Modern Psychology and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most important tools in our relationship tool box. It literally makes us happier, improves our health, our relationships and our well-being. Choosing not to forgive only hurts us. It is an emotional dead end.

Although your grandmother might tell you that the benefits of forgiveness are obvious, actual empirical research into forgiveness began in the mid 1980’s. 

The pioneer researchers in this field are psychologist and professor, Dr. Robert Enright and psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, MD.  Both researchers are now Catholics, but Robert Enright was initially a non-practicing Catholic who returned to the faith as a result of his research. 

He notes, “The Catholic Church and only the Catholic Church can tell us what forgiveness really is in the fullest sense: a uniting of your suffering with Christ's suffering, which we bear on behalf of those who have hurt us, for their salvation”  [Christian Century, Feb 24, 2011].

After more than 14 years of clinical research and 30+ years (each) of practicing forgiveness therapy, Drs. Enright and Fitzgibbons have demonstrated that forgiveness is a life changing process in helping clients resolve anger over past hurts and betrayals, to relieve anxiety and depression, and to restore peace of mind.

Forgiveness therapy has also been used as an effective tool in combating a variety of disorders involving depression, anxiety, and addiction. Practicing forgiveness also greatly improves interpersonal relationships. This has proven an effective intervention with adolescent disorders and in marital therapy. Researchers have also demonstrated physical benefits to forgiveness. They have proved that forgiveness lowers stress, improves cardio health, lowers pain, lowers blood pressure, and as net result, extends life.

By helping to lower feelings of anger and resentment, forgiveness therapy helps lower blood pressure in at risk patients. It seems that extreme anger whether express passively, or openly can cause an unsafe rise in blood pressure and an increased risk to health. Similarly researchers on the relationship between anger and heart health have concluded that anger and hostility (cynical mistrust, intense angry feelings, and patterns of aggressive behavior) can be significant stressors in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Robert D. Enright notes; “Anger, like other emotions, must be controlled. Suppressing legitimate anger is unhealthy. Continually venting anger is also unhealthy.” [Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. (Washington: APA, 2001), 55].

Robert D. Enright and Richard P. Fitzgibbons, have summarized the clinical effectiveness of forgiveness in their work, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (2nd ed., 2015) published by the American Psychological Association (APA).


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