Seminar Paper, 2003, 13 Pages
A review on a new trend of
psychological and medical research
under theological aspects
1 INTRODUCTION 3
2 UNDERSTANDINGS OF THE CONCEPT OF FORGIVENESS 3
2.1 PSYCHOLOGICAL DEFINITIONS OF FORGIVENESS 3
2.2 ARGUMENTS AGAINST FORGIVENESS 4
2.3 THE PROCESS OF FORGIVING – A MODEL 5
2.3.1 UNCOVERING PHASE 5
2.3.2 DECISION PHASE 5
2.3.3 WORK PHASE 5
2.3.4 OUTCOME / DEEPENING PHASE 6
2.4 CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDINGS 6
3 PUBLISHED RESEARCH ON FORGIVENESS AND MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH 7
3.1 FORGIVING AND ITS EFFECT ON MENTAL HEALTH 7
3.2 FORGIVING AND ITS EFFECT ON PHYSICAL HEALTH 8
4 REFLECTIONS ON THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY 9
4.1 EMPIRICAL RESEARCH VERSUS THEOLOGICAL INQUIRY 9
4.2 EMPIRICAL RESEARCH – A NEW APOLOGETIC? 10
4.3 EMPIRICAL FORGIVENESS RESEARCH – MOTIVATION TO FORGIVE? 11
4.4 VIRTUOUS BEHAVIOURS – POSITIVE HEALTH EFFECT? 11
4.5 GREATER HEALTH BENEFITS FOR BELIEVERS? 12
5 PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE MATTER OF FORGIVENESS 12
6 BIBLIOGRAPHY 13
While the concept of forgiveness is known to any Christian in the world, it is new to use this concept within psychology and psychotherapy. Physicians (Phillipps and Osborne, 1989) working with cancer patients and therapists (Kaufman, 1984; Fitzgibbons, 1986; Hope, 1987) who were looking for ways to efficiently reduce anger, recognized the utility of forgiveness.1 Since the last 20 years some American psychologists, psychotherapists and also medical doctors researched on this subject and many studies could show the effects of forgiving an offender to either mental and physical health.
The forgiveness-research is doubtlessly auch für die christliche Spiritualität und Verkündigung von Belang2, because psychology can show that forgiveness is not only a matter of theological research and that there are other possible motivations to forgive than religious ones.
My work will describe some of the most important psychological studies of forgiveness in relation to mental and physical health. Furthermore I will describe some questions of the Christian community faced by the fact that the central faith proclamation is matter of empirical psychological and medical research.
2 Understandings of the concept of forgiveness
2.1 Psychological definitions of forgiveness3
A working definition of forgiveness is the one drawn by J. North (1987): Although the forgiver does not deny himself/herself the moral right to have an resentment toward his/her offender, he overcomes this resentment by trying to feel compassion, benevolence or even love toward the offender, knowing that the latter has definitely no moral right for such a merciful response. The feelings of the forgiver toward his offender are changing in two different aspects: firstly negative feelings are decreasing (like anger, resentment, etc.) and a positive feelings (like compassion, love, etc.) are increasing.
Basing on this premises Enright et al. (1991) expanded the definition as follows: While North is concentrating on the changes of the forgiver’s feelings towards the offender, Enright et al. also included changes in the judgments (how the forgiver thinks about the offender) and the behaviour (how the forgiver acts toward the offender) in the forgiving process. Also with judgements and cognitive components (like with feelings) it is possible to note a cessation of negative condemning judgements or negative behaviour (like revenge) and the presence of positive judgements or behaviour (like helpfulness, overtures toward reconciliation). In sum Enright et al. describe forgiveness as a matter including six components:
• Absence of negative affect
• Presence of positive affect
• Absence of negative judgement
• Presence of positive judgement
• Absence of negative behaviour
• Presence of positive behaviour
2.2 Arguments against Forgiveness4
In literature you can also find arguments against interpersonal forgiveness: one of this arguments is that forgiving leaves the forgiver open to further abuse. Looking at the definitions above, it’s easy to see, that this is an invalid argument. It is a confusion of reconciliation and forgiveness. Forgiveness is one persons stance toward another, whereas reconciliation occurs when two people come together in behavioural way and both parties do their part to respect the other. Though the forgiver can see, that the other shows no sign to offer respect and there’s no chance to reconcile, the forgiver can reduce the negative and increase the positive responses toward the other. It’s important to say, that forgivers are not blind to the offender’s faults, but the forgiver protects himself against hatred and resentment that can increase anxiety or depression widthin oneself, and so forgiveness is in fact a way to protect oneself.
1 Subkoviak, Michael J. et al: Measuring forgiveness in late adolescence and middle adulthood, in: Journal of Adolescence, 1995, 18, 641
2 Grom, B.: Forgiveness: die Bereitschaft zu vergeben. Ein aufstrebendes Thema psychologischer Beratung und Forschung, in: Stimmen der Zeit, 220 (2002), 640-643
3 Subkoviak, Michael J. et al: Measuring forgiveness in late adolescence and middle adulthood, in: Journal of Adolescence, 1995, 18, 642 4 Subkoviak, Michael J.: Measuring forgiveness in late adolescence and middle adulthood, in: Journal of Adolescence, 1995, 18, 642-643
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