Forgiveness in Intimate Relationships: A Psychoanalytic Perspective

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McCullough suggests that writing about the benefits of interpersonal transgressions can be an effective form of intervention as it allows for cognitive processing that facilitates forgiveness. To deal with a transgression, one tries to change what one can possibly change after a transgression has occurred because we cannot undo the transgression. We can perceive the transgression as a hurt or an offense and respond to it with anger or fear.

But, perhaps we can control some of the anger and fear. If we can self-soothe, we can lessen any subsequent unforgiveness. To reduce the perceived injustice gap and unforgiveness people often attempt to cope through problem-solving or regulating emotions by self-soothing, avoiding the thoughts, replacing of negative with positive emotions, and finding meaning.

We can change the magnitude of the injustice gap through two strategies. A victim can introduce more justice by changing how one perceives things as they currently are.

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Alternatively, a victim can lower expectations about the ideal outcome. Usually, one cannot fully exact justice. Although people can mouth the words that a situation is merely challenging, the physiological threat appraisals are notoriously unresponsive to willful changes. A tip from the solution-focused therapists suggests that we should find what might be working, even to a small degree and try to magnify that positive perspective.

Rumination that triggers negative emotions activates neoassociationistic networks. If one spots rumination quickly, he or she can usually short-circuit the rumination before it gets revved up. Replacing negative unforgiving emotions gradually with positive other-oriented emotions is facilitated by experiencing other self-forgetful positive emotions.

The therapist facilitates emotional replacement by helping the client give an altruistically motivated gift of forgiveness. Clients are basically directed to reflect on their past to recall times in which they offended another but were forgiven. These times can be difficult to recall. The therapist can give prompts to think of whether the client offended a parent, teacher, romantic partner, friend, or coworker. One of the most effective ways to help a client experience empathy is to use the empty-chair technique.

The client imagines sitting across from the offender, who is imagined to be sitting in the empty chair. The client describes his or her complaint as if the offender were there. The client then moves to the empty chair and responds from the point of view of the offender. The conversation proceeds with the client moving back and forth between chairs. The objective is to allow the person to express both sides of the conversation personally, and thus experience empathy. In doing so, the person might imagine an apology or at least an acknowledgment of the hurt that was inflicted.

Still relatively unknown in North America, Naikan therapy is a Japanese practice of self-reflection that involves, by Western standards, an arduous method of meditation.

Forgiveness in Intimate Relationships eBook by Shahrzad Siassi - | Rakuten Kobo

The traditional and most rigorous form of Naikan involves a degree of sensory deprivation and isolation and is practiced in Naikan centers for a duration of one week. During the sessions, a guide comes and listens to the participant from time to time allowing them to put into words what they have discovered. It is important to stress the unique environment that Nikon centers create. Many participants report vivid and religious-like experiences that seem to be a direct result of the deprivation.

There are viable substitutes for the sensory deprivation of Naikan therapy and the intensity of the contemplative practice of Buddhist meditation. For example, a simplified form of Naikan therapy could involve asking the intervention participants to journal daily for one week answering the three Nikon questions after a brief version of loving-kindness meditation. But these may not be as effective in cases where forgiveness seems out of reach Ozawa-de Silva, The activities and exercises below can be used by anyone alone but can also be used as interventions with the help of a practitioner.

A key to helping someone forgive and develop empathy for the transgressor is to help them take the perspective of the other person. We can use five prompts and write the five Ps on a sheet of paper as a cue:. Leslie Greenberg and Wanda Malcolm have demonstrated that people who can generate such fantasies and vividly imagine the offender apologizing and being deeply remorseful are ones who are most likely to forgive successfully. Those who cannot imagine such scenarios are often unable to forgive without some form of justice actually being involved, or without a large amount of work to promote experiences of empathy, sympathy, compassion, or love.

Also positively linked to forgiveness, especially when it comes to forgiveness towards others, not as much with forgiveness directed toward self or situation. Both mindfulness and forgiveness have been linked to greater psychological health in separate research undertakings, but we can combine the two to amplify benefits and find similarities.

Cultivating forgiveness promotes mindfulness and therefore better health. The Naikan therapy focuses on distinguishing between first the actual memories we have, second the interpretations we give them, and finally how we develop the sense of self as a result.


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The self is shaped by the narrative of the past we create, and our memory is deeply influenced by how we see ourselves through the judgments we make about our past. Our memory, being a subjective experience, is often static and we are convinced that ours is the only valid perspective and we often accept it as an absolute Ozawa-de Silva, A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving.

To develop a fluid sense of self would take a lot of energy if we had to do it all the time. However, if the static memories are built around a painful past, often the only way to recreate the past is too take a dynamic approach. What have you given? What troubles and difficulties have you caused? Our sense of self is defined through our relationship with others.

Cultural context becomes important here and discussion on collective memory can play a role as the social sense of self can be developed only in relation to others Ozawa-de Silva, Forgiveness can also be practiced through roleplay.


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  4. We can pick a family member to be the forgiver and ask them to describe a particular person that they blame for something hurtful. What emotions might he have been feeling? The forgiver is encouraged to see the broadest picture possible, to give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and to imagine different things that the offender might have been going through.

    It is important to remember here that practicing empathy is not the same as excusing bad behavior, but that it is simply a technique for letting go of anger. Then role-play forgiving by verbally expressing forgiveness to the offender. It helps to pay attention to emotions we are feeling as we do the role-play and even try on the facial expressions that we might have when expressing forgiveness.

    Write about a time when we were hurt in a letter that we may or may not ever send to the person who hurt us. Illustrate how we were affected by it at the time and the hurtful or negative feelings we are still experiencing. State what we wish the offender had done instead. End this forgiveness letter with an explicit statement of forgiveness, understanding, and even empathy if we can muster it.

    Another variation of the forgiveness letter would be to write a letter as if we were the offender. Unforgiveness might be reduced most effectively by using several different strategies. Sometimes, in the spirit of problem-focused coping, a person might seek redress for injustice.

    Sometimes, in the spirit of handling negative emotions, a person might emotionally forgive. Both strategies might be simultaneously or sequentially employed.

    McCullough showed that writing about the benefits of interpersonal transgressions can be an effective form of intervention as it allows for cognitive processing that facilitates forgiveness. Forgiveness worksheets provide prompts that can help with emotional and cognitive processing of hurts, rewriting the narrative of transgression, and practicing of perspective taking, among other benefits. Forgiveness has been investigated through many methods of assessment and these measurements can be grouped into three types of forgiveness scales:.

    EFI is the most comprehensive and best psychometrically supported measure of forgiveness. There is extensive research supporting its use.

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    Three other recently developed instruments for adults are described and presented in their entirety in the book The Forgiving Life Enright, :. There is also the Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children which is available in the store section of the International Forgiveness Institute website. Here are some examples of forgiveness assessments and some specific categories of questions they include.

    Disagree Completely o—o—o—o—o—o—o—o—o—o—o Completely Agree.

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    Inability in seeking forgiveness. Although dwelling on injustice and holding onto grudges can be tempting options, study after study shows that forgiving those who have harmed us can systematically reduce distress and increase satisfaction with life.

    One study found that forgiving on one day resulted in participants reporting higher levels of happiness on the next day Witvliet, ; Worthington, To find out more on why forgiving others can be the best thing you can do for yourself, be sure to check out our other articles on the topic. What are your thoughts on the forgiveness process?

    If you have any other tips or activities, please feel free to share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and best of luck! Beata Souders is currently pursuing her Ph. Your email address will not be published. Beata Souders, MSc. Allemand, M. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology , Vol. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Brown, B. This book explores the psychological nature of forgiveness for both the subjective ego and what Jung called the objective psyche, or soul.

    Utilizing analytical, archetypal, and dialectical psychological approaches, the notion of forgiveness is traced from its archetypal and philosophical View Product. Academic-Practitioner Relationships: Developments, Complexities.

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    While executives are keen to harness organizational knowledge and improve business performance, the topic of While executives are keen to harness organizational knowledge and improve business performance, the topic of how academics can produce rigorous and relevant theory in working relationships with practitioners is a much contested topic. Many aspects of this knowledge co-creation can The volume features contributions from Climate change and urbanization are two of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st Climate change and urbanization are two of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, and their effects are converging in dangerous ways.