Forgivingness occupies a prominent place in religions as well as in various philosophical systems of ethics and can be defined as the free, personal distancing from feelings of rage and resentment toward a person or persons having committed an injustice. The main psychological function of forgiveness consists in allowing for the replacement of negative emotions by positive ones, such as generosity, goodness, compassion, empathy, or even love toward the offender. It must be emphasized that forgiveness is independent from reconciliation, and it is not simply a form of tolerance, justification, oblivion, underestimation, denial or amnesty. Intrapsychic processes are sufficient and necessary for the genesis of forgiveness, although it is likely that these are also influenced by complex interpersonal events. Current research identifies various dimensions of forgiveness, which must be distinguished from each other, as they differ both on the level of causes, as well as on that of effects. The observation that forgiveness has a positive effect on mental health is not new, it is, however, only recently that comprehensive theories have been constructed and scientific research has been developed regarding the relationship between forgiveness and psychopathology. Over the recent years, there has been an increasing number of studies affirming the beneficial effects of forgiveness on a broad spectrum of aspects of mental health and well-being, despite the lack of complete clarification of underlying mechanisms. The positive connection between forgiveness and mental health could be mediated through direct or indirect mechanisms interacting not only on a biological level, but also in the psychological and social realm of human existence. One direct way could be the avoidance of ruminative thoughts reinforcing and maintaining negative emotions such as resentment, hatred, anger, anxiety and fear. Moreover, forgiveness cultivates empathy and promotes altruistic forms of behavior, facilitating the preservation of relationships and protecting from prolonged distress. An indirect mechanism could involve various forms of health behavior, interpersonal functionality and social supportive networks, factors universally accepted as contributing to mental health. Owing to the positive influence of forgiveness on health issues, various modes of intervention have been proposed and implemented using forgiveness either independently or from within the conceptual framework of specific psychotherapeutic methods. The aim of these interventions is to express negative emotions, to liberate the subject from the vicious circle of rumination, and to overcome resentment in a positive way. Thus, there is an obvious need to further promote forgivingness as a subject of psychological and psychiatric research, and to foreground findings and possible clinical psychotherapeutic applications.
Key words: Forgivingness, forgiveness, mental health, psychotherapy.
K.T. Kioulos, Z.H. Alexandri, A.T. Kioulou, I.D. Bergiannaki (page 349)