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Home » All, Forgiveness, Home and Family, Relationships, Taking Action

Forgiveness or Revenge? What is the Answer?

By on January 14, 2011 – 12:14 pm  24 Comments

Louisa Jewell, MAPP '09, is president of Positive Matters and a consultant, facilitator and speaker who works with organizations around the world to develop positive leaders and nurture productive teams. Listen to Louisa's podcasts on positive matters, collected from a radio show she hosted. Full bio.

Louisa's PositivePsychologyNews.com articles are here.



Last Sunday I attended the Annual Fire Communion Service at my local church. In this ceremony, each congregant burns a piece of paper containing a brief description of something he or she most wishes to leave behind and lights a candle for one new hope for the coming year. I reflected on what I wanted to let go and wrote it down on a tiny piece of flash paper the church provided. I took my place in line as I watched others throw their paper into the fire. When I found myself next in line I slowly placed my paper close to the fire and as I did that, it instantly ignited and disappeared. Just like that, I felt the burden I had been carrying around for years, disappear.
 

Forgive or Not to Forgive?

Written on my piece of paper was something I had been carrying around for over 12 years. A very close family member had hurt me very badly many years ago. For my own health and happiness, I decided to completely forgive her by finding compassion for her. I understood why she did what she did and I forgave her – not because I felt what she did was right, I did it for me to let it go. But over the years, forgiveness offered me no relief and I began to question if forgiveness was the right thing to do in this case? This is when I started to dig deeper on the downside of forgiveness. I mean, is there any time when it does not make sense?

Now I know that the proposition that forgiveness can have negative consequences (gasp!) flies in the face of extensive research showing a plethora of positive effects of forgiveness. In fact, the dozens of studies done on forgiveness certainly give the impression that forgiveness is always the right answer for one’s well-being. But like any virtue, I believe the best use of it is in moderation. On one end of the scale, not having the ability to show any forgiveness can leave you isolated and cold, and on the other end of the scale, using forgiveness indiscriminately can leave you feeling like a doormat which can erode self respect and self-concept. The best use of forgiveness is to know how and when to use it.

Beyond Revenge

Now I do not espouse to violence to resolve any issue, but I was intrigued by Michael McCullough’s discussion about revenge in his book, Beyond Revenge. He discusses that revenge is not a disease that needs to be eradicated, but rather it is a natural human behavior that has served an evolutionary purpose. McCullough asks “Why would a species such as Homo sapiens engage in costly behavior such as revenge unless it is associated with a benefit in the currency of fitness? …What could maintain revenge in humans’ behavioral repertoire?” McCullough puts forth three reasons:

  1. Deterring harm: If you harm me, a vengeful program in my mind is activated and I might want to hurt you back. This will make it less likely this person will harm me again.
     
  2. If I harm you and you harm me back, that sends a message in your community or group, “don’t mess with me, because I will harm you back.” This sets the tone for what is acceptable behavior in society.
     
  3. Revenge seems to be important for encouraging cooperation in human societies. How did we make civilization happen? If people punish selfish behavior, then you can get people to cooperate for the common good.

Imposing Consequences

McCullough is not talking about revenge for satisfaction, but rather revenge in the form of imposing a consequence for people who commit violations. For example, the person who rides the subway for free is imposed a fine, or the woman who is being abused by her husband decides to leave the marriage and bars him from the benefits of the relationship by walking away. If we do not impose costs, what will stop the perpetrator from hurting again? So does the research give us some guidance on whether forgiveness or revenge is the answer?

In a study published in 2008, McNulty demonstrated that spouses who were more forgiving towards partners who rarely behaved negatively experienced more marital satisfaction in the first two years of marriage. But spouses who were more forgiving towards partners, who frequently behaved negatively, experienced sharper declines in marital satisfaction. This study showed that under some circumstances forgiveness yields negative consequences for the forgiver when their partners continually behaved negatively. Therefore, whether forgiving yields positive or negative consequences depends on the perpetrator’s subsequent behavior.
 

Exploring the Downsides of Forgiveness

Luchies, Finkel, McNulty and Kumashiro conducted further studies to explore the downside of forgiveness. In a number of longitudinal studies, they demonstrate that the effect of forgiveness on self-respect and self-concept clarity depends on the extent to which the perpetrator has acted in a manner that signals that the victim will be safe and valued in a continued relationship with the perpetrator.

Forgiving can bolster one’s self-respect and self concept clarity if the perpetrator’s behavior signals that the victim will be safe and valued in the relationship. For example, they make strong amends and promise not to behave that way again. They found that forgiving diminishes one’s self-respect and self-concept clarity if the perpetrator does not. Failing to stand up for oneself is likely to decrease one’s respect for oneself and one’s sense of self. They coin this “The Doormat Effect” and offer this piece of advice: if the relationship is safe and valuable for the victims, then forgive; if perpetrators do not signal that a continued relationship is safe and valuable for their victims, then do not forgive.

In my opinion, this is how abusive relationships continue.  People forgive even when the abuse continues. I do not believe that retaliation is the answer, but rather people must stand up for themselves and impose reasonable non-violent consequences until their perpetrators see the light. Once the behavior is safe again, then forgiveness can be a powerful tool to let the transgressions from the past go and move on to more positive pursuits. Thus, it is important to maintain your self-respect when forgiving, to avoid feeling like a doormat.
 

When Does Forgiveness Increase Self-Respect?

To understand the conditions under which forgiving restores or further erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity, one must understand the factors involved in the decision to forgive. Just as revenge can serve a purpose, forgiveness is also important for the evolution and maintenance of social relationships that are important to human survival. If you want to have positive relationships in a group or team, you need to have a psychological mechanism that allows people to erase the ill will in order for relationships to evolve. You can’t get valuable relationships to stick if you can’t let past grievances go.

We are pre-wired for forgiveness, but according to McCullough, we need to know what the ingredients are that turn on the engine of forgiveness so that we can have more control over it. If we understand what activates revenge or forgiveness, then we can create environments that make it easier to put forgiveness into practice. According to McCullough, there are three things that activate the forgiveness instinct:

  1. Safety: People are naturally inclined to forgive people who they trust will not hurt them again.
     
  2. Value: When relationships look like they have long term value and we can see benefit of restoring relationships, then we are more likely to forgive.
     
  3. Compassion or Care: We tend to more easily forgive those we have compassion for or people who unintentionally hurt us.

If we can create this kind of environment at home, at work and in our communities, we will see forgiveness flourish. I have to say that forgiveness has always been the answer for me, with this one exception, and I am definitely happier for it. What I realized in this case is that I had forgiven someone who, over the years, continued to intentionally hurt me and who never attempted to make amends, despite my efforts for forgiveness and restoring the relationship. This had derogatory effects on my feelings of self-respect and self-concept.  I was able to finally stand up for myself and declare that I would no longer accept such behavior in my life.
 

Forgiveness finally felt peaceful – but only after I had regained my self-respect.

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the Forgiveness chapter of the book, Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life.


 

 References

Luchies, Laura B., Finkel, Eli J., McNulty, James K., Kumashiro, Madoka, (2010). The Doormat Effect: When Forgiving Erodes Self-Respect and Self-Concept Clarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 734–749.

McCullough, M.E., (2008). Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. Jossey Bass.

McCullough, M. E., Luna, L. R., Berry, J. W., Tabak, B. A., & Bono, G. (2010). On the form and function of forgiving: Modeling the time-forgiveness relationship and testing the valuable relationships hypothesis. Emotion, 10, 358-376.

McCullough, M. E., Kurzban, R., & Tabak, B. A. (2010). Evolved mechanisms for revenge and forgiveness. In P. R. Shaver and M. Mikulincer (eds.), Understanding and reducing aggression, violence, and their consequences (pp. 221-239). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

McCullough, M. E., Root, L. M., Tabak, B., & Witvliet, C. v. O. (2009). Forgiveness. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (Oxford Library of Psychology) (2nd ed.). (pp. 427-435). New York: Oxford.

McCullough, M. E., Bono, G., & Root, L. M. (2007). Rumination, emotion, and forgiveness: Three longitudinal studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 490-505.

McCullough, M. E. (2000). Forgiveness as human strength: Theory, measurement, and links to well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 43-55.

McNulty, J. K. (2008). Forgiveness in marriage: Putting the benefits into context. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 171-175. Abstract.

Images
Fire Communion Ceremony courtesy of Felix Frances
I am not a doormat! courtesy of keriluamox
Peace Dove courtesy of Cornelia Kopp

24 Comments »

  • oz says:

    Louisa – you might be interested in this research which suggests that forgiveness doesn’t work for men. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_H._Erickson

    I think there is a half way point here called acceptance (a core dimension of mindfulness)- it allows you to move on. And is perhaps much easier than forgiveness.

    Not sure though

  • oz says:

    louisa – oops provide the wrong link re forgiveness. http://www.innate-intelligence.com.au/blog/?p=817

  • Angus says:

    Louisa
    You raise important issues, ones that effect many across the world, with delicacy and strength. Thank you. A very moving writing.

    You seem to conclude at the end that it is love and rage that we are ‘hired wired’ for rather than forgiveness and revenge, they are after all more instinctual. Is that right? Forgiveness and revenge are perhaps more social constructions?

    So the questions become, in the contexts you so beautifully articulate and in many others how do we best manage within ourselves and with others these emotions of love and rage? One of the things I really like about your piece is the centrality of hope and the commitment that world can be better.

    Best aye
    Angus

  • Steve Safigan says:

    Hi Louisa, interesting article! Forgiveness is something I teach on a regular basis. I believe that the studies you reference have collapsed the concepts of forgiveness, trust, and restoration of relationship.

    Forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness is free, trust must be earned. Forgiveness does not mean that we allow people to continue to violate our boundaries.

    Forgiveness does not mean restoration of the relationship. A relationship requires two parties who are willing to work at the relationship. Some relationships are toxic and should not be continued.

    If we place any conditions on the other person in order to forgive, then we allow the other person to deny us the healing that forgiveness offers. In this way, the other person continues to exert power over us. We can, however, choose to forgive with no preconditions, while continuing to withhold trust and/or restoration of the relationship.

    I’ll get off my soapbox now. I would love to talk more about this topic with you.

  • Dan Bowling says:

    Thank for this article, Louisa. I am reminded of Chris Peterson’s slide in MAPP 701, where he talked about virtues among the Klingons (revenge to the 7th generation, or something like that). More seriously, without addressing the subject matter (I am no expert on forgiveness beyond what we studied in MAPP), thanks for writing an article that challenges a bit of positive psychology orthodoxy. It is very healthy, and I love the fact that you are getting out there and forcing us to think and debate. Knowing this community, I have no doubt it will be friendly and constructive, and we will be the better for it. Keep it up!

    DB

  • Jeff says:

    I find the words Forgiveness and Revenge such culturally loaded artifacts. They’re loaded with preconceived schema, notions, and other value laden stereotypy.

    With apologies to Louisa, let’s try the article with substitute words for Revenge and Forgiveness and see how different it feels. Read on, Reader with Too Much Time on Her Hands.

    ****Blerg or Narn? What is the Answer?****
    By Louisa Jewell
    Last Sunday I attended the Annual Fire Communion Service at my local church. In this ceremony, each congregant burns a piece of paper containing a brief description of something he or she most wishes to leave behind and lights a candle for one new hope for the coming year. I reflected on what I wanted to let go and wrote it down on a tiny piece of flash paper the church provided. I took my place in line as I watched others throw their paper into the fire. When I found myself next in line I slowly placed my paper close to the fire and as I did that, it instantly ignited and disappeared. Just like that, I felt the burden I had been carrying around for years, disappear.

    To Blerg or Not to Blerg?
    Written on my piece of paper was something I had been carrying around for over 12 years. A very close family member had hurt me very badly many years ago. For my own health and happiness, I decided to completely blerg her by finding compassion for her. I understood why she did what she did and I blerged her – not because I felt what she did was right, I did it for me to let it go. But over the years, blerging offered me no relief and I began to question if blerging was the right thing to do in this case? This is when I started to dig deeper on the downside of blerging. I mean, is there any time when it does not make sense?

    Now I know that the proposition that blerging can have negative consequences (gasp!) flies in the face of extensive research showing a plethora of positive effects of blerging. In fact, the dozens of studies done on blerging certainly give the impression that blerging is always the right answer for one’s well-being. But like any virtue, I believe the best use of it is in moderation. On one end of the scale, not having the ability to show any blerging can leave you isolated and cold, and on the other end of the scale, using blerging indiscriminately can leave you feeling like a doormat which can erode self respect and self-concept. The best use of blerging is to know how and when to use it.

    Beyond Narn
    Now I do not espouse to violence to resolve any issue, but I was intrigued by Michael McCullough’s discussion about narn in his book, Beyond Narn. He discusses that narn is not a disease that needs to be eradicated, but rather it is a natural human behavior that has served an evolutionary purpose. McCullough asks “Why would a species such as Homo sapiens engage in costly behavior such as narn unless it is associated with a benefit in the currency of fitness? …What could maintain narn in humans’ behavioral repertoire?” McCullough puts forth three reasons:

    1. Deterring harm: If you harm me, a narnful program in my mind is activated and I might want to hurt you back. This will make it less likely this person will harm me again.

    2. If I harm you and you harm me back, that sends a message in your community or group, “don’t mess with me, because I will harm you back.” This sets the tone for what is acceptable behavior in society.

    3. Narning seems to be important for encouraging cooperation in human societies. How did we make civilization happen? If people punish selfish behavior, then you can get people to cooperate for the common good.

    Imposing Consequences
    McCullough is not talking about narn for satisfaction, but rather narn in the form of imposing a consequence for people who commit violations. For example, the person who rides the subway for free is imposed a fine, or the woman who is being abused by her husband decides to leave the marriage and bars him from the benefits of the relationship by walking away. If we do not impose costs, what will stop the perpetrator from hurting again? So does the research give us some guidance on whether blerging or narning is the answer?

    In a study published in 2008, McNulty demonstrated that spouses who were more blerging towards partners who rarely behaved negatively experienced more marital satisfaction in the first two years of marriage. But spouses who were more blerging towards partners, who frequently behaved negatively, experienced sharper declines in marital satisfaction. This study showed that under some circumstances blerging yields negative consequences for the blergr when their partners continually behaved negatively. Therefore, whether blerging yields positive or negative consequences depends on the perpetrator’s subsequent behavior.

    Exploring the Downsides of Blerging
    Luchies, Finkel, McNulty and Kumashiro conducted further studies to explore the downside of blerging. In a number of longitudinal studies, they demonstrate that the effect of blerging on self-respect and self-concept clarity depends on the extent to which the perpetrator has acted in a manner that signals that the victim will be safe and valued in a continued relationship with the perpetrator.
    Blerging can bolster one’s self-respect and self concept clarity if the perpetrator’s behavior signals that the victim will be safe and valued in the relationship. For example, they make strong amends and promise not to behave that way again. They found that blerging diminishes one’s self-respect and self-concept clarity if the perpetrator does not. Failing to stand up for oneself is likely to decrease one’s respect for oneself and one’s sense of self. They coin this “The Doormat Effect” and offer this piece of advice: if the relationship is safe and valuable for the victims, then blerg; if perpetrators do not signal that a continued relationship is safe and valuable for their victims, then do not blerg.

    “Doormat Effect”
    In my opinion, this is how abusive relationships continue. People blerg even when the abuse continues. I do not believe that retaliation is the answer, but rather people must stand up for themselves and impose reasonable non-violent consequences until their perpetrators see the light. Once the behavior is safe again, then blerging can be a powerful tool to let the transgressions from the past go and move on to more positive pursuits. Thus, it is important to maintain your self-respect when blerging, to avoid feeling like a doormat.

    When Does Blerging Increase Self-Respect?
    To understand the conditions under which blerging restores or further erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity, one must understand the factors involved in the decision to blerg. Just as narn can serve a purpose, blerging is also important for the evolution and maintenance of social relationships that are important to human survival. If you want to have positive relationships in a group or team, you need to have a psychological mechanism that allows people to erase the ill will in order for relationships to evolve. You can’t get valuable relationships to stick if you can’t let past grievances go.

    We are pre-wired for blerging, but according to McCullough, we need to know what the ingredients are that turn on the engine of blerging so that we can have more control over it. If we understand what activates narning or blerging, then we can create environments that make it easier to put blerging into practice. According to McCullough, there are three things that activate the blerging instinct:

    1. Safety: People are naturally inclined to blerg people who they trust will not hurt them again.

    2. Value: When relationships look like they have long term value and we can see benefit of restoring relationships, then we are more likely to blerg.

    3. Compassion or Care: We tend to more easily blerg those we have compassion for or people who unintentionally hurt us.
    If we can create this kind of environment at home, at work and in our communities, we will see blerging flourish. I have to say that blerging has always been the answer for me, with this one exception, and I am definitely happier for it. What I realized in this case is that I had blerged someone who, over the years, continued to intentionally hurt me and who never attempted to make amends, despite my efforts for blerging and restoring the relationship. This had derogatory effects on my feelings of self-respect and self-concept. I was able to finally stand up for myself and declare that I would no longer accept such behavior in my life.

    Blerging finally felt peaceful – but only after I had regained my self-respect.

  • Patrice says:

    Forgiveness doesn’t mean continuing to put up with abusive or demeaning behavior. Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether one stays in or leaves a relationship or another situation. Leaving an intolerable situation does not mean you haven’t forgiven, and returning does not signify forgiveness. Leaving an intolerable situation is not vengeance or punishment–it’s self-care and also a loving act for all concerned. Forgiveness doesn’t place conditions on the “perpetrator”–as in, “If you stop doing x, or if you make it up to me by doing y, then I will forgive you.” Forgiveness is an inside job that frees the “victim” from the heavy burden of having to carry a grievance against the “perpetrator.” It also frees the “victim” from perpetually defining him- or herself in terms of the transgression. True forgiveness ultimately means ceasing to continue seeing things in terms of “victim” and “perpetrator.” Forgiveness has nothing to do with being a doormat. “Forgiving” while still seething with resentment on some level, or else while feeling superior because of having forgiven, is not really forgiveness. Forgiveness is release.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this article, it has come to me just after walking out on a hurtful relationship and helped me sort out my own feelings, or at least to shed light on the kind of categories there are, the ways there are to view this topic, the ‘downward spiral’ and ‘upward spiral’ effect of forgiveness and revenge. Fascinating topic, and fascinating comments above. Thanks again.

  • Excellent article Louisa (as always),

    An interesting example (and perhaps worthy of a follow up article) is children’s unconditional love for their parents even when the parents are abusive. This seems to be a case where evolution supports forgiveness because young children still need the support of their parents to survive even if the parents are neglectful or abusive. I don’t have any research on this subject but think it would add one more layer to the interesting studies you have already shared.

    I like the comment above about acceptance because it avoids the false dichotomy that you have to either forgive or seek revenge. There are plenty of grey areas in between and as you suggest the healthy use of a strength is usually somewhere between the extremes. I think its a great point that too much forgiveness could expose us to harm whereas a certain amount of resentment will keep us away from those who have harmed us and protect us from further damage.

    This is a great overview of a complex subject. Thanks!

  • Hi Oz,
    Yes, I think acceptance may offer a middle ground. Forgiving someone who does not deserve forgiveness because they continue to do harm is forgiveness for the sake of making yourself feel better. Acceptance that there may be offending people in your life and showing compassion while not forgiving seems like a healthy alternative to me. It’s interesting in the study you mention that the benefits of forgiveness are affected by the action of the perpetrators, similar to the studies I cite.

    I have two daughters and, observing them over the years, I have noticed that they do not hit each other or get physical to solve their problems. When I have a chance to observe boys in the playground, they seem to be very physical and are not afraid to hit each other to make things even. And yet, they then continue to play the game they are playing without staying mad. I don’t know what to make of it but I have to wonder if men are different. I’m not sure if this is a socially constructed thing or not – for example, it’s okay for boys to hit each other while for girls that would be considered horribly bad. It’s all very interesting to consider.
    Thanks Wayne.
    Louisa

  • Hello Angus,
    Thank you for your lovely comments. I do believe when you forgive that you are deciding on love instead of hate. And I believe this love can release you from the transgression suffered. I would rather be filled with love than hatred. Perhaps this is why forgiveness did not release me in this case – because I continued to love someone who clearly did not love me. I needed to learn acceptance, as Oz describes above.

    Is the other end of the spectrum rage? Revenge could be as simple as playing a practical joke on someone who continues to act in offensive ways. I’m not sure if revenge is socially constructed. Have you seen babies interact? If one baby performs a transgression to the other, they either cry or lash out by hitting. It is only when they are ‘taught’ how to play nice that they learn to ‘use their words’ to resolve their issues. Perhaps revenge is more innate.

    Thanks again Angus.
    Louisa

  • Hello Steve,
    Thank you for clearly defining forgiveness and how it can be beneficial when it is applied in certain ways. When you say: “If we place any conditions on the other person in order to forgive, then we allow the other person to deny us the healing that forgiveness offers. In this way, the other person continues to exert power over us.” I think this is very powerful. Forgiveness in this case is our statement that ‘you will not have power over me’. That can be such a release.

    In my case, because this is a family member, I had to continue to expose myself to this person’s toxic behavior. This made it difficult to release when the wounds got opened on a regular basis. Also, according to McCullough, revenge can send a message to others of how you want to be treated. My forgiveness sent a message to other family members that I’m the ‘nice’ one who will tolerate bad behavior while the other family member would not. Thus, I opened my self up to behavior from others that I did not appreciate. I think when it’s close family, it’s harder to deal with and makes it complex.

    Do you have any suggestions in this case?
    Thanks Steve.
    Louisa

  • Thanks Dan!
    I really did write this because I was curious myself about why forgiveness had not been effective in this particular case. I do think an open mind will benefit all of us…or it could also be the Sicilian in me!! 😉
    Louisa
    p.s. no offence intended to my paesans!

  • Dear Jeff,

    Uuummm….yeah.
    Louisa

  • Dear Patrice,
    In my case, I had truly forgiven with compassion and love for my perpetrator. So if forgiveness is release, my question is why did it not offer me any form of relief? I guess that is what I was exploring. Any insights?
    Louisa

  • Thank you Elizabeth and congratulations for having the courage to leave a hurtful relationship. In my case, the hit on my self respect had affected my self esteem – which affected other areas of my life. If you have safely removed yourself from this relationship, hopefully forgiveness may come when you are ready – and offer you some freedom.
    I wish you all the best.
    Louisa

  • Thanks Jeremy!
    Yes, and I think that is why some people stay in abusive relationships longer than they should and unfortunately children really have no choice do they? But the love continues. There is something about family that makes it more complex.

    Your comment: “I like the comment above about acceptance because it avoids the false dichotomy that you have to either forgive or seek revenge.” You really nailed it on the head. There was something ‘false’ about forgiving someone who continued to go out of their way to treat me poorly. It just wasn’t authentic after several transgressions. Do we just forgive to make ourselves feel good all the time? Why not accept the sadness around the behavior for what it is? Accept it and observe it without judgment. Is forgiveness better or is preserving our self respect more important for our well-being? It’s a healthy balance.

    Bobby Dauman once said to me “Withdraw from the relationship until the interactions with them no longer carry a ‘charge'”. He was giving me permission to take care of myself first – a sign of self respect. He also reminded me that those who choose to live with hatred are far worse off than those who choose to live with love. So show them compassion.

    Thanks Jeremy.
    Louisa

  • Jeff says:

    Louisa,
    Thank you. Just to be clear, I enjoyed your article. I gave it some deep thought. The words we use to describe phenomena are often more powerful than the story we tell about the same phenomena because they activate specific mental schemata.

    Try to think of forgiveness without a Jesus reference cropping up. I find that hard to do. By substituting new words we can have a dialogue about forgiveness and revenge without the cultural pretext that follows them. The same thing happens with happiness. New words are needed. Eudaimonia, or self-actualizing, is a great term that I picked up from the book Authentic Happiness. Aristotle had a slew of new words that I enjoy. Phronesis, practical wisdom, is another great word I learned on PPND. Phronesis doesn’t have the cultural baggage and it doesn’t trigger any schemata for me. There are no distractions with phronesis. I recollect few stories that force preconceived notions on me about phronesis. I can name people who have practical wisdom, but I never have a knee-jerk reaction to the word. That is what happens when we mint a new word. We break free from old preconceptions. I can think differently about phronesis without the gravity well of stereotype.

    My point is to say that words have deeper and more pervasive effects on thinking about things than they seem.

    Jeff

  • What an inspiring article, Louisa. Forgiving someone is actually a skill. It takes courage for an individual to forgive someone. Forgiving means that you are no longer a victim, and that you can choose a different and functional path.

  • Margaret says:

    Louisa, thank you for another interesting article. I admire your candor and courage to bring forth the potential downsides of forgiveness. Yes, there is room in Positive Psychology for negative emotions. PS – loved the symbolic ceremony you participated in at your church.

  • Be Happy says:

    Excellent article!

    I was intrigued by the “Doormat Effect”. Certainly forgiveness is a necessity for happiness but there is a limit none the less. Well done!

  • Hello Jeff,
    Yes, I see what you mean, that words can have a cultural context. And you’re right, forgiveness from a religious standpoint feels different than the definitions of forgiveness put forth by Steve Safigan and Patrice in their comments above. Maybe it’s time to mint a new word for forgiveness and revenge. I’ll have to think on that…Do you have any suggestions?
    Louisa

  • Carl Rogers proposed the idea of holding people with “unconditional positive regard” (UPR) but I believe he also had an exemption for people who caused you significant harm. I find in moments of conflict it is good to assume that all parties involved have the best intentions and to try and hold everyone in UPR. This does not mean you have to agree with what another person does, you simply assume that they have their own reasons for acting the way they do and that you support them in getting what they need as well as meeting your own needs.

    The good thing about this practice is it tends to guide “right actions” while a more reactive response based on personal emotions might cause you to act in a way that you might later regret or not feel proud of.

  • Jeff says:

    Louisa,
    I liked Seligman’s Letting Go of Grudges exercise on http://www.authentichappiness.com the now defunct website. He probably has a rehash of the exercise on http://www.happier.com. Equanimity? That sounds like the little brother word to Oz’s mindfulness. Equipoise? I don’t know what a good word for forgiveness would be. I’m no wordsmith. Revenge might have a more neutral synonym. Maybe some foreign word we could steal and use? What’s Latin for revenge?

    IDK.
    Jeff

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