Main Idea: To be merciful is to abundantly forgive all those who wrong us. Many people don’t understand forgiveness and conflate it with a variety of different concepts. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what a person has done, forgetting what was done, absolving the person of responsibility or reconciling with the individual. Forgiveness simply means letting go of bitterness towards another, placing the matter into the hands of a higher authority (justice system, God) and thus relinquishing the need for revenge or retribution.
Today, I will be talking about the character trait of mercy which is a propensity to forgive others. To be merciful is to abundantly forgive all those who wrong us. It is a core Christ-like virtue and attribute of a godly character. I will start by first defining what it means to be merciful and forgiving and then I will talk about the benefits of being merciful and the costs of choosing to be merciless. I will then conclude by exploring how to move through the forgiveness process.
What it means to have Mercy
So, what is forgiveness? Many people don’t understand forgiveness and conflate it with a variety of different concepts such as condoning, forgetting, absolving or reconciling. However, forgiveness does not refer to these concepts and is something unique in itself. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the following definition:
“Forgiveness does not imply that an individual has “forgotten” all memories of the abuse, that he or she condones the behavior or absolves the perpetrator of responsibility, or that he or she must become reconciled with the perpetrator, particularly if there is the possibility of further abuse. What forgiveness does imply is that an individual has relinquished feelings of hate or bitterness toward another, has placed the matter in the Lord’s hands, and has enabled Him to operate more fully in his or her life. In forgiving, an individual frees himself from the perpetrator and is therefore better able to progress.”
According to Elder Scott, the essence of forgiveness is letting go of bitterness, hatred and the need for revenge and putting it in the hands of the Lord. You can let go of bitterness without forgetting what was done, without absolving the person of any consequences and without reconciling and continuing an abusive relationship.
Developing this character trait is a prerequisite for entering into the Kingdom of heaven and is a commandment of God. In D&C 64:10 the Lord says: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”
Beliefs and Behaviors
Now that we know what forgiveness is, I am going to talk about the beliefs and behaviors that merciful people display.
1. The Merciful forgive others when they are wronged as they hope to be forgiven their wrongs.
In the Book of Proverbs we are taught to write the virtue of mercy upon the tables of our heart. Proverbs 3: 3-4 reads: “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”
When the Lord was asked by Peter how often he was supposed to forgive those who wronged him the Lord said: “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22) Seventy times seven effectively means that there is no limit to how often we are to let go of bitter feelings towards others and place the matter into the Lords hands.
Jesus then gave Peter the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant to help Peter understand why he was required to always forgive those who wronged him. In this parable, a king forgives a servant of a 10,000 talent debt and then the servant who was forgiven refuses to forgive another man who owed him a much smaller debt. When the king found out about the servant’s hypocrisy, he arrested him and made him work off his immense debt until it was completely paid off.
Jesus said that the Forgiving king was like our Father in heaven who forgives us of the immense debts we owe Him and we become like the wicked servant when we accept God’s forgiveness but refuse to forgive those who owe us a much smaller debt than we owe God. Jesus warns that if we refuse to forgive the smaller debts owed to us, the Father will refuse to forgive the greater debts that we owe Him. (Matt 18: 21-35)
This Parable suggests that it is easier to be merciful with others when we contemplate how we have wronged others throughout our lives and are in need of forgiveness ourselves. When we fail to forgive others who have wronged us but expect to be forgiven for all the wrongs we have done we become hypocrites. When we fail to forgive, we arrogantly assume that we would act better than the other person if we had their genetic inheritance and life experience. This is not something we can ever know with certainty and should therefore humble us enough to give the benefit of the doubt to those who wrong us. We cannot ever know all mitigating and exacerbating factors that contribute to an individual’s culpability for wrong doing and therefore must conclude that we are incapable of acting as their judge.
Jesus, who is the foreordained dispenser of justice and mercy, was the greatest exemplar of this trait that ever lived. On the cross and during some of His most intense pain, He prayed for His killers when He said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Those who take upon themselves the name of Christ will begin to reflect this virtue as well. In the Book of Acts, Stephen the Martyr was stoned to death and these were his final words: “And he keeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” (Acts 7:60) Following Stephen’s example, Paul wrote to Timothy about forgiving those who forsook him in his time of need. He said: “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.” (2 Tim 4: 16)
The importance of forgiving debt was also built into the ancient Jewish law of Jubilee. John Rushdoony, in his book “Institutes of Biblical law” wrote about the meaning of the Jubilee: “Every Israelite was called upon to proclaim throughout the land, by nine blasts of the cornet, that he too had given the soil rest, that he had freed every encumbered family estate, and that he had given liberty to every slave, who was now to rejoin his kindred. Inasmuch as God has forgiven his debts, he also is to forgive his debtors.” (In Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 141.)
2. The Merciful do not hold grudges.
Merciful people also put limits on their anger and bitterness and do not allow normal and justifiable feelings of anger at mistreatment morph into a grudge which is a prolonged feeling of bitterness and motivation for revenge. James warned us against such things when he wrote: “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5:9)
The Lord also warned his ancient covenant people against bearing grudges when He said in Leviticus: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love the neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. (Lev 19:18)
The Book of Mormon warns against the immense destruction that grudge-bearing brings upon entire nations of people over hundreds of years. The Lamanites hated the Nephites because they believed Nephi had wronged Laman many centuries ago. As a result of this perceived wrong, the Lamanites swore an “eternal hatred” towards the Nephites. This is one of the reasons why the Lord teaches us to forgive abundantly and to leave vengeance to Him. It is not overstating it to say that failure to live this law can lead to millions of deaths over long periods of time. (Mosiah 10)
3. The merciful can enact consequences that are less than what someone deserves.
While the merciful forgive, sometimes they do absolve or enact consequences that are less severe than deserved. In the Book of Ezra, the scribe describes God’s mercy in this way when he writes: ““And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this.” (Ezra 2)
Thus, the merciful always forgive but sometimes they even hope for a person to be punished less than they deserve to be. As Ezra mentioned, this is one meaning of the word merciful.
4. The Merciful do not bring up past mistakes but allow others to move on from them.
Another way that we can show mercy to others is by not bringing up past mistakes that have been learned from and that the person has moved on from. In Proverbs 17:9 we are warned against repeatedly bringing up the mistakes of others: “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
In his talk, “Remember Lott’s Wife”, Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve expounded upon this principle. I will use his talk to demonstrate four different principles:
i.) The Past is to be learned from but not lived in. Elder Holland said:“So, as a new year starts and we try to benefit from a proper view of what has gone before, I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in.” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
ii.) We must forgive and forget the earlier mistakes that we or other people have made. Elder Holland said: “There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life— either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist.” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
iii.)When something has been repented of it is not right to open old wounds. Elder Holland said:“When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal.” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
iv.) We are to let people grow, we are to be charitable and leave what’s buried alone. Elder Holland said: “Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is it charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried.” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
5. The Merciful remember enough to avoid repeating mistakes but forget the rest.
The next principle that we need to discuss is that of forgiving and forgetting. Elder Holland also gave some counsel on what it means to “forgive and forget.” He says:
“Forgive, and do that which is harder than to forgive. Forget. And when it comes to mind again, forget it again. You can remember just enough to avoid repeating the mistake, but then put the rest of it all on the dung heap Paul spoke of to those Philippians. Dismiss the destructive and keep dismissing it until the beauty of the Atonement of Christ has revealed to you your bright future and the bright future of your family and your friends and your neighbors.” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
The key words here are to remember enough so that you don’t repeat the mistake but forget everything else about past wrongs. Thus, we forgive and forget all that is unnecessary for remaining safe in the future.
6. The Merciful can forgive knowing that Christ has paid the price for sin and will balance mercy and justice in the end.
It is also easier to be merciful when we come to the realization that Christ has paid the price for sin and has promised to balance mercy and justice perfectly in the end. In D&C 64: 8-11 the Lord said:
“My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.” (D&C 64: 8-11)
This scripture is clear that the Lord expects us to forgive by letting go of bitterness and hatred and putting what was done in His hands so that He can administer justice and mercy where appropriate. The scripture even goes so far as to say that those who don’t forgive “Keep the greater sin.” What does this mean? Commenting on this scripture, Brad Miller, an LDS Family Services Therapist, suggested that to forgive means to “GIVE your feelings to Him who was FOReordained to administer justice and mercy, and that foreordained healer and judge is Jesus Christ. According to Brother Miller, the greater sin that remains in you is what the perpetrator did to you and the changes in beliefs, feelings and behaviors that resulted from the abuse. Forgiveness is a process of cutting ties with the perpetrator and freeing yourself of the sin committed against you. Thus, to fail to forgive is to fail to cut ties to the abuse that was done to you which means the effects of the abuse remain within you.
The last verse in D&C 64 8-11 is often not emphasized but it is crucial. According to this scripture, part of the forgiveness process is asking God to repay the perpetrator according to his deeds. This means that those abusers who are truly penitent will be forgiven by the Lord but those who do not repent will, as Limhi said: “Reap the chaff in the whirlwind and the effect thereof is poison.” (Mosiah 7:30) The crucial part of forgiveness is letting go of the need to administer justice and mercy yourself and trusting God to reward the perpetrator according to his deeds.
The Lord has warned us against seeking revenge against those who wrong us and has declared that to be His foreordained role. Paul taught the Romans: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) Paul tells the Romans that if they do not seek revenge themselves then they give place for God’s wrath to occur. However, the implication of this verse is that seeking revenge yourself interferes with God’s wrath or mercy occurring where appropriate. Similarly, the author of Proverbs taught this same principle when he wrote: “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee.” (Prov 20:22)
This principle was illustrated in the story of Saul and King David. Saul had sought to kill David on numerous occasions until one day David cornered Saul in a cave and was able to get revenge. However, this was how David responded, perfectly demonstrating the principle taught in D&C 64. He said to Saul: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee.” (1 Sam 24:12)
Jesus has already suffered for the sins of those who have wronged us. No sin ever escapes punishment as Jesus only gives mercy to those whom He has taken the punishment for. Commenting on this principle, Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:
“I recently received a letter from a woman who reported having endured great suffering in her life…She admitted that she struggled with feelings of great bitterness. In her anger, she mentally cried out, “Someone must pay for this terrible wrong.” In this extreme moment of sorrow and questioning, she wrote that there came into her heart an immediate reply: “Someone already has paid.” (Boyd K. Packer-The Reason for our Hope)
Since Jesus has already paid the price for this sin it doesn’t need to be paid again by the victim. As a result, the Lord has promised to compensate you whenever you are wronged by others. In 2 Nephi 2:2 the prophet Lehi declared: “Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” To consecrate means to “set apart for a sacred purpose” and gain means to “acquire as a profit.” Thus, Lehi promises us that God will take our suffering and set it apart so we can profit from it or have more than we had prior to being wronged.
Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught this principle when he said: “A person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return.” Brother Miller, referred to earlier, compares Jesus to a Master alchemist. An alchemist is someone who turns base metals into precious God. Thus, Jesus takes our base metal suffering and turns it into pure gold that we can profit from.
In Matthew 19:29 The Lord teaches us about this law of compensation: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin reiterated this principle as well when he said: “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin‐ Come What May and Love It)
And finally, one of the lessons of the Book of Job is that the Lord allows the faithful to suffer but eventually compensates the faithful by giving them more than what they had prior to suffering. In Job 42:10 it is written: “The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
One of the major ways that the Lord compensates us is by taking the effects of our abuse into account and judging us on how we would have acted had the abuse not occurred. Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone taught:
“The innocent victim shouldn’t be required to carry guilt and scars and baggage of shame. A loving and willing master desires to lift those things from our hearts and our minds and to replace them with his love. The lord will judge them for what they would have been had the abuse never occurred.”
And Finally, C.S. Lewis, in his book the Great Divorce, wrote about how obtaining heaven will transform our prior sufferings into blessings. He wrote:
“They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
In summary, the following are key behaviors that merciful people engage in:
i.) When someone has wronged you then you respond by letting go of bitterness towards that person and leaving the matter in the hands of a higher authority.
ii.) When someone has wronged you and you have the chance to wrong them back you abstain from doing so. You surrender the impulse for revenge.
iii.) When someone repeatedly wrongs you choose to forgive them every time.
iv.) When someone has wronged you then you enact consequences less severe than deserved.
v.) When someone has wronged you then you allow them to move on from it and don’t bring it up again.
vi.) When someone has wronged you then you remember only enough to avoid repetition but forget the rest.
vii.)When someone has wronged you then you remember that Jesus paid for their sins and will be the judge of whether they deserve forgiveness or not.
In contrast, the following are key behaviors that unmerciful people engage in:
i.) When someone has wronged you then you respond by nursing bitter feelings towards them and personally seek to exact revenge.
ii.) When someone has wronged you then you take the next opportunity to wrong them back.
iii.) When someone repeatedly wrongs you then you declare you will not forgive them this time.
iv.) When someone wrongs you then you wrong them back worse than they deserve to teach them a lesson.
v.) When someone has wronged you then you repeatedly bring it up and use it to manipulate them.
vi.) When someone has wronged you then you choose to rehearse every detail of the wrong repeatedly.
vii.) When someone has wronged you then you believe it is your role to ensure they get what they deserve and leave God out of it.
Fruits of Mercy vs. Ruthlessness (Blessings and Consequences)
Next, I would like to examine some of the blessings that the scriptures promise for developing this virtue and some of the consequences that result when we are unmerciful.
1. The Merciful will obtain Mercy from God while the Ruthless will remain in their sins.
In His sermon on the mount, the Lord Jesus Christ taught: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt 5:7) Jesus repeated this doctrine several times and also gave this warning to the unmerciful: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6.14-15).
This doctrine is repeated in the Book of Mormon by the prophet Alma who taught: “And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.” (Mosiah 26:31)
Elder Holland observed that the commandment to forgive not only applies to others but also to ourselves! He taught: “The provision, of course, is that repentance has to be sincere, but when it is and when honest effort is being made to progress, we are guilty of the greater sin if we keep remembering and recalling and rebashing someone with their earlier mistakes—and that “someone” might be ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves, often much more so than with others!” (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
2. Mercy heals the wounded person’s soul while failing to forgive maintains the injury.
In Proverbs we also learn that mercy heals our souls. Proverbs 11:17 reads: “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.” (Proverbs 11:17) Commenting on his ancient disciples, the Lord said: “My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.” (D&C 64: 34-35)
3. We will be judged according to the standard of mercy we have shown others.
The scriptures also teach us to be merciful because God will use the standard we have used to judge others in order to judge us. Jesus taught: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged. and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
4. Mercy binds and unites families and neighborhoods while failing to forgive destroys them.
Elder Holland also taught that mercy is a necessary virtue for binding families, neighborhoods, communities and ultimately nations together. He warned against the danger that failing to be merciful to others would bring when he taught:
“Such dwelling on past lives, including past mistakes, is just not right! It is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is worse than Miniver Cheevy, and in some ways worse than Lot’s wife, because at least there he and she were only destroying themselves. In these cases of marriage and family and wards and apartments and neighborhoods,we can end up destroying so many, many others. Perhaps at this beginning of a new year there is no greater requirement for us than to do as the Lord Himself said He does. “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58.42). (Remember Lott’s Wife- Jeffrey R. Holland)
5. The Psychological Research
Few concepts have been as well researched and understood as the positive benefits of forgiveness. The Greater Good Science Center of the University of California summarized many of the known benefits of forgiveness. According to them Forgiveness has been found to yield the following benefits:
Happiness: When people forgive they report feeling happier afterwards.
Improved Health: Nursing grudges raises our blood pressure and stress levels. People who forgive show superior immune functioning to those who don’t.
Improved Relationships: Those who are unable to forgive have less satisfying and long lasting relationships. Forgiveness is essential for happy marriages and friendships.
Improved Kindness and Connection: Those who forgive report feeling kinder and more connected to other people in general.
Reconciliation and Peace: Forgiveness was an essential component of the peace that was achieved in South Africa at the end of Apartheid. Without forgiveness, blood feuds and war are perpetuated.
Improved Mental Health: Forgiveness predicts less depression, anxiety, anger and reduces symptoms of PTSD.
The results are clear. If we wish to have happier, healthier lives with better relationships that are characterized by peace and connection then forgiveness is a non-negotiable behavior that we must learn.
Models of Forgiveness
i.) Validation Therapy
Brother Miller has observed that: “The goal of psychotherapy is to replace neurotic suffering with ordinary suffering.” Not all children that go through abuse are damaged adults. According to Bro. Miller, 94% recover when they have four things: i.) Someone believes the trauma occurred, ii.) The victim’s feelings are validated and accepted with non-resistance (“No wonder I feel this way.”) iii.) They feel safe and protected and iv.) They understand how the abuse affected them. Only 28% improve if they don’t have all four of these components. The goal is to move from identifying yourself as a victim (focus on identity) to a survivor of abuse (focus on experience).
It can be difficult to know how the abuse has affected you if it occurred when you were a child. Children lack the verbal and cognitive abilities to understand things with the conscious mind so the effects of abuse are stored subconsciously and manifest as feelings. These feelings can be transformed into what Bro. Miller calls “Your Gethsemane Experience” modeled after the Lord’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. To do this, go somewhere you can be safe and pray and ask God to “Remove the bitter cup.” “Nevertheless” resolve that you are going to trust in him even if the cup remains and say: “Thy will” be done. Consider that His will is to heal and restore you. Make a list of what you need to be healed and pray for those things.
ii.) The Enright Process Model: Robert Enright, a Catholic Psychologist, has outlined what he calls the “Enright Process Model of Forgiveness.” According to this model, forgiveness occurs in four stages that must be progressed through in a linear fashion, which include:
- The Uncovering Phase: In this phase, the person gains insight into how the injustice and the reaction to the injustice has affected one’s life. Typical consequences include: shame, guilt, obsessive thoughts about the offender and/or one’s offense, temporary or permanent life changes due to the offense, and changes in one’s views about the justice of the world and of God.
- The Decision Phase: In this phase, the person gains an accurate understanding of what forgiveness is and commits to forgiving or at least moving towards it.
- The Work Phase: In this phase, the person begins working toward forgiving the perpetrator by reframing the offense and viewing the offender as human and not evil incarnate. It involves extending realistic empathy and compassion towards the offender and giving up resentment. Consider the frailties and suffering the offender has experienced in life.
- The Deepening Phase: In the final phase the person begins to find meaning in the suffering, feels connected with others and experiences a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions. Consider some of the growth you have experienced or could experience as a result of this experience.
One way of working through this model is to write a letter either to yourself or to the perpetrator that outlines the effects of the injustice, your decision to forgive and the reframing that will allow you to forgive.
iii.) Raising Awareness Exercises
The following is a list of Socratic questions designed to help you understand the effects of holding grudges in your life.
i.) How do you feel when you hold onto a grudge? What negative emotions do you experience? Do you feel any positive emotions?
ii.) Can you identify some mental roadblocks when experiencing the grudge? Example roadblocks include thinking about revenge, feeling bad for yourself, or replaying what happened several times in your mind.
iii.) How was your relationship with the individual with whom you held a grudge affected?
iv.) What were some challenges of letting go of the grudge?
v.) For you personally, what leads to grudges? What values of yours are disturbed?
vi.) How do you feel when you know that someone you love is holding a grudge against you?
vii.) Have you been able to let go of grudges previously? If so, how?
viii.) What is your evaluation process on whether or not a grudge is worthy of being released or not? Have there been times when it makes sense to hold onto that grudge?
xi.) What are the pros and cons of removing grudges?
iv.) Facilitators of Forgiveness
The Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Petersen, in their Book “Character Strengths and Virtues” have summarized the research on facilitators and inhibitors of forgiveness:
1.) Empathy: When a victim takes the perpetrators perspective and empathizes he/she is more likely to forgive. Brain scan research shows that when people think about forgiving, the brain areas associated with empathy are active.
2.) Positive Emotions: The Bitterness of hatred is often done away when the individual chooses to experience love based emotions such as empathy, sympathy or kindness.
4.) Age: Young children are least likely to forgive while older people are most likely to forgive.
5.) Rumination: Ruminating and rehearsing the offense decreases the likelihood that you will forgive the perpetrator.
6.) Intentionality: People are less likely to forgive if they believe the act was intentional and it led to dire consequences.
7.) Apologies: People are more likely to forgive when they have received an apology. Researcher Aaron Lazare says that an effective apology has four parts: It acknowledges the offense, offers an explanation for the offense, expresses remorse or shame, and involves a reparation of some kind.
8.) Gender: There are no gender differences in how often one forgives.
9.) Interventions: Enright’s 20‐unit process model has been found to be more effective than waiting list control groups in facilitating forgiveness. This model is also associated with reduced negative emotional states and increases positive states such as hope.
10.) Length: Six hours seems to be the minimum amount of time needed to reflect on and really forgive somebody.
11.) Pride: Sometimes people feel entitled and hold onto their resentment and view it as a noble cause.
12.) Reframes: Viewing forgiveness as something for you and not the other person helps people forgive.
Measures of Forgiveness
There are five commonly used scales that measure how merciful we are.
- The Transgression Related Interpersonal Motivation Inventory (TRIM) is the most widely used self‐report instrument. Link: http://www.midss.org/sites/default/files/trim_18_mc_r_c_2006.pdf
- The Rye Forgiveness scale measures how completely you have forgiven a particular offender. Links: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286221719_Measures_of_Forgiveness
- The Decisional Forgiveness Scale focuses on whether you have decided to forgive.
- The Emotional Forgiveness Scale measures the positive change in emotions that come with forgiveness.
- The Trait Forgivingness Scale focuses on measuring the propensity to forgiven instead of individual offenses.
When you fail to develop the character trait of mercy, you are in danger of developing the following traits:
1. Cruelty. Enjoying the pain or distress of others; willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others.
2. Relentlessness. That does not relent; unyieldingly severe, strict, or harsh.
3. Callousness. Insensitive; indifferent; unsympathetic.
4. Mercilessness. Without mercy; having or showing no mercy.
5. Ruthlessness. Without pity or compassion.
6. Viciousness. Unpleasantly severe; given or readily disposed to evil.
- Forgiveness Exercises (Greater Good in Action): https://ggia.berkeley.edu/#filters=forgiveness
- Trim: http://www.midss.org/sites/default/files/trim_18_mc_r_c_2006.pdf
- Other Measures: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286221719_Measures_of_Forgiveness
- Mercy Tracking Sheet