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Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

Conflict in the Workplace

Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

Promoting Healthy Behavior Change

10 Common Errors in CBT

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Rejection Sensitivity, Irrational Jealousy and Impact on Relationships

For Women Only: How to Have the Relationship of Your Dreams

What to Do When Your Partner's Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Relationship

Making Attributions for a Healthier Attitude

Happiness is An Attitude

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

The Effectiveness of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment for Anxiety Disorders

Co-Dependency: An Issue of Control

The Pillars of the Self-Concept: Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?


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Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

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Quick Stress Relief

Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Lotus Flower Relaxation

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles

Kindle Books by Dr. Monica Frank


Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

“Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

When Your Loved One Refuses Help

The Porcupine Effect: Pushing Others Away When You Want to Connect

What if You Considered Other Peoples' Views?

5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness

What to Expect from Mindfulness-based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (MCBT) When You Have Depression and Anxiety

Does Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Lack Compassion? It Depends Upon the Therapist

When Needs Come Into Conflict

What to Do When Anger Hurts Those You Love

A Brief Primer On the Biology of Stress and How CBT Can Help

50 Tools for Panic and Anxiety

Coping With Change: Psychological Flexibility

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Ending a Bad Relationship

I'm Depressed. I'm Overwhelmed. Where Do I Start?


Building Blocks Emotion Training

Hot Springs Relaxation

5 Methods to Managing Anger

Panic Assistance While Driving

Autogenic Relaxation Training

Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

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Riding a Horse Across the Plains

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Change Yourself--Don't Wait for the World to Change

The Great Desert Mindfulness

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Thinking Your Way to a Healthy Weight

Lies You Were Told

Probability and OCD

Choosing Happiness

Magic Bubbles for Children

Lotus Flower Relaxation

Cloud Castles for Children

Hot Air Balloon Motivation

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February 17, 2017       

Perspective, Empathy, and Forgiveness

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget. Thomas Szasz
Forgiveness is the most precious but arduous gift a person can give to another. We struggle with forgiveness because we are in pain, we are angry that someone caused that pain, we want them to hurt as much as we do but we believe they don't feel regret, guilt or shame.

Yet, in many situations the struggle with forgiveness is due to an overestimation of the intent of the offender and an underestimation of their desire to be forgiven (Adams and Inesi, 2016). When a person is hurt by another, the tendency is to believe that the other person did it deliberately and doesn't care about the pain they caused.

However, in many situations that assumption is not true. Frequently, the transgressor didn't intend to cause pain and desires to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a requirement of healthy relationships because none of us are perfect and each of us is likely to be in the role of an offender and of a victim at different points in a relationship.

What needs to be considered when choosing to forgive?

1) Seriousness of the offense. Realistically, how consequential was the behavior? In other words, what impact did it actually have in your life? Sometimes people focus on insignificant behaviors because of unrealistic expectations. To evaluate a behavior, it is necessary to look at how the behavior affected your life beyond hurt feelings.

2) Nature of the relationship. How important is the relationship? Some relationships may not be worth the effort to repair. Whereas others can even survive serious offenses when the transgressor is remorseful and takes action to prevent causing further pain.

3) Benefit to the victim. What is the benefit of forgiving to you? Even in those situations when the relationship is not worth repairing it can be worthwhile to come to some level of acceptance so that the anger, pain, and bitterness doesn't consume you.

4) Acceptance of responsibility. Has the offender taken responsibility for the behavior? Forgiveness is a two-way street. To facilitate forgiveness the offender should let the wounded party know how much s/he is remorseful and desires forgiveness. By taking responsibility for his/her actions the offender can help repair the relationship.

5) Repetition of behavior. Does the offense occur again and again even when the offender has shown remorse and asked for forgiveness? Repeated offenses may indicate that the offender hasn't truly taken responsibility for the behavior because an important aspect of responsibility is to change the behavior.

Taking the Perspective of the Offender

After taking these questions into consideration and you decide to forgive the transgressor, how can you proceed? Researchers Gabrielle Adams and Ena Inesi showed that when a victim takes the perspective of the offender they can more readily develop a forgiving attitude. To do so, they asked the research participants to empathize with the offender:
“..try to empathize with John. Imagine how John feels as this occurs. Picture to yourself just how he feels in this situation. You are to concentrate on the way he feels. Think about his reaction to you. In your mind’s eye, you are to visualize how it feels to be John in this situation.”
Obviously, such an exercise needs to only be undertaken if you have assessed the situation and determined that it is in your best interests to empathize. Sometimes, empathizing too much can cause us to naively assess the situation and forgive too readily.

And finally, we need to use evidence to evaluate relationships. As Thomas Szasz said, “the wise forgive but do not forget.” If we forgive and forget we may be victimized repeatedly, either by the same person or the same type of situation. Remembering helps us to assess the genuineness of the transgressor's desire to repair the relationship as well as helps us to avoid similar situations in the future.

Adams, G.S. and Inesi, M.E. (2016). Impediments to Forgiveness: Victim and Transgressor Attributions of Intent and Guilt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111, 866–881. DOI:10.1037/pspi0000070


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