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Forgiveness Therapy

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There is much controversy about forgiveness and revenge therapy. Forgiveness therapy is “understanding confronting, and reducing or even eliminating unhealthy anger” (Enright & Fitsgibbons, 2015, p. 17). Some believe that forgiveness therapy allows the victim to move forward, change their emotional state and help to improve relationships. Those who support forgiveness therapy believe there must be a separation from the act and the doer (Shiloh, 2018). Many philosophers believe that “resentment is toxic and only the acceptance of the inflicted wound will enable its sufferer to get on with his or her life” (Shiloh, 2018, p. 24). “It is often argued that forgiveness can reduce the victim’s anxiety and distress and contribute to the resolution of trauma” (Shiloh, 2018, p. 25). Some therapists are concerned that forgiveness therapy could possible “send the message that their clients are not supposed to or are not allowed to have certain emotional reactions such as anger or sadness. They might fear that clients will misperceive their intentions and feel judged for feeling angry, upset, sad, or disillusioned by the hurtful experience. Some clients might respond to this with guilt and submission that encourages repressing or denying their other reactions to the injury (such as sadness or rage). These clients might be more likely to focus on “moving on” without first addressing the emotional, relational, and even moral components of the perpetrators' actions. Alternatively, clients might respond to the perceived judgment with disgust or anger toward the therapist and feel misunderstood or invalidated for their specific reactions to being hurt. These could all further complicate the course of treatment by disrupting the therapeutic alliance and creating mistrust of the therapist or therapy process, which in turn may lead to premature termination” (Wade, Johnson, & Meyer, 2008, p. 90).

Kiersky writes “Revenge wards off the pain, shame, and loss that violent acts create, while forgiveness allows us to let go. I would add to this that feelings of revenge not only ward off pain but also block recognition of our own contribution to the violence. They confirm that someone else is guilty and must be punished as evidence of this fact” (Kiersky, 2005, p. 773). “Behavioral scientists have observed that instead of quenching hostility, revenge can prolong the unpleasantness of the original offense and that merely bringing harm upon an offender is not enough to satisfy a person’s vengeful spirit. They have also found that instead of delivering justice, revenge often creates only a cycle of retaliation, in part because one person’s moral equilibrium rarely aligns with another’s” (Jaffe, 2011, para. 3).



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