1. The scientific literature on forgiveness came to the fore only in 1989 but some researchers suggest that we’re seeing more public figures seeking forgiveness because we are becoming more aware of the importance of achieving reconciliation.
2. Cats never forgive. Social primates, like bonobos, mountain gorillas and chimps, often follow confrontations with friendly behaviour like embracing or kissing. Similar behaviour has been observed in non-primates such as goats and hyenas. However, one species that has so far failed to show outward signs of reconciliation is the domestic cat.
3. No offence is unforgivable “I have never found a particular injustice in the world that I don’t know of at least one person who has forgiven those who have perpetrated it,” says Robert Enright, a psychologist who is one of the pioneers of the study of forgiveness.
4. But betrayal is the worst. According to a study from 2010, the most common type of offence people find impossible to forgive is betrayal, including affairs, deceit, broken promises and divulged secrets.
5. There are different kinds of forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness is a sincere decision to change the way you intend to behave towards someone who has wronged you, even though you may still feel negatively towards the person. Emotional forgiveness is a change in the way you feel towards this person – resentment giving way to positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion, and even love.
6. Younger kids forgive easily. Unlike ten and 11-year-olds, seven and eight-year-olds in one study didn’t need an apology to forgive; they tended to judge offenders who had apologised and those who hadn’t as equally worthy.
7. Carrying a grudge can literally weigh you down. Researchers at Erasmus University in the Netherlands asked a group of students to write about a time when they either gave or withheld forgiveness. The human guinea pigs were then asked to jump as high as they could, five times, without bending their knees. The forgivers jumped highest, about 30 cm on average, while the grudge holders jumped 22 cm – a huge difference and a startling illustration of how forgiveness can actually unburden you.
8. Extroverts need forgiveness sooner. Outgoing types are more proactive in seeking out forgiveness than introverts are (and also, notably, quicker to forgive others). Introverts tend to be initially more concerned with forgiving themselves than making amends with a person they’ve offended.
9. For a healthier heart, be more forgiving. When people are reminded of grudges or injustices, their heart rate and blood pressure can increase. Forgiveness, on the other hand, has been linked to improved heart health. Plus, you’ll sleep better when you let bygones be just that. But keep in mind you can’t fake it: researchers believe that the health benefits associated directly with forgiving apply only to emotional, not decisional, forgiveness (see No. 5).
10. Don’t underestimate the words I’m sorry. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely has found that repeatedly asking forgiveness will eventually extract it from others – even if you don’t really mean it and even if the person you’ve wronged knows you don’t really mean it.
11. The Amish are very forgiving. A decade ago, after a shooting at an Amish schoolhouse claimed five young lives, outsiders were stunned when the community responded with immediate forgiveness. But sociologist Donald B. Kraybill found that from an early age, the Amish practice forgiveness exercises. They’d been preparing to forgive this huge injustice their whole lives.
12. A five-step process to forgiveness:
1. Admit you’ve been treated unjustly.
2. Respond with anger.
3. Work on seeing the person who harmed you as not solely defined by the offence.
4. Come to understand that the pain may not ever dissipate completely.
5. Find meaning in your suffering, perhaps by helping others.
New York (March 10, 2015), © 2015 by New York Media LLC, nymag.com.