The Importance of Forgiveness

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

There was at least parent of a slain child who, in the midst of grief, forgave the man who committed the mass shooting in Sandy Hook. There are other cases of people who, despite having been severly victimized by a criminal, managed to forgive the perpertrater without condoning the behavior. Does forgiving such a thing make any sense?

This is the fourth in a series of articles devoted to the question of how we can prevent mass shootings like the one we saw in Connecticut where 20 young children were killed along with 6 staff in the elementary school where the tragedy occurred. Since 1982 there have been roughly 61 mass shootings in which innocent adults, teenage students and young children were killed. We have raised questions about how we raise our children, finding meaning in life and the importance of being empathetic. In each case the conclusion, taken from positive psychology, has been that we need to teach and practice the education of our children so that they can be concerned about others, find meaning in our lives by caring for others, and practice empathy towards people by understanding how they feel and think. I have pointed out that with concern, meaningfulness and empathy it is far less likely that there will be random acts of violence. Now, in this fourth and final article we will discuss forgiveness, it’s importance and it’s health benefits.

Everette L. Worthington, Jr., PhD and clinical psychologist has studied the psychology of forgiveness for most of his career. He wrote an interesting article, “The New Science of Forgiveness” that can be found at the Greater Good web site. The URL for the article is:

When people feel victimized by an offense or injustice committed against them the natural response is often to wish for revenge. This wish is accompanied by feelings of hatred, anger and resentment. In fact, resentment, hostility and hatred become so intense that the individual cannot stop ruminating about the person who committed the offense. The result of these feelings and thoughts is physical and mental health are negatively affected. We know that stress raises blood pressure, increases the flow of adrenalin, a stress hormone, when there is no real threat and veins and arteries are narrowed. That is why resentment and hate are corrosive. The end result can be stroke or heart attack. Dr. Worthington states that forgiveness has health benefits that are physical and mental.

While offenses can be committed by strangers, they more often happen in families and marriages. In these close relationships, maintaining resentment and anger can damage relationships for many years or even permanently. For example, the ability to forgive a spouse can save a marriage, regardless of what they husband or wife did. Of course, not every negative act can be easily be forgiven. Forgiveness usually occurs when there is an overall feeling of trust between people and when there is a sense that there is too much to lose without it. Even with strangers forgiveness has the same health benefits.

Can you forgive people for what they may have done to offend you? If you do forgive, how does it feel?

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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