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The Mystery of Forgiveness: Reflections and Stories about Forgiving in the Aftermath of Trauma

Henderson, Ruth Helen
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) Ph.D. dissertation, Interdisciplinary Studies, The Union Institute & University Graduate College.

This study explores the fundamental issues of forgiving in the wake of profound victimization. While psychological traumatization is a debilitating experience, the injury itself offers opportunities that provide entry ways to new life. Forgiveness is envisioned as a spiritual process that offers broader perspective and deeper engagement with the world.
The study takes the form of a reflective essay that incorporates the elements of traditional scholarship. It consists of three parts: Part I concerns forgiveness definitions and issues. This includes a discussion of who forgiveness is for and possible essential elements in forgiving. Empathy and humility are explored in this context. Forgiveness is viewed as being primarily for the forgiver and is a process that requires both strength and courage. The final part of this section outlines the therapeutic course traumatized people may first go through to become strong enough to begin forgiving.
Part II focuses on forgiveness processes—how people forgive. Here, the forgiveness models of research psychologists are critiqued. This is followed by the author’s perspective on how a person might forgive. Drawing upon the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, the forgiveness process is presented as a fictional account of a forgiver-hero’s death and resurrection journey. The healing power of personal narrative is recognized—how the act of telling one’s story offers power and freedom.
Part III is devoted to stories of people who have dealt with the issue of forgiveness. Some of the voices included are of people who have chosen not to forgive, thus suggesting the limitations of forgiving. These are followed by others whose profound experiences of forgiveness have brought them peace. Here, a man who forgave the murderer of his daughter explains how active compassion for the offender transformed his life. The Epilogue discusses the larger implications of the discoveries concerning forgiveness. Author’s abstract.


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