287 Forgiveness for Well-being

Based on research done by Witvliet, Charlotte. VanOyen., DeYoung, Nathaniel. J., Hofelich, Alicia. J., & DeYoung, Paul. A. (2011) written by Bethany Wellman, M.S

When faced with trauma caused by someone else, is it possible to again find a sense of wellbeing? How we respond to trauma may be key.

Our initial human response is to blame, get angry and ruminate about the event. Psychologists examined three alternative responses: subduing negative emotions, concentrating on the trauma, and contemplating compassion for the offender. They asked 54 college students to identify an offense against them while participating in 4 simulated exercises:  focusing on the offense, rethinking their response to the offense, or managing negative feelings about the offense.  Researchers monitored physical reactions of heart rate, facial indications of emotion and muscle contractions. Afterwards, participants rated their anger, willingness to forgive, sadness, and empathy.

Results? Focusing on the offense caused faster heart rates and increased negative emotions. Managing negative emotions helped lower muscle contractions but did not assist in forgiving an offender nor increasing positive emotions. Empathetically rethinking an offense and calming emotions led to decreased negative emotions, muscle calmness, and healthy heart rate. When participants attempted to develop compassion for their offender, positive emotions and forgiveness increased.

After a trauma; forgiveness is the path to happiness.


Witvliet, C. V., DeYoung, N. J., Hofelich, A. J., & DeYoung, P. A. (2011). Compassionate reappraisal and emotion suppression as alternatives to offense-focused rumination: Implications for forgiveness and psychophysiological well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 286-299

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