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Psychology of Forgiveness: How Understanding Psychology Helps us to Forgive

At some point in our life, we find ourselves struggling to forgive, and several reasons lead us to think that forgiveness is completely out of reach. We tend to associate forgetting with forgiving, when recurring memories have occurred, we thought that forgiveness was not yet achieved. This may be because of overwhelming emotions that we’ve felt when we are reminded of the offense. We relive the experiences so as the emotions that we encountered during the actual offense, and with that it made us think that forgiveness is not part of who we are. We also look at forgiveness as a one-time event wherein we don’t give ourselves enough time to heal, acknowledge our emotions and regain our identity after unwanted situations. Little did we know that learning how our mind works through psychology may help us to forgive.

Forgiving does not Mean Forgetting

Recurring Memories are Normal

Repeated experiences can be stored in long-term memory, and remembering an event or situation may activate certain emotions that have been felt during the experience. These emotions can be anger, rage, and bitterness, and this may affect us negatively, as the higher the intensity of anger the more likely it is hard to forgive others, this leads to prolonged hostility and higher stress levels (Macaskill et al., 2012). We may think that recurring memories are an indicator of unforgiveness, but the truth is it’s normal as memories are both biological and psychological.

The Use of CBT in Forgiveness

As we have learned that recurring memories are normal, managing our emotional responses is now possible. Although the intensity of emotions was not the same as the actual event, it is important to make a conscious effort how to respond when those recurring events have occurred. According to Dr. Kanayo a teacher of psychology at the University of Surrey, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps do a daily practice of Forgiveness. CBT is psychotherapy wherein negative thoughts about self and the world are challenged to change unwanted behavior. CBT first acknowledges the event – what is the offense? –

Next, the behavioral response to that offense – Are you mad? Do you feel sad? –

and the consequences, – Are there prolonged bitterness and negative thoughts that arise?

Forgiveness is a Journey

Doing old patterns is normal

In that manner, we know that our behavioral response amidst negative emotions and overwhelming situations is manageable. We may find ourselves stuck in undesirable situations during forgiveness but we need to remember that it is not a one-time event. According to Dr. LePera, a psychologist, forgiveness sometimes feels easy, and accessible, and other days it feels completely out of our reach because it's a journey. There may be times that we find ourselves doing the old behavioral response again, and that is okay as our patterns form both in the behavior and in our brains that’s why it’s difficult to break it.

Forgiveness is full of uncertainty but who would imagine that knowing the psychology behind forgiveness can change the way we forgive others and may lead us to self-forgiveness as we become aware that the unpredictable manifestation of forgiveness is unpretentious?



Dike-Oduah, K. (2020, May 5). Psychology of Forgiveness. Retrieved from Doctor Kanayo:

Enright, R. (2019, December 10). How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages.GreaterGood Magazine. Retrieved from

LePera, N. (March 9, 2021). How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Yourself. Harper Wave.

Linjin Tao, M. T. (2020, December 23). A Pilot Study for Forgiveness Intervention in Adolescents With High Trait Anger: Enhancing Empathy and Harmony. (W. Chen, Ed.) doi:/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.569134

Macaskill, A. (2012). Differentiating dispositional self-forgiveness from

other-forgiveness: associations with mental health and life satisfaction. J. Soc.

Clin. Psychol. 31, 28–50. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2012.31.1.28


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