Ben Dean Ph.D.
does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future--Paul
friend of mine told me this story. A large, somewhat menacing
sign hung behind her father's desk, the desk of a typically
tough U.S. Marine major: "To err is human; to forgive
is divine--and our policy is to do neither!" Amusing?
Yes. Intimidating? Maybe. But what is our own policy when it
comes to forgiveness? We certainly know plenty about what it
is to err, but what about forgiving? What does forgiveness
imply, and should we be interested in promoting this virtue
for our clients and for ourselves?
right here and take the VIA Survey of Signature Strengths.
If you've already taken it, check your results to see
where in the rank order of the 24 strengths that "forgiveness" falls
you don't know how to find the rank order, follow the directions
in the Notes section below.***
know a highly successful small business coach whose secret
weakness is that forgiveness is his 24th ( least developed)
strength. When he has a "rupture" or an intense
argument with a colleague, client, or business associate,
he "cuts them off at the knees." For example,
If theyare a client--he refunds their money by FedEx, expunges
their name from his data base, does his best to forget
about them, and never again return their emails or phone
calls. In fact, I think he looks forward to the day that
they email him--so they will know for sure that he is freezing
them out ... forever.) By contrast, for my wife, Janice,
to my everlasting good fortune, forgiveness is a top signature
stopped, didn't you? You now know where "forgiveness" falls
in your 24 strengths?... Good.]
entails a series of changes that occur within an individual
who has been offended or hurt in some way by another person.
When individuals forgive, their thoughts and actions toward
the transgressor become more positive (e.g., more peaceful
or compassionate) and less negative (e.g., less wrathful or
avoidant). In addition, forgiveness cannot be coerced, but
must be freely chosen by the one who was wronged.
and Enright (2005, p. 80) distinguish forgiveness from condoning,
excusing, reconciling, and forgetting:
someone condones or excuses, he or she realizes there was
no unfairness. If, for example, Jack takes Mary’s
car to drive an injured child to the hospital, Mary, on
realizing what had happened, would not forgive Jack, but
excused him under the circumstances.
involves two people coming together again in mutual trust,
whereas forgiveness is one person’s choice to abandon
resentment and offer beneficence in the face of unfairness.
One can forgive without reconciling.
one forgives, he or she rarely forgets the event. People
tend to recall traumatic events, but on forgiving, a person
may remember in new ways—not continuing to harbor
the deeply held anger.
and Inhibiting Factors
Forgiving those who have wronged us belongs in the “more
easily said than done” category. Consider your own forgiveness
history. Whom have you forgiven? And what seemed unforgivable?
Research on forgiveness has identified several conditions or
factors that make forgiveness more or less likely:
tend to be more likely to forgive when the offense took
place within a close, satisfying relationship (Finkel and
colleagues, 2002; McCullough and colleagues, 1998).
is related to the character strength of empathy. Individuals
are better able to forgive when they can empathize with
the offender (McCullough, et al, 2003).
relationship between forgiveness and justice is complex.
Traditionally, researchers have suggested that a strong
belief in justice can be a barrier to forgiveness. However,
Karremans and Lange (2005) recently demonstrated that individuals
are actually more likely to forgive when they are first
primed to think about justice. The researchers hypothesize
that whereas a “retributive” (eye-for-an-eye)
sense of justice may be a barrier to forgiveness, a broader,
more “pro-social” sense of justice may promote
are better able to forgive when we do not blame the offender
for the act (“It was an accident”). In contrast,
we are less likely to forgive acts that were intentionally
committed—especially if they have severe consequences
(Boon & Sulsky, 1997).
tendency to ruminate makes forgiveness much less likely
(McCullough, Bellah, et al., 2001).
are more likely to forgive as we age. Young children tend
to be the least willing to forgive, and older adults are
the most willing (Mullet & Girard, 2000).
you would expect, apologies help. We are more likely to
forgive if we receive an apology from the transgressor
(Darby & Schlenker, 1982; McCullough and colleagues,
chapter on forgiveness in the VIA handbook focused on forgiveness
as it relates to other people. I thought it interesting that
they omitted a discussion of forgiving oneself. In his Small
Treatise on The Great Virtues (p. 131), philosopher André Comte-Sponville
eloquently explains why self-forgiveness is critical:
one forgive oneself? Of course, since one can hate oneself
and overcome self-hatred. What hope would there be for
wisdom otherwise? Or for happiness? Or for peace? We must
forgive ourselves for being merely what we are. And also
forgive ourselves—when we can do so without injustice—for
feeling hatred or pain or anger so strong that we cannot
forgive. Fortunate are the merciful, who fight without
hatred or hate without remorse!
a recent meta-analysis, Baskin and Enright (2004) reviewed
the effectiveness of nine empirical studies of forgiveness
interventions. They found that the existing interventions could
be grouped into three primary categories: (1) decision-based
interventions, (2) process-based individual interventions,
and (3) process-based group interventions.
based interventions tend to emphasize a defining moment when
an individual chooses to forgive. Forgiveness is a decision
that is made: “I choose to forgive him” or “I
will no longer allow my anger to eat away at me.”
contrast, process-based interventions emphasize forgiveness
that is a gradual process taking time and sustained effort.
A cognitive decision to forgive is one part of a longer journey.
Individuals may decide they want to “let go” but
then struggle with continued anger or resentment.
interventions that emphasized the process of forgiveness tended
to be more effective than cognitive, decision-based interventions.
And among the process-based interventions reviewed, the one-on-one
interventions were more effective than the group-based interventions.
Process Model of Forgiveness
psychologist Robert Enright provides a process model of forgiveness
that could be applied to forgiveness interventions with individuals
an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Heller,
1998), he outlined the following nine steps toward forgiveness:
your emotions. Whether you are angry, hurt, ashamed, or
embarrassed (or some combination of the above), acknowledge
your emotional reaction to the wrongdoing.
beyond identifying the person who hurt you and articulate
the specific behaviors that upset or hurt you.
the choice to forgive.
to yourself why you made the decision to forgive. Your
reasons can be as practical as wanting to be free of the
anger so that you can concentrate better at work.
to “walk in the shoes” of the other person.
Consider that person’s vulnerabilities.
a commitment to not pass along the pain you have endured—even
to the person who hurt you in the first place.
instead to offer the world mercy and goodwill. At this
stage, you may wish to reconcile with the other person
(but that’s not necessary).
on how it feels to let go of a grudge. Find meaning in
the suffering you experienced and overcame.
the paradox of forgiveness: As you give the gift of forgiveness
to others, you receive the gift of peace.
you enjoyed this newsletter! We'll have at least two next month.
Then in October, we'll continue under our new name, Coaching
Toward Happiness. See you soon.
and Enright (2004)." Intervention studies on forgiveness:
A meta-analysis." Journal of Counseling and Development
S. (1998, July 17). "Emerging field of forgiveness studies
explores how we let go of grudges." The Chronicle
of Higher Education.
J. C. (2004). "Does activating justice help or hurt in
promoting forgiveness?" Journal of Experimental Social
Psychology 41, 290-297.
C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths
and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association/New York: Oxford University
or retake the VIA Signature Strengths Survey at www.authentichappiness.org
you have completed the survey and have your top five strengths,
go to www.authentichappiness.org/all24 .
Enter your User Name and Pass Word. And you'll find the rank
order of your 24 strengths including where in the hierarchy forgiveness
falls. Simply seeing this may make this essay more meaningful.
To pursue the study of forgiveness in more depth, go to the
chapter on Forgiveness in Character Strengths and Virtues. You
may also decide to start with the web, looking for articles cited
by search engines at, for example, http://tinyurl.com/83wcj or http://tinyurl.com/87kof.
Often you will find the complete article online.
E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., is Fox Leadership Professor
of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder
of the field of Positive Psychology, a Past President of
the American Psychological Association (1998), and the author
of 22 books including his most recent best seller, Authentic
Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your
Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. His work is captured at www.authentichappiness.org With
Chris Peterson, he is co-author of Character Strengths and
Virtues: A Classification and Handbook. With Dr. Dean, he
co-founded Authentic Happiness Coaching LLC. He is also founder
of Reflective Happiness LLC.
Dean Ph.D., is a psychologist, coach, and the founder
of MentorCoach LLC. He speaks on coaching throughout the
US and publishes two free coaching e-newsletters: "The
Therapist as Coach" for helping professionals (www.mentorcoach.com), "The
eCoach Newsletter" for interdisciplinary professionals
and the forthcoming "Coaching Toward Happiness" e-newsletter.
Coaching since 1981, he is a Master Certified Coach, the
highest designation of the International Coach Federation.
With Dr. Seligman, Ben is co-founder of Authentic Happiness
Happiness LLC. Dr. Seligman's new website, www.reflectivehappiness.com,
is focused on helping members lead more fulfilling and satisfying
lives. For the Reflective Happiness community, Marty has
designed a Happiness Plan for each member that can accurately
measure, improve and sustain their emotional well-being for
a more fulfilling and satisfying life. The website also has
Happiness Building Exercises, Question & Answer Sessions
with Marty, Community Building forums, a Positive Psychology
Book Club, and a members-only newsletter covering the latest
developments that Marty has found in the field. For more
details, see www.reflectivehappiness.com.
LLC. Dr. Dean founded MentorCoach, www.mentorcoach.com,
in 1997. It is an internationally recognized coach training
school accredited by the International Coach Federation and
focused on training helping professionals to develop rewarding
coaching practices. Fall Programs begin Wednesday, September
29th at 8:00 PM Eastern and Thursday, September 29th at 12:00
PM Eastern. For Fall class times, see http://tinyurl.com/8mav3 For
detailed MentorCoach Training Program description, see http://www.mentorcoach.com/description For
Master Classes open to the public, see http://www.mentorcoach.com/publicmc.htm.
E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
will be speaking in:
University of Bergen, August 30, 2005
3rd Norwegian Congress of Psychology, September 1, 2005
(Radisson), Sept 5-6, 2005
Ohio, Butler County Commissioner's Forum, Sept 16, 2005
Tennessee, Centerstone, Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, September
D.C. Positive Psychology Summit, Gallup Headquarters, September
30-Oct 2, 2005
UK, The Pacific Institute Global Conference, November 11,
Tennessee,Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Marriott, November 30,
California, Evolution of Psychotherapy, Erickson Foundation,
Convention Center, December 9-10, 2005
will be speaking on "Coaching and the New Science of
NC, Radisson at Research Triangle Park, September 9, 2005
GA, Sheraton Buckhead, September 11, 2005
VA, Hyatt Arlington, September 25, 2005
Jose, CA, November 13, 2005
PA, November 20, 2005
WA, SEATAC Marriott, TBA
details, visit www.mentorcoach.com.