The Table Video

Steve L. Porter

Why You Should Forgive and How to Do It

CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Theology, Spiritual Formation, and Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
January 31, 2014

Everett Worthington, Jr. (Psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University) offers practical advice on how to forgive those who have wronged us, backed by years of psychological research.

Transcript:

Hi, thanks for clicking on this video from the Table Conference sponsored by Biola University Center for Christian Thought. Now, this video’s going to be a talk by Everett Worthington from Virginia Commonwealth University and it’s on forgiveness. Ev is one of the world’s leading researchers on forgiveness and in this video he’ll be giving some practical advice on how to come to forgiveness of those who have wronged us. Hope you enjoy it.

Glad to be with you. So, this is not a TED talk, right? This is Steve Smackdown. [audience laughing] It’s kinda like a TED talk, only… So what I wanna talk with you about tonight is forgiveness, and about what psychological science teaches about forgiveness. And let me just start with just a quick story.

In 1996 I had the privilege of going to South Africa and I was in Cape Town and I met with some people who had just endured a bombing. It was a church service that was in the midst of going out on a Sunday morning and some terrorists threw explosives in and there were over 100 people that were killed or maimed in that attack. When I met with the people afterwards, they had the same story and their story was, we hold no unforgiveness against these people who did this. Because we’ve given this to God.

Now, there was a little subtext there. There were two different attitudes about that. One group of those said, “We’ve given it to God. He is gonna zap ’em.” [audience laughing] And the other half said, “We’ve given ’em to God, not our problem.” So, here we have two different responses to enormous injustice. So, let me set out a couple of objectives here before I start into this. One of these is I want to get across today just two things. One, what is forgiveness? And I have a definition. You may disagree with that, it’s okay.

And second, what has science taught us about forgiveness? I’m a psychology professor, and that means I need to give you a quiz. [audience laughing] Sorry about that. But here’s the way that this quiz is gonna work. I’m gonna publicly out you on your knowledge of forgiveness here. And so, I’m gonna give you a question. And it’s got four alternatives. If you choose alternative one, I’m gonna ask you to raise your hand with a one.

If you choose alternative two, you raise your hand with a two. Three, four, got that? Look around. Okay? Look around, I want you looking around. Okay, so here is question number one. Getting a good apology helps people forgive. Would you agree with that? Somebody apologizes, yeah. Why is that? One, it feels good when we see the offender grovel. Two, if the offender’s not repentant, we don’t have to forgive him or her. Three, an apology helps repair the damage to a relationship. Four, an apology restores a sense of moral justice which makes it easier to forgive.

All right, are you ready? Moment of truth, one, two, three, or four. Which one is it? Up. Okay, look around. Do you see every, we got a whole bunch of threes. We got a few fours. Nobody’s got a one, you know. [audience laughing] All right. Here’s the second question. Does forgiveness mean that you need to at least try to restore the relationship damaged by some offense or betrayal?

Alternative one, yes, you do need to try to restore the relationship, yes, without restoration of the relationship, there can be no true forgiveness. Two, yes, you need to restore it, except in a few cases in which restoring the relationship is not possible, like forgiving a dead person or a person who’s cut off a relationship with you. Three, no, you don’t need to forget, to restore the relationship, forgiveness is in the individual, it’s separate from relationship restoration, which depends on the other person too.

Four, no, forgiveness is something God initiates in us. Relationship restoration is something within the realm of human effort. One, two, three or four. Ready? Let’s vote. Whoa, look around. It’s all over the place. One, two, there’s, I see everything. Okay, good. Last question.

How can a person set his or her mind to forgive someone, believe that he or she was successful in forgiving that person, and still feel upset with the person later? Five alternatives. One, forgiveness was only partial, not complete forgiveness. That’s how they can feel upset later. Two, there are two kinds of forgiveness.

A decision to forgive and a change in one’s emotion. Three, the person was mistaken, he or she wasn’t successful forgiving if he or she were successful, the unforgiveness would not have returned. Four, forgiveness really doesn’t depend on setting one’s mind to forgiving, but it’s a matter of the work of the holy spirit. Five, forgiveness is about setting one’s mind to forgive and the emotions are irrelevant to whether a person is forgiven. Wow, tough choices, right? All right, one, two, three, four, five. Ready, all right, let’s see it. All right, look around. Look at somebody near you that has a different answer and talk to them about why they’re wrong. [audience laughing] [audience chattering]

Okay, I know you haven’t convinced the other person yet, but because I only have 17 minutes, I want to kind of move through. And I’ll tell you what I think about these. I won’t tell you directly, but over the course of talking about forgiveness the way I understand it, you’ll see how I might answer these questions. So I wanna make about six points tonight, and it’s two sermons in one, right? [audience laughing] And so the first point I wanna make is to say that hurts are accompanied by a sense of injustice. Would you agree with that?

Audience: Yes.

Okay, so what happens is, the bigger the hurt, the more the injustice. Right? And the more the injustice, the harder an offense it to forgive. Does that make sense? Little hurt, easy to forgive. Big hurt, hard to forgive. We keep track in our mind, we keep track. And so, if I get hurt, somebody offends me, they tell a bad story to a lot of people about me, and I go and I say to them, you know, “It hurt my feelings when you said this.” And the person goes, “Ay, life is full of little disappointments, isn’t it?” [audience laughing]

What happens to my injustice gap here? What happens? Gets bigger. But what if I say to the person, “It hurt my feelings when you said that.” And they go, “Oh, I feel terrible, this is horrible.” And they throw up, you know. [audience laughing] And you know, they fall down, they’re groveling, “Can you ever forgive me for this?” I’m thinking, you know, yeah, this is helping. I like this. [audience laughing] I see that justice is being poured back into this situation. The injustice gap is narrowing.

It makes it easier to forgive. Justice is working with forgiveness. So this injustice gap, huge, hard to jump sometimes. You know, there are a lot of ways that we can deal with injustice, though. For example, “Hello. “My name is Inigo Montoya. [audience laughing] “You killed my father, prepare to die.” [audience laughing] So, this is one way to deal with injustice. Wouldn’t that take care of his injustice gap? Yeah. Now, there are a lot of biblical ways to deal with injustice. For example, like the story that I started with.

We’ve turned it over to God. God takes care of the injustice, how? Divine justice. Or how? I relinquish it to God. Are those biblical, is that a biblical solution? To turn things over to God? Yes, there are other biblical solutions, such as forbearance. Paul says forgiving and forbearing. I can forbear, I can not show my emotional upset for the good of the group, for group harmony. It’s a very popular way of dealing with this in Eastern culture. I could accept, stuff happens, I’m moving on. Life is too short for this.

Many ways to deal with injustice, not just forgiving. But, if we start ruminating about these injustices and we think, and think, and think, we can develop a sense of unforgiveness and when we do that, then it becomes a lot more necessary that we deal with this by forgiving. So, forgiving is a good way of getting rid of unforgiveness. We can get rid of injustice by lots of ways, forgiveness is the method of choice for getting rid of unforgiveness.

There are a lot of reasons to forgive. Why should we forgive? Let me just list a few. We should forgive because we’ve been forgiven by God, we can be grateful for that, so I wanna pass that on. We can forgive because Jesus said to forgive, and I want to do what Jesus said, because I love Jesus. We can forgive because forgiveness is something good. It’s a human virtue, it’s a good thing to do.

And we are designed to do those good things. We can forgive because we get better health if we forgive. I’ve done a number of review papers reviewing literature looking at health effects of forgiving, I guarantee you, less risk of cardiovascular events, better immune functioning, better, lower levels of cortisol. Lots of good stuff. We can forgive because we’ll have better mental health if we forgive, less depression, less rumination. Rumination is like the universal bad boy of mental health.

Rumination is just playing something over and over and over in the late, late show in the mind. See, what happens is that’s related to all kinds of psychological disorders. Depression, anger disorders, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, psychosomatic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders. You get a chance to ruminate, don’t do it. [audience laughing] Wish it were that easy. We should forgive because it leads to better relationships if we forgive. We can forgive, we should forgive because it can improve our spiritual life to forgive. It can be an impediment to our spiritual life if we’re holding a grudge actively.

Well, I’ve played fast and loose with the definition so far, I haven’t talked about what forgiveness is. So what is forgiveness? Well, first of all, what is forgiveness not? So this was the first thing that psychologists and other people who study forgiveness really came to an agreement about. We pretty much knew what it wasn’t before we knew what it was. So, what is forgiveness and not forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forbearing. It’s not just not acting negatively.

Forgiveness is not condoning what was done. It’s not saying, yeah, you were right in doing what you did, I deserve that. It’s not reconciling with a person. Reconciliation is restoration of trust in a relationship where trust has been damaged. That requires two people. God requires that we forgive, he would not make it a requirement if it required two people. Forgiveness is not about relationship. It occurs in the context of a relationship, it’s something that happens inside my skin. Forgiveness is not forgetting.

If I forget, I don’t need to forgive. I forgot. [audience laughing] Forgiveness is not justifying what was done. Oh, yeah, you were right in doing that. It’s not excusing what was done. Oh, yeah, I know why you hurt me like you did, you were toilet trained too early. [audience laughing] So we know what forgiveness is not. It’s not a lot of things. What is it? Well, it’s two things.

There’s not just one type of forgiveness, there’s two types of forgiveness. One of those is, it is a decision. It is a decision about how we intend to act towards this person. I’m not gonna get revenge on this person, I’m not gonna pay him back. I am going to treat this person as a person of value. But, we can make a decision to forgive and we can hold with that decision the rest of our life. But every time we think of that person we get upset.

We get angry, we get right back into it. That suggests that there is an emotional unforgiveness even if I make a decision to forgive. And that emotional unforgiveness leads us to say that there must be a second type of forgiveness. And that is, whoops, emotional forgiveness. It’s an undercover type of thing. [audience laughing] So emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative, unforgiving emotions with positive, other oriented emotions. A second type. Different, but related. So just as a kind of a quick review, you can kinda see, there’s an injustice gap, there are lots of ways of dealing with that injustice gap. We know what forgiveness is not. We know that there are a lot of reasons why we should forgive. So, emotional forgiveness is different from decisional forgiveness.

And it is different from reconciliation. Reconciliation is restoring trust in a relationship where trust has been damaged. Requires two people to be trustworthy. If the other person is not trustworthy, we are not going to reconcile. It would be dangerous to do that. The bible instructs us to forgive others but it doesn’t really tell us how to do that. So, this is where psychology comes in and psychologists can tell you a lot about how to forgive.

That’s what I want to talk about in my 30 minutes that I have for people. [audience laughing] I want to talk about a method that has been tried all over the world. It has 22 randomized clinical trials done on it, from labs all over the world. It will help people forgive. It is called the REACH Forgiveness Method. REACH stands for five steps to reach forgiveness. R-E-A-C-H, I’ll name those.

Recall the hurt, empathize with the person who hurt you, give an altruistic gift of forgiveness, commit to the forgiveness you experience, and hold on to that forgiveness when you doubt. I’m gonna unpack that in the five steps the next 30 minutes if you’re with me. So, in closing, you know, just think back to the associations you have with those pictures and let me close with the points that I made.

One, when wronged, we calculate an injustice gap. Two, there are many ways to handle an injustice, biblical and not. Three, forgiveness is best for handling unforgiveness. Four, there are two types of forgiveness, a decision and an emotional forgiveness. Five, both are different from reconciliation. Six, the bible exhorts us to forgive others but it doesn’t tell us much about how. And seven, we can use the five steps to reach forgiveness for faster and more thorough forgiveness. Zero point zero.

Thanks for watching everyone. If you want to watch other videos from the same session, check ’em out right here. And if you really want to follow all of the videos that are coming out of the Center for Christian Thought, make sure you subscribe to our channel.

Transcript

Hi, thanks for clicking on this video from the Table Conference sponsored by Biola University Center for Christian Thought. Now, this video’s going to be a talk by Everett Worthington from Virginia Commonwealth University and it’s on forgiveness. Ev is one of the world’s leading researchers on forgiveness and in this video he’ll be giving some practical advice on how to come to forgiveness of those who have wronged us. Hope you enjoy it.

Glad to be with you. So, this is not a TED talk, right? This is Steve Smackdown. [audience laughing] It’s kinda like a TED talk, only… So what I wanna talk with you about tonight is forgiveness, and about what psychological science teaches about forgiveness. And let me just start with just a quick story. In 1996 I had the privilege of going to South Africa and I was in Cape Town and I met with some people who had just endured a bombing. It was a church service that was in the midst of going out on a Sunday morning and some terrorists threw explosives in and there were over 100 people that were killed or maimed in that attack. When I met with the people afterwards, they had the same story and their story was, we hold no unforgiveness against these people who did this. Because we’ve given this to God. Now, there was a little subtext there. There were two different attitudes about that. One group of those said, “We’ve given it to God. He is gonna zap ’em.” [audience laughing] And the other half said, “We’ve given ’em to God, not our problem.”

So, here we have two different responses to enormous injustice. So, let me set out a couple of objectives here before I start into this. One of these is I want to get across today just two things. One, what is forgiveness? And I have a definition. You may disagree with that, it’s okay. And second, what has science taught us about forgiveness? I’m a psychology professor, and that means I need to give you a quiz. [audience laughing] Sorry about that. But here’s the way that this quiz is gonna work. I’m gonna publicly out you on your knowledge of forgiveness here. And so, I’m gonna give you a question. And it’s got four alternatives. If you choose alternative one, I’m gonna ask you to raise your hand with a one. If you choose alternative two, you raise your hand with a two. Three, four, got that? Look around. Okay? Look around, I want you looking around. Okay, so here is question number one. Getting a good apology helps people forgive. Would you agree with that? Somebody apologizes, yeah. Why is that? One, it feels good when we see the offender grovel. Two, if the offender’s not repentant, we don’t have to forgive him or her. Three, an apology helps repair the damage to a relationship. Four, an apology restores a sense of moral justice which makes it easier to forgive.

All right, are you ready? Moment of truth, one, two, three, or four. Which one is it? Up. Okay, look around. Do you see every, we got a whole bunch of threes. We got a few fours. Nobody’s got a one, you know. [audience laughing] All right. Here’s the second question. Does forgiveness mean that you need to at least try to restore the relationship damaged by some offense or betrayal? Alternative one, yes, you do need to try to restore the relationship, yes, without restoration of the relationship, there can be no true forgiveness. Two, yes, you need to restore it, except in a few cases in which restoring the relationship is not possible, like forgiving a dead person or a person who’s cut off a relationship with you. Three, no, you don’t need to forget, to restore the relationship, forgiveness is in the individual, it’s separate from relationship restoration, which depends on the other person too. Four, no, forgiveness is something God initiates in us. Relationship restoration is something within the realm of human effort. One, two, three or four. Ready? Let’s vote. Whoa, look around. It’s all over the place. One, two, there’s, I see everything. Okay, good.

Last question. How can a person set his or her mind to forgive someone, believe that he or she was successful in forgiving that person, and still feel upset with the person later? Five alternatives. One, forgiveness was only partial, not complete forgiveness. That’s how they can feel upset later. Two, there are two kinds of forgiveness. A decision to forgive and a change in one’s emotion. Three, the person was mistaken, he or she wasn’t successful forgiving if he or she were successful, the unforgiveness would not have returned. Four, forgiveness really doesn’t depend on setting one’s mind to forgiving, but it’s a matter of the work of the holy spirit. Five, forgiveness is about setting one’s mind to forgive and the emotions are irrelevant to whether a person is forgiven. Wow, tough choices, right? All right, one, two, three, four, five. Ready, all right, let’s see it. All right, look around. Look at somebody near you that has a different answer and talk to them about why they’re wrong. [audience laughing] [audience chattering] Okay, I know you haven’t convinced the other person yet, but because I only have 17 minutes, I want to kind of move through. And I’ll tell you what I think about these. I won’t tell you directly, but over the course of talking about forgiveness the way I understand it, you’ll see how I might answer these questions. So I wanna make about six points tonight, and it’s two sermons in one, right? [audience laughing] And so the first point I wanna make is to say that hurts are accompanied by a sense of injustice. Would you agree with that?

Audience: Yes.

Okay, so what happens is, the bigger the hurt, the more the injustice. Right? And the more the injustice, the harder an offense it to forgive. Does that make sense? Little hurt, easy to forgive. Big hurt, hard to forgive. We keep track in our mind, we keep track. And so, if I get hurt, somebody offends me, they tell a bad story to a lot of people about me, and I go and I say to them, you know, “It hurt my feelings when you said this.” And the person goes, “Ay, life is full of little disappointments, isn’t it?” [audience laughing] What happens to my injustice gap here? What happens? Gets bigger. But what if I say to the person, “It hurt my feelings when you said that.” And they go, “Oh, I feel terrible, this is horrible.” And they throw up, you know. [audience laughing] And you know, they fall down, they’re groveling, “Can you ever forgive me for this?” I’m thinking, you know, yeah, this is helping. I like this. [audience laughing] I see that justice is being poured back into this situation. The injustice gap is narrowing. It makes it easier to forgive. Justice is working with forgiveness. So this injustice gap, huge, hard to jump sometimes. You know, there are a lot of ways that we can deal with injustice, though. For example, “Hello. “My name is Inigo Montoya. [audience laughing] “You killed my father, prepare to die.” [audience laughing] So, this is one way to deal with injustice. Wouldn’t that take care of his injustice gap? Yeah.

Now, there are a lot of biblical ways to deal with injustice. For example, like the story that I started with. We’ve turned it over to God. God takes care of the injustice, how? Divine justice. Or how? I relinquish it to God. Are those biblical, is that a biblical solution? To turn things over to God? Yes, there are other biblical solutions, such as forbearance. Paul says forgiving and forbearing. I can forbear, I can not show my emotional upset for the good of the group, for group harmony. It’s a very popular way of dealing with this in Eastern culture. I could accept, stuff happens, I’m moving on. Life is too short for this. Many ways to deal with injustice, not just forgiving. But, if we start ruminating about these injustices and we think, and think, and think, we can develop a sense of unforgiveness and when we do that, then it becomes a lot more necessary that we deal with this by forgiving. So, forgiving is a good way of getting rid of unforgiveness. We can get rid of injustice by lots of ways, forgiveness is the method of choice for getting rid of unforgiveness. There are a lot of reasons to forgive.

Why should we forgive? Let me just list a few. We should forgive because we’ve been forgiven by God, we can be grateful for that, so I wanna pass that on. We can forgive because Jesus said to forgive, and I want to do what Jesus said, because I love Jesus. We can forgive because forgiveness is something good. It’s a human virtue, it’s a good thing to do. And we are designed to do those good things. We can forgive because we get better health if we forgive. I’ve done a number of review papers reviewing literature looking at health effects of forgiving, I guarantee you, less risk of cardiovascular events, better immune functioning, better, lower levels of cortisol. Lots of good stuff. We can forgive because we’ll have better mental health if we forgive, less depression, less rumination. Rumination is like the universal bad boy of mental health. Rumination is just playing something over and over and over in the late, late show in the mind. See, what happens is that’s related to all kinds of psychological disorders. Depression, anger disorders, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, psychosomatic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders. You get a chance to ruminate, don’t do it. [audience laughing] Wish it were that easy. We should forgive because it leads to better relationships if we forgive.

We can forgive, we should forgive because it can improve our spiritual life to forgive. It can be an impediment to our spiritual life if we’re holding a grudge actively. Well, I’ve played fast and loose with the definition so far, I haven’t talked about what forgiveness is. So what is forgiveness? Well, first of all, what is forgiveness not? So this was the first thing that psychologists and other people who study forgiveness really came to an agreement about. We pretty much knew what it wasn’t before we knew what it was. So, what is forgiveness and not forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forbearing. It’s not just not acting negatively. Forgiveness is not condoning what was done. It’s not saying, yeah, you were right in doing what you did, I deserve that. It’s not reconciling with a person. Reconciliation is restoration of trust in a relationship where trust has been damaged. That requires two people. God requires that we forgive, he would not make it a requirement if it required two people. Forgiveness is not about relationship. It occurs in the context of a relationship, it’s something that happens inside my skin. Forgiveness is not forgetting. If I forget, I don’t need to forgive. I forgot. [audience laughing] Forgiveness is not justifying what was done. Oh, yeah, you were right in doing that. It’s not excusing what was done. Oh, yeah, I know why you hurt me like you did, you were toilet trained too early. [audience laughing] So we know what forgiveness is not. It’s not a lot of things. What is it? Well, it’s two things. There’s not just one type of forgiveness, there’s two types of forgiveness. One of those is, it is a decision. It is a decision about how we intend to act towards this person. I’m not gonna get revenge on this person, I’m not gonna pay him back. I am going to treat this person as a person of value.

But, we can make a decision to forgive and we can hold with that decision the rest of our life. But every time we think of that person we get upset. We get angry, we get right back into it. That suggests that there is an emotional unforgiveness even if I make a decision to forgive. And that emotional unforgiveness leads us to say that there must be a second type of forgiveness. And that is, whoops, emotional forgiveness. It’s an undercover type of thing. [audience laughing] So emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative, unforgiving emotions with positive, other oriented emotions. A second type. Different, but related. So just as a kind of a quick review, you can kinda see, there’s an injustice gap, there are lots of ways of dealing with that injustice gap. We know what forgiveness is not. We know that there are a lot of reasons why we should forgive. So, emotional forgiveness is different from decisional forgiveness. And it is different from reconciliation. Reconciliation is restoring trust in a relationship where trust has been damaged. Requires two people to be trustworthy. If the other person is not trustworthy, we are not going to reconcile. It would be dangerous to do that. The bible instructs us to forgive others but it doesn’t really tell us how to do that.

So, this is where psychology comes in and psychologists can tell you a lot about how to forgive. That’s what I want to talk about in my 30 minutes that I have for people. [audience laughing] I want to talk about a method that has been tried all over the world. It has 22 randomized clinical trials done on it, from labs all over the world. It will help people forgive. It is called the REACH Forgiveness Method. REACH stands for five steps to reach forgiveness. R-E-A-C-H, I’ll name those. Recall the hurt, empathize with the person who hurt you, give an altruistic gift of forgiveness, commit to the forgiveness you experience, and hold on to that forgiveness when you doubt. I’m gonna unpack that in the five steps the next 30 minutes if you’re with me. So, in closing, you know, just think back to the associations you have with those pictures and let me close with the points that I made. One, when wronged, we calculate an injustice gap. Two, there are many ways to handle an injustice, biblical and not. Three, forgiveness is best for handling unforgiveness. Four, there are two types of forgiveness, a decision and an emotional forgiveness. Five, both are different from reconciliation. Six, the bible exhorts us to forgive others but it doesn’t tell us much about how. And seven, we can use the five steps to reach forgiveness for faster and more thorough forgiveness. Zero point zero.

Thanks for watching everyone. If you want to watch other videos from the same session, check ’em out right here. And if you really want to follow all of the videos that are coming out of the Center for Christian Thought, make sure you subscribe to our channel.

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