Teaching Forgiveness

Teaching forgivness is an underrepresented skill in our culture. This blog is a helpful start to teaching others forgivness.

The Different Levels of Forgiveness: 

Trait Forgiveness: a constant attitude to forgive (forgiving  across multiple disciplines, occur across a variety of relationships)

The expectation in an interpersonal relationship (dyadic forgiveness): forgiving across many offenses in the same relationship (marriage, co-worker, family)

Offense-specific response forgiveness: a single act of forgiveness for a specific offense within an interpersonal relation (considers: severity, intentionality, and the degree to which it violates personal or relational expectations) 

Definition of Forgiveness: is the idea of a freely chosen motivation transformation in which the desire to seek revenge and to avoid contact with the transgressor is lessened, a process sometimes described as an altruistic gift (e.g., Enright, Freedman, & Rique, 1998; Worthington, 2001). 

AKA: Replacing revenge with goodwill toward an offender. 

Teaching Forgiveness

How does forgiveness help? 

  • Reduces rumination, hostility, sadness, and depression
    • Better mental health [posterior cingulated gyrus & forgiveness = relief]
    • Better physical health [stress reduction, adaptive coping, sleep, cardiovascular functions] 
    • Better interpersonal relationships [co-workers, partners, family]      
    • Increase self-awareness, emotional regulation, and honesty within one’s self

Freely given forgiveness is relevant to the GOOD life and greater life satisfaction!

Positive Psychology: How do we facilitate the teaching of forgiveness?

  • Forgiveness has the potential to enhance functioning and not simply protect against dysfunction.
  • Motivation: an internal desire to initiate a goal – creating a better community or society
  • Benevolence (Beneficence): the quality of being well-meaning; kindness (doing good for others and promoting the well-being of clients) 
  • Reach the optimal human experience! 
  • Forgiveness facilitates and contributes to the good life and the meaningful life

Issues with Forgiveness

  • Detrimental forgiveness: Ongoing conflictual relationships due to the transgressor not being held fully accountable for his or her actions.
  • Manipulation: forgiveness given to put others down, or forgiveness for personal gain
  • Community forgiveness: how to facilitate forgiveness in large groups and social units

What can forgiveness be disguised as?

  • Denialunwillingness to acknowledge the offense 
  • Condoningremoves the offense (removes the need to forgive)
  • Pardon: granted only by default (excuse the offense)
  • Forgetting: removing the offense from one’s consciousness 
  • Reconciliation: restoring a relationship despite the offense due to the relationship

Common Misconceptions: 

  • Forgive and forget
  • When forgiveness occurs, justice is served
  • Forgiveness requires reconciliation

Teaching Forgiveness – Discussion Questions:

  • What positive emotions, strengths, and virtues correlate with forgiveness? 
  • How do culture and structural factors influence forgiveness?
  • How do you feel about the legal system’s view on forgiveness?  
    • Restorative justice: a system of criminal justice that focuses on rehabilitating offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

With Intention, Sarafina


Berry, J. W., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2001). Forgivingness, relationship quality, stress while imagining relationship events, and physical and mental health. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 48(4), 447–455. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0167.48.4.447

The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness and Guidelines for Forgiveness TEnright, R. D., Freedman, S., & Rique, J. (1998). The psychology of interpersonal forgiveness. In R. D. Enright & J. North (Eds.), Exploring forgiveness (p. 46–62). University of Wisconsin Press.