Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Forgiveness: A Note for Psychiatrists

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Forgiveness: A Note for Psychiatrists

Article excerpt

Byline: Prakash. Gangdev

Although forgiveness has received a lot of attention in the past two decades and its role in physical and mental health is being increasingly recognized, psychiatrists are unaware of its therapeutic benefits. A literature review was conducted with a view to create awareness of the recent advances in forgiveness research. Although forgiveness has been shown to be beneficial, more research is required, especially in the psychiatric setting. The role of resentment and bitterness in the causation of psychiatric disorders remain largely unevaluated and requires further study.

"The man who opts for revenge should dig two graves." (A Chinese Proverb) Forgiveness is traditionally a concept that is embedded in religion and all the major religions discuss forgiveness.[sup] [1] Philosophers and ethicists have debated on this topic[sup] [2] and forgiveness has been conceptualized, both as a value and as a weakness.[sup] [3] The postconflict reconciliation phenomenon in primates indicates that human forgiveness has an evolutionary significance in that there is a need for adaptation by cooperation in order to maintain social stability, and this can only occur if revenge seeking is replaced by forgiveness.[sup] [4] Politicians who have been held in saint-like reverence, like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela all practiced forgiveness, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is an example of state-mediated amnesty program driven by forgiveness. Equally telling are the genocides such as the one in Rwanda, where revenge instead of forgiveness was in operation. The role of forgiveness in peace has been reviewed by O'Connell.[sup] [5]

The aversion of the social sciences to forgiveness was eroded with the publication of a book (Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve) by Lewis Smede, a theologian, who spurred an interest that led to empirical studies. Developmental, social, health, and personality psychologists, all began studying and promoting forgiveness.[sup] [6] Clinical applications of forgiveness as a therapeutic intervention were also published.[sup] [7] The International Forgiveness Campaign and funded research on forgiveness in the past two decades have created a greater awareness of forgiveness.[sup] [8] The Internet offers numerous resources and a number of organizations are engaged in promoting forgiveness, both as a sociopolitical and as a clinical intervention.[sup] [9],[10],[11]

A further impetus has been given to forgiveness by the recent developments in the Positive Psychology movement, with forgiveness being recognized as a positive psychological attribute.[sup] [12] Likewise, growing interest in spirituality has also created an increased awareness of forgiveness.[sup] [13] Moreover, there is some recognition that forgiveness may be an important component of psychotherapies as well. Psychoanalysts,[sup] [14],[15],[16] dialectical behavior therapists[sup] [17] and cognitive behavior therapists[sup] [18],[19] have all recognized the importance of forgiveness in healing. The role of personality functioning in forgiveness has also been investigated.[sup] [20]

Benefits of Forgiving

Forgiveness is associated with improved physical health[sup] [21],[22],[23],[24] and mental health. [sup] [25],[26],[27],[28],[29] Psychophysiological[sup] [23] and neuroimaging[sup] [30] studies demonstrate the possible biological underpinnings of forgiveness. Forgiveness has been employed as an educational tool with beneficial effects[sup] [31],[32] and has also been shown to be beneficial for victims of abuse[sup] [33],[34] and unfaithfulness.[sup] [35] Thus, forgiveness is not only a virtue and a moral act, but it also has therapeutic potential. Admittedly, more research needs to be conducted in patients in a psychiatric setting.

Lack of Awareness and Skepticism

Not withstanding all the above, suggestions about the value of forgiveness is likely to be met with skepticism from both clinicians and patients. …

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