgiveness
Research demonstrates that forgiveness can play a powerful role in recovery from trauma.
Studies of veterans have found that those most prone to forgive had lower depression and decreased PTSD.
Harboring anger or desires for revenge is associated with higher levels of PTSD.
While past traumas, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can contribute to the risk of current traumatic experiences like incarceration or homelessness, forgiving past traumas may reduce these risks and increase recovery from present traumas.
Trauma survivors who participated in forgiveness-focused interventions showed reductions in shame and guilt.
Forgiving others after trauma can facilitate meaning making and contribute to posttraumatic growth.
Wellbeing and Forgiveness
In addition to its powerful role in trauma recovery, forgiveness is associate with a number of psychological and physical health benefits (especially when we make forgiveness a habit):
Decreased anxiety and depression
Increased positive emotions like joy and excitement
Improved heart health