Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Forgiveness: An Incredible Strength

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Forgiveness: An Incredible Strength

Article excerpt

When Chris Carrier was 10 years old, he was abducted near his Florida home, taken into the swamps, stabbed repeatedly in the chest and abdomen with an ice pick, and then shot through the temple with a handgun. Remarkably, hours after being shot, he awoke with a headache, unable to see out of one eye. He stumbled to the highway and stopped a car, which took him to the hospital.

Years later, a police officer told Chris that the man suspected of his abduction lay close to death. "Confront him," suggested the officer. Chris did more than that. He comforted his attacker during the man's final weeks of life and ultimately forgave him, bringing peace to them both.

Chris Carrier's act of foigiveness might seem unfathomable to some, an act of extreme charity or even foolishness. Indeed, our culture seems to perceive foigiveness as a sign of weakness, submission, or both. Often we find it easier to stigmatize or denigrate our enemies than to empathize with or foigive them. And in a society as competitive as ours, people may hesitate to forgive because they don't want to relinquish the upper hand in a relationship. "It is much more agreeable to offend and later ask foigiveness than to be offended and grant forgiveness," said the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

When you forgive someone, you make the choice to give up your desire for revenge and feelings of resentment. You also stop judging the person who caused you the hurt. Instead of revenge, resentment, and judgment, you show generosity, compassion, and kindness. In forgiveness, you don't forget that the offense occurred nor do you excuse it. You substitute your negative with positive feelings, thoughts, and behavior (Enright et al., 1998).

Some people are naturally forgiving, both toward others and themselves. It's easier for them to respond to any specific act of the person who's committed the offense. Those who don't have this ability may find it more difficult to grant forgiveness when they've hurt or harmed


Theorists and researchers generally concur with Enright and Coyle's (1998) assertion that forgiveness is different from pardoning (which is, strictly speaking, a legal concept); condoning (which involves justifying the offense); excusing (which implies that a transgression was committed because of extenuating circumstances); forgetting (which implies that the memory of a transgression has decayed or slipped out of conscious awareness); and denial (which implies an unwillingness or inability to perceive the harmful injuries that one has incurred). Most scholars also agree that foigiveness is distinct from reconciliation, a term that implies the restoration of a fractured relationship (Freedman, 1998). To go further in defining forgiveness, however, we must differentiate among three senses in which the term can be used. Forgiveness may be defined according to its properties as a response, as a personality disposition, and as a characteristic of social units.

* As a response, forgiveness may be understood as a prosocial change in a victim's thoughts, emotions, and/or behaviors toward a blameworthy transgressor. The definitions, however, are built on one core feature: When people forgive, their responses (i.e., what they feel and think about, what they want to do, or how they actually behave) toward people who have offended or injured them become less negative and more positiveor prosocialover time (McCullough, Pargament, & Thoresen, 2000b).

* As a personality disposition, forgiveness may be understood as a propensity to forgive others across a wide variety of interpersonal circumstances. In this sense, people can be scaled along a forgiving unforgiving continuum, with most people (by definition) falling somewhere toward mean of the population. The disposition to forgive might have several aspects (Mullesst, Houdbine Laumonier & Girard, 1998).

* As a quality of social units, forgiveness may be understood as an attribute that is similar to intimacy, trust or commitment. …

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