As children, we are consistently taught to apologize after our wrongdoings, and to accept an apology from someone who has acted wrongly against us. This simple construction of behavior based on the concept of forgiveness, we are taught, will ultimately heal all wounds and mend all hurts. Later, as adults, we learn the common saying, “forgive and forget” as a way of dealing with distress or suffering. Both concepts rely largely on marketing the importance of forgiveness in an effort to overcome hardships and heal ourselves. As it turns out, both assertions may have merit.
According to a 2012 study by Daniel Goldman & Nathaniel Wade, forgiveness is important in reducing anger and increasing one’s overall well-being following a hurtful act or situation. The study they conducted looked at the outcomes of people working through an angering event, comparing whether or not the participants worked specifically on finding forgiveness or merely on anger-reduction strategies (e.g. deep breathing, relaxation methods, etc.) against a control group. The study found that the group working with a forgiveness-related focus ultimately ended up with a greater reduction in (desires for) revenge, levels of hostility, and psychological symptoms as compared to the group focusing on anger-reducing strategies. Additionally, the forgiveness group members showed a lasting effect in increased empathy that was not present in the anger-reduction or control groups.
One of the researchers, Nathaniel Wade, states, “[Forgiveness] Interventions seem to be very effective at helping people not only cope with anger and work through those negative feelings, but also to move the person to a ‘better’ place of acceptance and even human flourishing.” Wade’s study emphasizes the importance of achieving forgiveness after being wronged because it does not only reduce unconstructive or potentially damaging thoughts and behaviors but also works to increase positive behaviors and feelings within oneself. This research serves an important tool to spread the message of forgiveness, in that it may not be entirely beneficial to simply work on reducing anger. In the future, when trying to cope with a hurtful experience of some kind, it may be valuable to keep in mind that you do not always have to forget, but research shows you should definitely work on forgiving.
By Lauren Vieaux
Lauren is a junior Psychology and Human Development major with a minor in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay. She plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.