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What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is the intentional and voluntary process by which someone who may have felt victimised changes their feelings and attitude about a given offence and gets rid of negative emotions like resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be). They also disagree about how much they think forgiveness also means replacing negative emotions with positive ones (i.e. an increased ability to wish the offender well). When someone forgives someone of a debt, loan, obligation, or other claim, they don’t owe them anything. “Forgiveness” is different from condoning an act that is harmful but can be “forgiven” or ignored for “charitable” reasons, excusing or pardoning the person who did it, or forgetting about it (trying to erase from your mind the memory of a “crime”). When it comes to some schools of thought, it means making a personal and “voluntary” effort to change yourself so that you can be at peace and have “unconditional positive regard” for the other person in a relationship, which is what psychologist Carl Rogers calls “unconditional positive regard.” People who think about forgiveness as a psychological concept and virtue have looked into how it can help people in religious thought, social sciences, and medicine. There are a lot of ways to think about forgiveness. You can think about it just in terms of the person who forgives, including forgiving yourself, or you can think about it in terms of what happened to the person who was forgiven. Most of the time, when someone is forgiven, there is no expectation of restitution, and the offender doesn’t have to do anything (for example, one may forgive a person who is incommunicado or dead). There may be times when the person who hurts someone needs some kind of acknowledgment, apologies, or even just asks for forgiveness in order for the person who was hurt to think they can forgive as well. In terms of social and political aspects of forgiveness, “forgiveness” is not something that happens in a private or religious way. In politics, the idea of “forgiveness” is thought to be unusual. However, Hannah Arendt thinks that the “facility of forgiveness” has a place in public life. The philosopher thinks that forgiveness can free up resources both individually and collectively when things can’t be fixed. Benoit Guillou, a sociologist who studied forgiveness in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, showed that the word “forgiveness” has a lot of different meanings. He also showed that the concept is very political. The author at the end of his work comes up with four main figures of forgiveness to help us better understand, on the one hand, how forgiveness can be used in different ways and, on the other hand, how forgiveness can help people reconnect with each other again. Most of the world’s religions have teachings about how to forgive, and many of these teachings are used in modern-day traditions and practises of forgiveness. Religions and philosophies from some religions and philosophies put more emphasis on the need to find some kind of divine forgiveness for our own mistakes, while others put more emphasis on the need for humans to practise forgiveness of each other. Some make little or no difference between the two. The word “forgiveness” can be used in many different ways and is used in many different ways by people and cultures. This is especially important in relational communication because forgiveness is a big part of communication and how you and your partner or group move forward as a person and as a couple or group. When all of the people involved in a relationship see forgiveness in the same way, they can keep it going. In order for us to understand the antecedents of forgiveness, study the physiology of forgiveness, and teach people how to forgive, we need to agree on what “forgiveness” means.

Forgiveness refers to the intentional and voluntary process or feeling by which an individual may feel victimised initially. This individual then is known to undergo a transformation in feelings and attitude on a psychological level. This change concerning a particular offence symbolises overcoming negative emotions such as vengeance and resentment. No matter how justified this vengeance or grievance may be, forgiveness as a concept is known to oppose it.

Many theorists have also postulated studies and researches for distinguishing the definition of this forgiveness. They believe that forgiveness as a concept also implies the replacement of negative emotions with positive attributes. For example, they believe that if one undergoes a transformation to result in forgiveness, they must experience an ascended ability to wish the offender well in life. In specific legal contexts, forgiveness as a term may be used for absolving a given group of people of claims against them. These claims might include accounts of debt, loan, obligation or others.

Psychological Context

In terms of its psychological definition, forgiveness can be distinguished from a simple act of condoning, excusing or pardoning, or forgetting someone. Condoning someone is viewed as an action which is harmful to the forgiver. It connotes a ‘‘yet to be forgiven’’ attitude towards the offender because the offender in this context has only been condoned for a specific reason of charity. On the other hand, excusing or pardoning someone hints at only releasing the offender from the responsibility of an action, which may or may not be a direct consequence of guilt. Additionally, forgetting someone is attempting to somehow remove their memory from one’s conscious mind. This is an attempt to remove the memory of a given offence and thus, forget that the act that needed forgiveness ever happened.

In some schools of thought, forgiveness as an activity includes an individual and voluntary effort at self-transformation. This self-transformation changes one’s relationship with another such that their own understanding of self is restored to peace. Psychologist Carl Rogers has termed this transformation as ““unconditional positive regard”” towards the offender.

The benefits of forgiveness are multifold. They have been explored in social sciences, religious thought, and medicine. As a psychological concept and attribute, forgiveness as an action is considered simply in terms of the person who forgives. This forgiveness may or may not include forgiving themselves or forgiving another person. Contextually, the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven is absolved of an expectation of restorative justice. Forgiveness is a concept that does not ask the offender to participate in the process. For instance, a person might even forgive their offender who has been out of contact or even dead for a while. In the rational and practical sense of the word, it is believed that the offender must offer at least some sort of acknowledgement, an apology, or even just ask for forgiveness for the forgiver to be able to feel like they want to do so.

Social and Political Context

Contextualising forgiveness in the social and political dimensions involves the compulsorily private and religious aspect of ““forgiveness””. This notion is not easily heard in the political field. However, Hannah Arendt, a renewed philosopher, has postulated that the ““faculty of forgiveness”” does have its own area in public relations and its management. She has understood forgiveness to be a liberating source for both individuals and communities. Everyone can use this tool to do the extraordinary when there is no option left or when the cause may seem irreparable.

Sociologist Benoit Guillou worked on the extreme polysemy (multiple meanings) that the term has while commenting on the immensely political character of the idea. During an investigation in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, he worked on the discourses and practices of the word forgiveness. Conclusively through his work, the author stipulated four primary figures of forgiveness for better comprehension. Ambiguous uses and the context under which forgiveness worked were of utmost importance for his stipulation.

Religious Context

Mostly, all religions have their particular teachings on the nature of forgiveness and how one should inculcate this nature in themselves. These teachings have been known for laying the foundation of many modern-day traditions, conventions and practices concerning the act of forgiveness.

Some religious doctrines and philosophies are believed to emphasise the human need to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own mistakes or shortcomings. While on the other hand, others have placed a comparatively greater emphasis on the human need to want to practice forgiveness of one another. Yet, there has been no distinct difference between human and divine forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a term that has been used interchangeably in different cultures. People have interpreted it in their own ways depending on the culture they stand for or where they come from. This term is specifically important for relational communication because it is an integral part of communication and in the overall development of an individual or a group. If all the parties involved have a mutual and shared understanding of the term forgiveness, then a relationship can be maintained in the best way possible. Comprehending antecedents of forgiveness, understanding the physiology of forgiveness, and making people learn to become more forgiving imply that a community has a shared and mutual meaning attached to the term.


Self-forgiveness is a situation-specific notion for when an individual has done something that they perceive to be morally, socially or politically wrong. If individuals consider themselves responsible for wrongdoing, they ask for forgiveness from themselves, known as self-forgiveness. It can also be referred to as overcoming negative emotions associated with a wrongful action. These negative emotions may consist of regret, guilt, blame, shame, remorse, self-hatred or self-contempt. Primarily major traumatic events cause such feelings of guilt or self-hatred in humans. Considering that humans can reflect on their past behaviour and determine if their actions were moral, they find it increasingly hard to forgive themselves for a wrongful act or decision in a situation like this. Self-forgiveness is required in cases where individuals have hurt themselves or others.


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