Why Forgiving Does Not Require an Apology: There is an important difference between forgiving and reconciling.
by Robert Enright Ph.D.
When I discuss the theme of forgiving people who acted unfairly, I sometimes get this response:
What you are proposing is dangerous. It makes no sense to forgive. Forgiveness lets my guard down. I then am vulnerable to the abuses which I suffered before. No, I will not forgive until the other person: 1) knows that wrong was done; 2) feels an inner sorrow for doing it; 3) apologizes to me; 4) and makes amends. Then I know it is safe to forgive and enter back into the relationship.
The above statement, which is quite common, confuses what forgiveness is and what reconciliation is. Forgiveness is a moral virtue in which the offended person tries, over time, to get rid of toxic anger or resentment and to offer goodness of some kind to the offending person. Reconciliation is not a moral virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust.
All moral virtues concern the inner quality of goodness and the possible outward manifestation of it. For example, the moral virtue of justice has the inner quality of knowing what it means to give people what they deserve and the outward manifestation of being fair. If you contract with a bricklayer to pay $1,000 for a new wall to be built, you first have the inner intention to pay for the work. You then follow through outwardly when you exercise the virtue by paying the bricklayer once the work is done. If the bricklayer, for some unexplained reason, leaves the United States never to return, and gives no forwarding address, you do not then exercise the outward manifestation of justice. You do not pay the $1,000. Yet, you have exercised the moral virtue of justice because you have the inner quality of fairness and the intention to pay.
It is the same with forgiveness. You start with the inner quality of a motivation to rid yourself of resentment and the inner intention to be good, within reason, toward an offending person. If that person has no inner sorrow, never intends to apologize or to make amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiveness directly to that person. Yet, you still can have the intention to reconcile if the person substantially changes and the interactions become safe. You even can show an outward quality of forgiveness, for example, by not talking disparagingly about the offending one to other people.
In forgiveness, if a person continually verbally abuses you, you can have the inner quality of struggling to rid yourself of resentment as well as the inner quality of intending to be good to the other if that other substantially changes. Yet, if that person shows you by continued verbal abuse that there will be no apology, no making amends, then you do not exercise the outward quality of forgiving, at least not toward the person directly.
As you forgive in the above circumstance, you do not reconcile.
Suppose now that you decide to make the following rule for your life: I will not forgive if I cannot reconcile. What, then, are the implications for your own inner world, for your own psychological health? In a recent blog here ("8 Reasons to Forgive," April 16, 2018) I argued that one of the reasons to forgive is “to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.” A growing body of research shows that as people forgive by exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness by trying to be good, within reason, toward an offending person, then the forgiver can reduce not only in anger but also in anxiety and depression and improve in self-esteem and hope (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). There are more reasons to forgive than this one, but this one can make a substantial difference to the forgiver’s health.
Why would you not want to become healthier? If you reject forgiving because you conflate it with reconciliation, you may be inadvertently depriving yourself of a second chance at a healthy psychological life and even at a healthy relational life with others (not necessarily with the offending person). Deep anger from injustices can lead to a lack of trust in general, thwarting potentially uplifting relationships.
The offer of forgiveness can be **unconditional,** not at all dependent on the other's response of any kind, including an apology. Reconciliation, when at least one party is deeply and unfairly hurt, is **conditional,** dependent on how the offending party or parties understand their hurtful ways, change, and even apologize.
How we think about forgiveness matters a great deal. If we make the philosophical error of equating forgiving and reconciling, then we are allowing the effects from an offending person to live within us for a long time, perhaps even for a lifetime if the psychological wounds are deep enough.
Forgiving and reconciling are not the same. You are free to forgive, if you so choose, even if the other refuses to apologize.
Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R.P. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Original Article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-forgiving-life/201804/why-forgiving-does-not-require-apology
You long for sleep. You may even feel tired before going to bed. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, it happens again. You're wide awake. You can't stop thinking. It's the worst.
I regularly speak to groups about the necessity of sleep for prevention of burnout, management of stress, improvement of mood and a host of other benefits. Almost every time I do, someone comes up to me and says:
“I know I need more sleep. But what do I do if I can’t fall asleep? I get into bed early enough to get eight hours, but then I just lie there with my mind racing.”
I also frequently hear this from coaching clients and patients. When I do, I start asking questions. And usually find the answer.
Here are the questions, for you to ask yourself:
1) Do you take your phone to bed?
First of all, the light from the phone is stimulating to the brain and can suppress melatonin release (melatonin helps you sleep). The best solution is to not look at your phone after 9 pm (or an hour or two before bed), but lots of people aren’t ready to give up that habit. If that’s you, use a blue light blocking mode like “Night Shift” on iPhones and turn your screen brightness down as far as it can go.
2) What are you reading or doing in bed, before you go to sleep?
This is my second point about the phone. I once heard a sleep expert at Harvard say that texting at bedtime is a bad idea. The thought processes that you use are too stimulating to your brain. Obviously, checking work emails (or any email) at bedtime is a really bad idea, especially if you come across something stressful. You may not even want to read the news, in case there’s a headline that stimulates thoughts or concerns.
If you like to read to wind down, choose a book (the printed kind). Ideally, that book should not be too thought-provoking or stimulating. It shouldn’t be disturbing. It also probably shouldn’t be so incredibly captivating that you can’t put it down…
3) What do you do with your evenings?
If you have trouble winding down to sleep, take care not to wind yourself up over the course of the evening. Good rules of thumb:
4) What lighting do you use at night?
This is another key to winding down. People used to sleep an average of nine hours a night, before the advent of widespread electricity. The lights we have on at night in our homes are stimulating and can also suppress melatonin secretion.
Feel the difference between two late evening scenarios:
A) All the lights are on. The TV is blaring. You’re sitting at a table catching up on emails while simultaneously conducting a logistical discussion with your spouse. You feel stressed and don’t even want to go to bed. You’ll need at least an hour of Netflix to wind down from this (not a good idea, because of the screen involved and also if it’s a really well-written show it will be hard to turn off in time for bed).
B) All the lights are off, except a warm yellow lamp in the corner of the room. Soft music is playing. You and your spouse are quietly reading. As you read, the inevitable happens. Your eyelids start to droop. Your head bobs as you fall asleep for a split second. Even though it’s earlier than you’d planned, you get up and head over to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed.
5) Is there something specific you're worried about?
article continues after advertisementPerhaps there’s a stressful situation you can’t stop worrying about, keeping you awake. In this case, I’d recommend a variety of approaches:
6) How are you using your bed?
Leverage the strategy of “stimulus control.” If you do lots of different things in bed (watch movies, answer emails, take phone calls etc.), your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, it’s best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed and go do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy and then head back to bed.
7) How much caffeine are you drinking?
The sleep expert I mentioned earlier also said that if you struggle with insomnia, you should eliminate caffeine (and any other stimulants) completely and see if that helps. If that feels impossible, start by eliminating caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Sources of caffeine include coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate and some supplements.
Note: some people who can’t sleep have a bigger issue, such as Generalized Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesn’t respond to simple interventions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.
In 1942, an American psychologist called Abraham Luchins published a seminal experiment called the “Water Jug Problem” . In this experiment he investigated the cognitive asset of mental flexibility—the ability to be adaptable in the way you think and solve problems, as opposed to always thinking in the same, rigid way.
To do this he asked people to answer a series of 10 numerical problems. For each question the person had to propose a simple equation which allowed them to solve how the capacities of 3 different jugs could deliver a desired quantity. For example, if jug A could hold 21 units, jug 2 could hold 127 and jug 3 could hold 3 units, what equation was needed to compute the desired quantity of 100 units?
Here is a full list of the 10 problems he set them.
Source: Luchins, 1942All these problems (except number 8) could be solved using one particular formula B – 2C – A. For problems 1-5 this was the simplest solution. However for the subsequent problems (6-10) it was possible for the person to use a simpler equation (either A + C or A - C) to solve the problem. By designing the problems in this way Luchins was able to explore whether the person’s experience of solving the first five problems prevented them from realizing that the subsequent ones could be solved by this simpler solution. In other words, demonstrating whether their “familiar” routes of thinking and problem solving would inhibit their ability to use a novel, more efficient, approach to solve the problems.
Choosing the simplest solution?
Luchins gave the set of problems to two groups of people and recorded what equations they used to solve each of the 10 problems. In the first group, people answered all problems in order, while in the second group, they were only given the last 5 problems.
What he found was that in the first group, the majority of people used B – 2C – A on the later problems instead of choosing to use the simpler solution. In addition, 64% completely failed to solve problem 8 (compared to 5% in group 2), which could be solved by the relatively simple formula A – C, but not the familiar one. In contrast, almost everyone in the second group—who skipped the initial problems—arrived at the simplest answer for the later problems.
article continues after advertisementWhen good thoughts block better ones.
So arose the idea of the “Einstellung Effect”—a mentally undesirable situation in which your familiar thoughts block or inhibit your ability to generate novel solutions and ideas. They introduce a degree of rigidity—where you steadfastly stand by what you know and think, often blind to other interesting possibilities or more efficient alternatives. And like many “biases” in your thinking, it all happens without you even realizing it.
This Einstellung effect, explored more recently by researchers such as Merim Bilalić from the University of Oxford [2,3], is one example where “forgetting” can actually be beneficial—something that has also been shown in other creative contexts. For example, researchers at the University of California showed that people who were better at “forgetting” recent distracting information (in this case, ideas provided by the experimenter), were actually able to generate more novel ideas on a creativity task .
Regretful thinking and fear inhibit flexibility
There are also other examples of how your inability to “let go of the past” prevents you from being flexible. Take the example of regret, a feeling that can prevent you from choosing the optimal action to take, causing you to “shut down"—paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision as you recollect the unpleasant outcomes of your past choices [5,6].
However, you also have inbuilt mechanisms to help you “extinguish” or re-program these unpleasant memories (a process called fear extinction), allowing you to flexibly update and adjust your thoughts and behavior in line with the ever-changing environment . The neural dynamics of this memory re-programming have even been shown using neuroimaging techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG). For example, researchers from Justus-Liebig University Giessen and Harvard Medical School measured EEG activity when people underwent a “fear extinction” task . They found that when people recalled memories of feared experiences, it was associated with changes in theta activity across anterior mid cingulate cortical sites. In contrast, when they recalled the “reprogrammed” memories where this fear had been extinguished, it was associated with changes in gamma activity across ventromedial prefrontal sites.
Mental flexibility is your ability to update, inhibit and overcome well-worn neural pathways to ensure that you are capable of adapting to your diverse and ever changing technological and social environment. It is the cognitive asset that has enabled humans to be so evolutionarily successful across a diverse range of experiences. Understanding the weaknesses in our mental flexibility, such as those illustrated by the Einstellung effect, and learningmore about how we can make it more efficient, is therefore key to creating human success stories across the globe.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.