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Short description: Renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation, or anger
Emperor Marcus Aurelius shows clemency to the vanquished after his success against tribes (Capitoline Museum in Rome)

Forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may have felt initially wronged, victimized, harmed or hurt goes through a process in changing feelings and attitude regarding a given offender for his/her actions, and overcomes the impact of the offense, flaw or mistake including negative emotions such as resentment or a desire for vengeance.[1] Theorists differ in the extent to which they believe forgiveness also implies replacing the negative emotions with positive attitudes (i.e. an increased ability to tolerate the offender),[2][3][4] or requires reconciliation with the offender.[5] In certain legal contexts, forgiveness is a term for absolving someone of debt, loan, obligation, or other claims.[6]

On the psychological level, forgiveness is different from simple condoning (viewing an action as harmful, yet to be “forgiven” or overlooked for certain reasons of “charity”), excusing or pardoning (merely releasing the offender from responsibility for an action), or forgetting (attempting to remove from one's consciousness the memory of an offense). In some schools of thought, it involves a personal and "voluntary" effort at the self-transformation of one's own half of a relationship with another, such that one is restored to peace and ideally to what psychologist Carl Rogers has referred to as “unconditional positive regard” towards the other.[2][7] Forgiveness can seal off a past wrongdoing and remove it from the present.[8]

As a psychological concept and as a virtue, the benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religious thought, philosophy, social sciences, and medicine. Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives,[9] which may include forgiving themselves. This[ambiguous] can be in terms of the person forgiven or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. In most contexts, forgiveness is granted without any expectation of restorative justice, and without any response on the part of the offender (for example, one may forgive a person who is incommunicado or dead). In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, such as an apology, or to explicitly ask for forgiveness, in order for the wronged person to believe themselves able to forgive.[2]

Social and political dimensions of forgiveness involve the strictly private and religious sphere of "forgiveness".[clarification needed] The notion of "forgiveness" is generally considered unusual in the political field. However, Hannah Arendt considers that the "faculty of forgiveness" has its place in public affairs. She believes that forgiveness can liberate resources both individually and collectively in the face of the irreparable, by freeing people to act in ways that are not merely reactive to the original wrong: "Forgiving is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven."[10]

In a study conducted in Rwanda to examine the discourses and practices of forgiveness following the 1994 genocide, sociologist Benoit Guillou highlighted the extensive range of meanings associated with the term "forgiveness" and its underlying political nature. In the study's findings, the author presented four[specify] primary aspects of forgiveness to facilitate a clearer comprehension of both its multifaceted applications and the circumstances in which forgiveness can contribute to the restoration of social connections.[11]

Most world religions include teachings on forgiveness, and many of these provide a foundation for various modern traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies emphasize the need for people to find divine forgiveness for their shortcomings; others place greater emphasis on the need for people to forgive one another; yet others make little or no distinction between human and divine forgiveness.

Forgiveness is interpreted in many ways by different people and cultures. This is important in relationship-oriented communication. When all parties share a mutual view of forgiveness then a relationship can be maintained. "Understanding antecedents of forgiveness, exploring the physiology of forgiveness, and training people to become more forgiving all imply that we have a shared meaning for the term".[12]


Factors determining the likelihood of forgiveness in an intimate relationship

(As of 2006), there is no consensus for a psychological definition of forgiveness in research literature. However, there is agreement that forgiveness is a process, and a number of models describing the process of forgiveness have been published, including one from a radical behavioral perspective.[13]

Dr. Robert Enright from the University of Wisconsin–Madison founded the International Forgiveness Institute and initiated forgiveness studies. He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness.[14] In that model, to forgive someone, you should examine the wrong you suffered, who caused it, and the context in which it happened; consider the anger you feel about it, any shame or guilt associated with it, and how it has affected you; decide whether you want to advance into an attitude of forgiveness, and, if so: work on understanding, compassion, and acceptance, and make a gesture of reconciliation to the offender; then, reformulate the way you remember your experience of being wronged and of developing forgiveness in ways that healthily integrate this into your life story.

A longitudinal study showed that people who were generally more neurotic, angry, and hostile in life were less likely to forgive another person even after a long time had passed. They were more likely to avoid their transgressor and want to enact revenge upon them two and a half years after the transgression.[15]

Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments.[16] The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender their cardiovascular and nervous system functioning improves.[17] Another study found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. Less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems.[18]

Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, author of Forgive for Good, presented evidence that forgiveness can be learned (i.e. is a teachable skill, with practice) based on research into the effects of teaching forgiveness. This research gave empirical support to the powerful, positive health effects of forgiveness. In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, in physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.[19]

Ideas about what forgiveness is not

Template:Pov section

  • Forgiveness is not condoning[2][19]
  • Forgiveness is not forgetting[2][19]
  • Forgiveness is not excusing (i.e. making reasons to explain away offender's responsibility or free will)[2][19]
  • Forgiveness does not have to be religious or otherworldly[19]
  • Forgiveness is not minimizing your hurt[19]
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation (i.e. reestablishing trust in the relationship)[2][19][20]
  • Forgiveness is not denying or suppressing anger; rather its focus is on resentment.[21][22][19]—in particular, in order to forgive it is healthy to acknowledge and express negative emotions, before you can forgive[23]
  • Forgiveness is not ignoring accountability or justice[24]—in particular, punishment and compensation are independent of the choice to forgive (you can forgive, or not forgive, and still pursue punishment and/or compensation, regardless)[25][26]
  • Forgiveness is not pardoning; it cannot be granted or chosen by someone else[2][19]
  • Emotional forgiveness is not the same as decisionalTemplate:Jargon inline forgiveness or the expression of forgiveness. Expressing emotions (i.e., "I am angry at you" or "I forgive you") is not the same as genuinely having or experiencing the emotions (i.e., people can deny, mistake, or lie about their emotional experience to another person while genuinely feeling something else instead)[26][27]
  • Although this is heavily debated,[4] emotional forgiveness is for you, not the offender[19] (i.e., unless you choose to make it so: by expressing it, or by trying to reconcile)

The timeliness of forgiveness

Psychologist Wanda Malcolm, in Women's Reflections on the Complexities of Forgiveness, outlines reasons why forgiveness takes time: when work on self (care/healing) takes priority (i.e. therapy, medical injuries, etc.), when issues of relational[clarification needed] safety need to be addressed, and where facilitating forgiveness may be premature immediately after an interpersonal offense.[23] Malcolm explains that "premature efforts to facilitate forgiveness may be a sign of our reluctance to witness our client’s pain and suffering and may unwittingly reinforce the client’s belief that the pain and suffering is too much to bear and must be suppressed or avoided."[23]

Worthington et al. observed that “anything done to promote forgiveness has little impact unless substantial time is spent at helping participants think through and emotionally experience their forgiveness”.[28] Efforts to facilitate forgiveness may be premature and even harmful immediately after an interpersonal injury.[23][29]

Religious views

World Religions
World Religions

Religion can affect how someone chooses to forgive—for example, through religious activity, religious affiliation and teachings, and imitation.[30]



In Judaism, if a person causes harm, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is encouraged, but not required, to grant forgiveness:

It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit ... forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel.
—Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10

In Judaism, one must go "to those he has harmed" in order to be entitled to forgiveness.[31] One who sincerely apologizes three times for a wrong committed against another has fulfilled their obligation to seek forgiveness.[32] This means that in Judaism a person cannot obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs they have done to other people. This also means that, unless the victim forgave the perpetrator before he died, murder is unforgivable in Judaism, and they will answer to God for it, though the victims' family and friends can forgive the murderer for the grief they caused them. The Tefila Zaka meditation, which is recited just before Yom Kippur, closes with the following:

I know that there is no one so righteous that they have not wronged another, financially or physically, through deed or speech. This pains my heart within me, because wrongs between humans and their fellow are not atoned by Yom Kippur, until the wronged one is appeased. Because of this, my heart breaks within me, and my bones tremble; for even the day of death does not atone for such sins. Therefore I prostrate and beg before You, to have mercy on me, and grant me grace, compassion, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all people. For behold, I forgive with a final and resolved forgiveness anyone who has wronged me, whether in person or property, even if they slandered me, or spread falsehoods against me. So I release anyone who has injured me either in person or in property, or has committed any manner of sin that one may commit against another [except for legally enforceable business obligations, and except for someone who has deliberately harmed me with the thought ‘I can harm him because he will forgive me']. Except for these two, I fully and finally forgive everyone; may no one be punished because of me. And just as I forgive everyone, so may You grant me grace in the eyes of others, that they too forgive me absolutely.

Thus the "reward" for forgiving others is not God's forgiveness for wrongs done to others, but rather help in obtaining forgiveness from the other person.

Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, summarized: "it is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings."[33]

Jews observe a Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, on the day before God makes decisions regarding what will happen during the coming year.[31] Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews ask forgiveness of those they have wronged during the prior year (if they have not already done so).[31] During Yom Kippur itself, Jews fast and pray for God's forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year.[31] Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against God; this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged.[31]


Rembrandt – "The Return of the Prodigal Son
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
—Jesus, Matthew 5:7

Forgiveness is central to Christian ethics. The prayer Jesus taught his followers to recite begs God to "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors".[34] When Peter asked Jesus how often to forgive someone, Jesus said "not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times".[35] Jesus warned that God's forgiveness for your sins depends on your forgiveness towards others.[36] In one of the gospels, Jesus during his crucifixion asks God to forgive those who crucified him.[37]

Hannah Arendt claimed that Jesus was "the discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs."[38]

God's forgiveness

Unlike in Judaism, in Christianity God can forgive sins committed by people against people, since he can forgive every sin except for the eternal sin, and forgiveness from one's victim is not necessary for salvation.[39] The Parable of the Prodigal Son[40] is perhaps the best known parable about forgiveness and refers to God's forgiveness for those who repent. Jesus asked for God's forgiveness of those who crucified him. "Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" – Luke 23:34

Forgiving others

Forgiving offenses is among the spiritual works of mercy,[41] and forgiving others begets being forgiven by God.[42] Considering Mark 11:25, and Matthew 6:14–15, that follows the Lord's Prayer, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,"[43] forgiveness is not an option to a Christian; rather one must forgive to be a Christian. Forgiveness in Christianity is a manifestation of submission to Christ and fellow believers.[44]

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of the importance of forgiving or showing mercy toward others. This is based on the belief that God forgives sins through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ in his death (1 John 2:2[45]) and that, therefore, Christians should forgive others (Ephesians 4:32[46]). Jesus used the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–35[47]) to show that His followers (represented in the parable by the servant) should forgive because God (represented by the king) forgives much more.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly spoke of forgiveness: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."[48] "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."[49] "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses."[50] "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."[51] "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."[52]

Elsewhere, it is said "Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.'"[53]

Pope Benedict XVI, on a visit to Lebanon in 2012, insisted that peace must be based on mutual forgiveness: "Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace".[54]

Pope Francis during a General Audience explained[further explanation needed] forgiving others as God forgives oneself.[55]


Islam teaches that Allah is Al-Ghaffur "The Oft-Forgiving", and is the original source of all forgiveness (ghufran غفران). Seeking forgiveness from Allah with repentance is a virtue.[56][57]

(...) Allah has forgiven what has been done. But those who persist will be punished by Allah. And Allah is Almighty, capable of punishment.

Islam recommends forgiveness, because Allah values forgiveness. There are numerous verses in Quran and the Hadiths recommending forgiveness. Islam also allows revenge to the extent of the harm done, but forgiveness is encouraged, with a promise of reward from Allah.[58]

The reward of an evil deed is its equivalent. But whoever pardons and seeks reconciliation, then their reward is with Allah. He certainly does not like the wrongdoers.

Afw (عفو is another term for forgiveness in Islam; it occurs 35 times in Quran, and in some Islamic theological studies, it is used interchangeably with ghufran.[56][57][59] Afw means to pardon, to excuse for a fault or an offense. According to Muhammad Amanullah,[60] forgiveness ('Afw) in Islam is derived from three wisdoms. The first and most important wisdom of forgiveness is that it is merciful when the victim or guardian of the victim accepts money instead of revenge.[61] The second wisdom of forgiveness is that it increases the honor and prestige of the one who forgives.[60] Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, humiliation or dishonor.[57] Rather, forgiveness is honorable, it raises the merit of the forgiver in the eyes of Allah, and it enables a forgiver to enter paradise.[60] The third wisdom of forgiveness is that, according to scholars such as al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi, forgiveness expiates (kaffarah) the forgiver from the sins they may have committed at other occasions in life.[57][62] Forgiveness is a form of charity (sadaqat). Forgiveness comes from taqwa (piety), a quality of God-fearing people.[60]

Bahá'í Faith

In the Bahá'í Writings, this explanation is given of how to be forgiving toward others:

Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness.
—`Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 92



In Buddhism, forgiveness prevents harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one's mental well-being.[63] Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind-karma. Buddhism encourages the cultivation of thoughts that leave a more wholesome effect. "In contemplating the law of karma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing mettā and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all."[64] When resentments have already arisen, the Buddhist view is to calmly proceed to release them by going back to their roots[further explanation needed]. Buddhism centers on release from delusion and suffering through meditation and receiving insight into the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passions that make forgiveness necessary as well as the reality of the objects of those passions.[65] "If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers."[66]

Buddhism places much emphasis on the concepts of mettā (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkhā (equanimity), as a means to avoiding resentments in the first place. These reflections are used to understand the context of suffering in the world, both our own and the suffering of others.

"He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me" — in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease. "He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me" — in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease."

Hindu Dharma

Main page: Philosophy:Kshama
Holi is the Hindu festival of colors, celebrated in spring. Traditionally, this is also a day to mark forgiveness, meet others, and repair relationships.[68] In Indonesia, among Balinese Hindus, Ngembak Geni — the day after Nyepi – is the ritual festive day in spring to meet, and both seek forgiveness and forgive each other.[69]

In Vedic literature and epics of Hinduism, Ksama or Kshyama (Sanskrit: क्षमा)[70] and fusion words based on it, name the concept of forgiveness. The word ksama is often combined with kripa (tenderness), daya (kindness), and karuna (करुणा, compassion) in Sanskrit texts.[71] In Rg Veda, forgiveness is discussed in verses dedicated to the deity Varuna, both the context of the one who has done wrong and the one who is wronged.[72] Forgiveness is considered one of the six cardinal virtues in Hindu Dharma.

The theological basis for forgiveness in Hindu Dharma is that a person who does not forgive carries baggage of memories of the wrong, of negative feelings, and of anger, and unresolved emotions that affect their present as well as future. In Hindu Dharma, not only should one forgive others, but one must also seek forgiveness if one has wronged someone else.[71] Forgiveness is to be sought from the individual wronged, as well as society at large, by means of charity, purification, fasting, rituals, and meditative introspection.

Forgiveness is further refined in Hindu Dharma by rhetorically contrasting it in feminine and masculine form. In feminine form, one form of forgiveness is explained through Lakshmi (called Goddess Sri in some parts of India); the other form is explained in the masculine form through her husband Vishnu.[71] Feminine Lakshmi forgives even when the one who does wrong does not repent. Masculine Vishnu, on the other hand, forgives only when the wrongdoer repents. In Hindu Dharma, the feminine forgiveness granted without repentance by Lakshmi is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance. In the Hindu epic Ramayana, Sita – the wife of King Rama – is symbolically eulogized for forgiving a crow even as it harms her. Later in the epic Ramayana, she is eulogized again for forgiving those who harass her while she has been kidnapped in Lanka.[71] Many other Hindu stories discuss forgiveness with or without repentance.[73]

The concept of forgiveness is treated in extensive debates within Hindu literature. In some Hindu texts,[74] certain sins and intentional acts are debated as naturally unforgivable, for example, murder and rape; these ancient scholars argue whether blanket forgiveness is morally justifiable in every circumstance, and whether forgiveness encourages crime, disrespect, social disorder, and people not taking you seriously.[75]

Other ancient Hindu texts highlight that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness in Hindu Dharma does not necessarily require that one reconcile with the offender, nor does it rule out reconciliation in some situations. Instead forgiveness in Hindu philosophy is being compassionate, tender, kind, and letting go of the harm or hurt caused by someone or something else.[76] Forgiveness is essential for one to free oneself from negative thoughts, and to be able to focus on blissfully living a moral and ethical life (a dharmic life).[71] In the highest self-realized state, forgiveness becomes the essence of one's personality, where the persecuted person remains unaffected, without agitation, without feeling like a victim, free from anger (akrodhi).[77]

Other epics and ancient literature of Hindu Dharma discuss forgiveness. For example:

Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti.
Forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.

Mahabharata, Book 3, Vana Parva, Section XXIX[78]
Righteousness is the one highest good, forgiveness is the one supreme peace, knowledge is one supreme contentment, and benevolence, one sole happiness.
Mahabharata, Book 5, Udyoga Parva, Section XXXIII[79]

Janak asked: "Oh lord, how does one attain wisdom? how does liberation happen?"
Ashtavakra replied: "Oh beloved, if you want liberation, then renounce imagined passions as poison, take forgiveness, innocence, compassion, contentment and truth as nectar; (...)"


In Jainism, forgiveness is one of the main virtues that Jains should cultivate. Kṣamāpanā, or supreme forgiveness, forms part of one of the ten characteristics of dharma.[82] In the Jain prayer, (pratikramana) Jains repeatedly seek forgiveness from various creatures—even from ekindriyas or single-sensed beings like plants and microorganisms that they may have harmed while eating and doing routine activities.[83] Forgiveness is asked by uttering the phrase, micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ—a Prakrit language phrase literally meaning "may all the evil that has been done be fruitless."[84] During samvatsari—the last day of Jain festival paryusana—Jains utter the phrase micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ after pratikraman. As a matter of ritual, they personally greet their friends and relatives with micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ, seeking their forgiveness. No private quarrel or dispute may be carried beyond samvatsari, and letters and telephone calls are made to the outstationTemplate:Jargon inline friends and relatives asking their forgiveness.[85]

Pratikraman also contains the following prayer:[86]

Khāmemi savva-jīve savvë jive khamantu me /
metti me savva-bhūesu, veraṃ mejjha na keṇavi //

(I ask pardon of all creatures, may all creatures pardon me.
May I have friendship with all beings and enmity with none.)

In their daily prayers and samayika, Jains recite Iryavahi sutra, seeking forgiveness from all creatures while involved in routine activities:[87]

May you, O Revered One! Voluntarily permit me. I would like to confess my sinful acts committed while walking. I honour your permission. I desire to absolve myself of the sinful acts by confessing them. I seek forgiveness from all those living beings which I may have tortured while walking, coming and going, treading on living organism, seeds, green grass, dew drops, ant hills, moss, live water, live earth, spider web and others. I seek forgiveness from all these living beings, be they — one sensed, two sensed, three sensed, four sensed or five sensed. Which I may have kicked, covered with dust, rubbed with ground, collided with other, turned upside down, tormented, frightened, shifted from one place to another or killed and deprived them of their lives. (By confessing) may I be absolved of all these sins.

Jain texts quote Māhavīra on forgiveness:[88]

By practicing prāyaṣcitta (repentance), a soul gets rid of sins, and commits no transgressions; he who correctly practises prāyaṣcitta gains the road and the reward of the road, he wins the reward of good conduct. By begging forgiveness he obtains happiness of mind; thereby he acquires a kind disposition towards all kinds of living beings; by this kind disposition he obtains purity of character and freedom from fear.
—Māhavīra in Uttarādhyayana Sūtra 29:17–18

The code of conduct among monks requires them to ask forgiveness for all transgressions:[89]

If among monks or nuns occurs a quarrel or dispute or dissension, the young monk should ask forgiveness of the superior, and the superior of the young monk. They should forgive and ask forgiveness, appease and be appeased, and converse without restraint. For him who is appeased, there will be success (in control); for him who is not appeased, there will be no success; therefore one should appease one's self. "Why has this been said, Sir? Peace is the essence of monasticism."
Kalpa Sūtra 8:59



Hoʻoponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. Similar forgiveness practices were performed on islands throughout the South Pacific, including Samoa, Tahiti, and New Zealand. Traditionally Hoʻoponopono is practiced by healing priests or kahuna lapaʻau among family members of a person who is physically ill. Modern versions are performed within the family by a family elder, or by the individual alone.

Popular recognition

The need to forgive is widely recognized, but people are often at a loss for ways to accomplish it. For example, in a large representative sampling of American people on various religious topics in 1988, the Gallup Organization found that 94% said it was important to forgive, but 85% said they needed some outside help to be able to forgive. However, not even regular prayer was found to be effective.

Akin to forgiveness is mercy, so even if a person is not able to complete the forgiveness process they can still show mercy, especially when so many wrongs are done out of weakness rather than malice. The Gallup poll revealed that the only thing that was effective[specify] was "meditative prayer".[90]

Forgiveness as a tool has been extensively used in such areas as restorative justice programs,[91] after the abolition of apartheid in the truth and reconciliation process, among victims and perpetrators of Rwandan genocide, in response to the violence in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the Northern Ireland conflict. This has been documented in the film Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness (2012).[92]

Forgiveness is associated with the theory of emotion because it draws from a person's emotional connection with the situation. Forgiveness is something that most people are taught to understand and practice at a young age. The philosopher Joseph Butler (Fifteen Sermons) defined forgiveness as "overcoming of resentment, the overcoming of moral hatred, as a speech act, and as forbearance".[93]

Forgiveness in relationships

Forgiveness in marriage

Forgiveness in marriage is important.[citation needed] When two people can forgive each other this contributes to a happy marriage. Forgiveness can help prevent problems from growing.[94]

In a 2005 study, researchers investigated whether forgiveness is important in a marriage. When does forgiveness usually accrue—before an argument or after an argument? Does forgiveness take a role when a person breaks a promise? etc.[94] Researchers found six components that were related to forgiveness in marriage: satisfaction, ambivalence, conflict, attributions, empathy, and commitment.[94]

People in a relationship believe that forgiveness means you must forget what had happened.[94] When couples forgive their spouses they sometimes need help from professionals to overcome their pain that might remain.[94] Researchers described differences between how each individual perceives the situation based on who is in pain and who caused the pain.[94]

The act and effects of forgiveness can vary depending on the relationship status between people. Whether you are married, friends, or acquaintances, the process of forgiving is similar but not completely the same.[95]

The model of forgiveness

"Enright's model of forgiveness has received empirical support and sees forgiveness as a journey through four phases":[94]

Uncovering phase
Emphases exploring the pain that the person has experienced.
Decision phase
The nature of forgiveness is discussed. The person commits that they will try to forgive the transgressor.
Work phase
The focus shifts to the transgressor in an effort to gain insight and understanding.
Deepening phase
The victim moves toward resolution, becoming aware that he/she is not alone, having been the recipient of others' forgiveness, and finds meaning and purpose in the forgiveness process.[94]

When married couples argue they tend to focus on who is right and who is wrong.[94]

Recommendation and interventions

The researchers also came up with recommendations for practitioners and interventions to help married individuals communicate with each other, to resolve problems, and to forgive each other more easily.[94] For example, people should explore and understand what forgiveness means before starting any intervention because preconceived ideas of forgiveness can cause problems with couples being open to forgive.[94] For example, a person not forgiving their spouse out of fear that the spouse might think that they are weak can cause a conflict.

In 2001, Charlotte van Oyen Witvliet asked people to think about someone who had hurt, wronged, or offended them. As they thought to answer, she observed their reaction. She observed their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. Recalling the grudge increased the candidates’ blood pressure and heart rate, and they sweated more. The rumination was stressful, and unpleasant. When they adopted forgiveness, they showed no more of an anxiety reaction than normal wakefulness produces.[96]

Forgiveness interventions

Psychology researchers agree that the purpose of forgiveness interventions is to decrease overall negative affect associated with the stimulus[vague] and increase the individual's positive affect.[97][98]

The incorporation of forgiveness into therapy has been lacking,[97] but has gained popularity.[97] The growth of forgiveness in psychology has given rise to the study of forgiveness interventions.[97]

A meta-analysis of group-based forgiveness interventions examined how well they increase self-reported forgiveness (or decrease "unforgiveness"). It concluded that "The data appear to speak clearly: Forgiveness interventions are effective."[99]

Different types

There are various forms of forgiveness interventions.[97] One is where patients are forced to confront the entity[vague] that prevents them from forgiving by using introspective techniques and expressing this to the therapist.[97][98] Another is getting the person to try to see things from the offender's point of view, so that they may understand the reasoning behind the offender's actions.[97][98] If they can do this, they might be able to forgive the offender more easily.[97][98]

Researchers have studied forgiveness interventions in relationships and whether or not prayer increases forgiveness. One study found that praying for a friend or thinking positive thoughts about that person every day for four weeks positively boosts the chances of forgiving that friend or partner, which leads to a better relationship.[100]

Contrary evidence

There is, however, conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions, and some researchers have taken a critical approach to the forgiveness intervention approach to therapy.[97]

Critics argued that forgiveness interventions may actually cause an increase in negative affect because they try to inhibit the person's feelings towards the offender. This can result in the person feeling negatively towards themself.[97] This approach implies that the negative emotions the person is feeling are unacceptable and feelings of forgiveness are correct and acceptable. This might inadvertently promote feelings of shame and contrition in the person.[97]

Wanda Malcolm, a registered psychologist, states: "it is not a good idea to make forgiveness an a-priori goal of therapy".[23] Steven Stosny asserts that you must heal first then forgive (not forgive then heal);[22] that fully acknowledging the grievance (both what actions were harmful, and naming the emotions the victim felt as a response to the offender's actions) is an essential first step, before forgiveness can occur.[101]

Some researchers worry that forgiveness interventions promote unhealthy relationships.[97][102] They worry that individuals with toxic relationships will continue to forgive those who continuously commit wrong acts towards them, when in fact they should be distancing themselves from those sorts of people.[97][102]

A number of studies showcase high effectiveness rates of forgiveness interventions when done continuously over a long period of time.[97] But some researchers have found these interventions ineffective when done over short spans of time.[97]


Some studies looked at the effectiveness of forgiveness interventions on young children, including several cross-cultural studies.[97] One looked at forgiveness interventions and Chinese children who were less likely to forgive those who had wronged them, finding an effect[specify] of such interventions on the children.[97]

Older adults

Older adults who receive forgiveness interventions report higher levels of forgiveness than those who did not receive treatment. Forgiveness treatments resulted in lower depression, stress, and anger than no-treatment conditions. Forgiveness interventions also enhance positive psychological aspects[specify]. This was regardless of the specific intervention model or format (group or individual).[103]

Forgiveness and mental health

Survey data from 2000 showed that 61% of those participants who were part of a small religious group reported that the group helped them be more forgiving.[104] People who reported that their religious groups promoted forgiveness also related success in overcoming addictions, guilt, and perceiving encouragement when feeling discouraged.[clarification needed][104]

Mindfulness may play a role as a mediator in the relationship between forgiveness and health outcomes.[105] When combined with mindfulness, forgiveness has a beneficial impact on physical health. However, the effects of forgiveness on health are contingent upon the presence and practice of mindfulness.[105]

Self-forgiveness is an important part of self-acceptance and mental health in stages of life.[106] Failing to achieve self-forgiveness can have negative effects on mental health.[106] Among the elderly, self-forgiveness often involves introspection about past wrongdoings, aiming to prevent their recurrence; this process contributes to enhancing their authentic self-concept.[106] When people successfully learn from transgressions, they may experience improved mental health.[106]

Self-forgiveness can reduce feelings of guilt and shame associated with hypersexual behavior.[107] Hypersexual behaviour can cause distress and life problems.[107] Self-forgiveness may help individuals reduce hypersexual negative behaviours that cause problems.[107]

Self-forgiveness may be associated with procrastination; self-forgiveness allows a person to overcome the negative effects linked to an earlier behaviour and adopt proactive approaches toward similar tasks.[108] Embracing self-forgiveness in the context of procrastination can enhance self-esteem and mental well-being, potentially leading to a reduction in procrastination tendencies.[108]

The self-help book Forgiveness and Health: Scientific Evidence and Theories Relating Forgiveness to Better Health details the benefits and the mental, physical, and psychological results of forgiveness. Stress relief may be the chief factor that connects forgiveness and well-being. Levels of stress go down when levels of forgiveness rise, resulting in a decrease in mental health symptoms.[109]

Forgiveness lifts a burden, as the forgiver no longer feels anger or hatred toward the transgressor, and may better understand the transgressor. This improves their health and outlook.[110]

A meta-analysis of several controlled studies of forgiveness-oriented psychological interventions tried to determine whether certain classes of intervention helped people to forgive, and also whether this helped their emotional health in general.[111] It found strong support for forgiveness interventions that helped people go through a multi-step process of forgiveness, but no support for forgiveness interventions that were designed merely to help people decide to forgive.

Another meta-analysis examined how forgiveness interventions affected depression, anxiety, and hopelessness, and concluded that "interventions designed to promote forgiveness are more effective at helping participants achieve forgiveness and hope and reduce depression and anxiety than either no treatment or alternative treatments."[112]

Forgiveness and physical health

Physical fitness

Some studies claim that there is no correlation, either positive or negative between forgiveness and physical health, and others show a positive correlation.[113]

Evidence supporting a correlation

People characterized by the personality trait of forgiveness tend to experience better physical health. A study focusing on relationships revealed that the level of forgiveness exhibited by individuals had a discernible impact on their physical well-being, regardless of whether they were in positive or negative relationships.[114]

People who decide to genuinely forgive someone also have better physical health. This is due to the relationship between forgiveness and stress reduction. Forgiveness prevents poor physical health and manages good physical health.[115]

People who choose to forgive another have lower blood pressure and lower cortisol levels than those who do not. This is theorized to be due to forgiveness, and suggests forgiveness is an evolutionarily-selected trait.[115] Direct influences of forgiveness include: Reducing hostility (which is inversely correlated with physical health), and that unforgiveness may degrade the immune system because it puts stress on the individual. Indirect influences are more related to forgiveness as a personality trait and include: people who are forgiving may have more social support and less stressful marriages, and forgiveness may be related to other personality traits that correlate with physical health.[115]

Forgiveness may also correlate with physical health because hostility is associated with poor coronary performance. Unforgiveness is a sort of hostility, and forgiveness is letting go of hostility. Heart patients who are treated with therapy that includes forgiveness to reduce hostility have improved cardiac health compared to those who are treated with medicine alone.[113]

Forgiveness may also lead to better perceived[clarification needed] physical health. This correlation applies to both self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness but is especially true of self-forgiveness. Individuals who are more capable of forgiving themselves have better perceived physical health.[116]

People who forgive can have healthier hearts, fewer depression symptoms, and less anxiety. Forgiveness can help mental health especially with people who have mental disorders. Forgiveness can also improve the immune system.[117]


Forgiveness studies have been refuted by critics who claim that there is no direct correlation between forgiveness and physical health. Forgiveness, due to the reduction of directed anger, contributes to mental health, and mental health contributes to physical health, but there is no evidence that forgiveness itself directly improves physical health.

Most of the studies on forgiveness cannot isolate it as an independent variable in an individual's well-being, so it is difficult to prove causation.[118]

Although there is limited research directly linking forgiveness to physical health, there are certain factors[vague] that suggest a potential connection. This is particularly relevant to physiological indicators[specify] and how the process of forgiveness may affect the body's responses in various situations throughout daily life.[119]

Research into the correlation between physical health and forgiveness has been criticized for being too focused on unforgiveness. Research shows more about what hostility and unforgiveness contribute to poor health than it shows about what forgiveness contributes to good health.[118] Unforgiving or holding grudges can contribute to adverse health outcomes by perpetuating anger and heightening SNS[expand acronym] arousal and cardiovascular reactivity. Expression of anger has been strongly associated with chronically elevated blood pressure and with the aggregation of platelets, which may increase vulnerability for heart disease.[119]


Self-forgiveness is commonly associated with reflection.

Self-forgiveness happens in response to situations in which someone has done something they perceive to be morally wrong and that they consider themselves to be responsible for.[120] Self-forgiveness is the overcoming of negative emotions that the wrongdoer associates with the wrongful action, which can include guilt, regret, remorse, blame, shame, self-hatred and/or self-contempt.[120]

Major life events that include trauma can cause individuals to experience feelings of guilt or self-hatred.[121] People can reflect on their behaviours to determine if their actions are moral.[121] In situations of trauma, people may self-forgive by allowing themselves to change and live a moral life.[121] Self-forgiveness may be required in situations where the individual hurt themselves or in situations where they hurt others.[121] Self-forgiveness has a moderating effect between depression and suicidality. this suggests that self-forgiveness (up-to a point) is protective against suicide, hinting at possible prevention strategies.[122]

Therapeutic model

People can unintentionally cause harm or offence to one another. It is important that individuals recognize when this happens, and, in the process of making amends, to self-forgive.[123] The ability to forgive oneself can benefit a person's emotional and mental well-being.[124] The ability to forgive oneself for past offences can lessen negative emotions such as shame and guilt, and can increase positive practices such as self-kindness and self-compassion.[124] However, the process of self-forgiveness may be misinterpreted and therefore not accurately completed.[123] This could lead to increased feelings of regret or self-blame.[124] To avoid this, and to increase the positive benefits associated with genuine self-forgiveness, a specific therapeutic model of self-forgiveness can be used to encourage genuine self-forgiveness. The proposed model has four key elements: responsibility, remorse, restoration, and renewal:[124]

  1. Responsibility is the first necessary step towards genuine self-forgiveness.[124] In order to avoid the negative affect associated with emotions such as overwhelming guilt or regret, offenders must first recognize that they have hurt another person, and accept responsibility for their actions.[123][124]
  2. Once the person accepts responsibility, it is natural for them to experience feelings of remorse or guilt. However, these feelings can be genuinely processed and expressed.[124]
  3. Restoration allows the offending person to make the necessary amends to the person(s) they have hurt.
  4. Is renewal, the offending person can genuinely forgive himself/herself for their past transgressions and can engage in more positive and meaningful behaviors such as self-compassion and self-kindness.[124]

The process of self-forgiveness is not always applicable for every person.[124] For example, people who have not actually caused others any harm or wrongdoing, but instead suffer from negative emotions such as self-hatred or self-pity—such as victims of assault—might attempt self-forgiveness for their perceived offences. However, this would not be the process necessary for them to make their amends.[124] Additionally, offenders who continue to offend while attempting to forgive themselves for past offences demonstrate a reluctance to genuinely complete the four stages necessary for self-forgiveness.[124] It is important to first gather[clarification needed] exterior[clarification needed] information about the persons's perceived offences as well as their needs and motivation for self-forgiveness.[124]

Unapologetic forgiveness

To be unapologetic is to refuse to apologize for or even recognize wrongdoings. "[T]he relationship between apologies and the adjectives 'apologetic' and 'unapologetic' is not quite so straightforward."[125] Choosing to forgive someone or not correlates with whether or not that person is truly sorry for their actions.[126] Forgiving a person who does not seem remorseful for their actions can be difficult, but may loosen the grip the person has over you. Intrusive thoughts can cause the person who wants to forgive to have feelings of low self-worth, and to endure a traumatic phase due to that person's actions.[127] Going through a negative experience can cause long term trauma. A person may benefit from letting go and accepting what has happened.[128] Letting go does not erase what the person did, but forgiveness can lead to inner-peace from the lack of negative emotion within. Despite the other person not apologizing sincerely, forgiving them may be the solution to problems and result in loving one's self.[126]

Jean Hampton sees the decision to forgive the unrepentant wrongdoer as expressing a commitment "to see a wrongdoer in a new, more favorable light" as one who is not completely rotten or morally dead.[125]

Character retributivism

[needs context]

  1. Forgiveness could be offered only at significant temporal remove from the wrongdoing.
  2. The enforcement of justice, at least with regard to punishing or rewarding, falls outside the purview of personal forgiveness.
  3. Forgiveness operates at a different level than justice.[125]

See also



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  • Safer, Jeanne (2000). Forgiving and Not Forgiving: Why Sometimes It's Better Not to Forgive. HarpPeren. ISBN 0-380-79471-3. 
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External links