Skip to content

Mental Health Center

Font Size

Forgive and Forget

It's not always easy, but the benefits of forgiving -- and 'forgetting' -- can be powerful. Here are some tips.

When Not Forgiving Is OK

But some people cannot forgive, and that's OK too, according to Jeanne Safer, PhD, a psychotherapist and the author of Forgiving and Not Forgiving. For some of her patients, recognizing that they don't have to forgive is a huge relief.

"Many don't have to forgive in order to resolve their feelings," Safer says. "They say, 'I can never feel OK about these terrible things, but I'm not going to be vengeful.'"

To help them achieve this resolution, Safer offers a three-step process. The first step involves re-engagement -- a decision to think through what happened. The second step, recognition, means looking at every feeling you may have about the injury. "You ask yourself, 'why do I want revenge?'" Safer said. "Revenge is based on powerlessness and it's doomed to failure."

The final step involves reinterpretation of the injury, including an attempt to understand the person who caused it. "This is where forgivers and nonforgivers divide," Safer said. "Sometimes you're not able to reconnect with the person, but if you go through this process, at least you won't be a victim."

Forgiveness research proliferated after the publication in 1984 of Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes, who claimed that forgiveness produced benefits for the forgiver.

Safer, however, is wary of those who picked up on this idea and started to promote what she calls "promiscuous forgiveness."

"What's important is working it through and achieving resolution, whether it leads to forgiveness or not. Forgiveness involves wishing the other well. You're already there if you don't wish them ill," Safer says.

1|2|3
Reviewed on February 09, 2007

Today on WebMD

contemplation
Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
 
man screaming
Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
woman looking into fridge
When food controls you.
 
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
Article
Plate of half eaten cakes
Article
 
Phobias
Slideshow
mother kissing newborn
Slideshow
 
Woman multitasking
Article
thumbnail_tired_woman_yawning
Article
 
colored pencils
VIDEO
Woman relaxing with a dog
Feature
 

WebMD Special Sections