What is Forgiveness?

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

The concept of forgiveness is often misunderstood. This lesson discusses what forgiveness is and what it is not. It also examines it as a process from a psychological perspective.

Jake's Affair

Jake and Julie have been married for thirteen years. About six months ago, Julie started sensing that their marriage was in trouble. Jake was spending more and more time away from home, dressed differently, and even began using a new cologne. Julie suspected that Jake was having an affair, and she confronted him. Jake admitted the affair, assured Julie he would end it, and begged her to forgive him. Julie isn't quite sure what to do next.

Marriage Problems


In order to decide whether or not she should forgive Jake's transgression, Julie needs to understand what forgiveness is. One of the ways to understand it is to learn what it is not. Forgiveness is not:

  • Accepting what someone did to you as being OK just because they tell you they're sorry
  • Forgetting that the wrong ever happened in the first place
  • Forgetting about how you feel about what happened
  • Allowing the person who wronged you back into your life

Forgiveness is letting go of negative feelings

Forgiveness doesn't have to involve any of these things. Instead forgiveness is about:

  • Letting go of the negative feelings you harbor to live more freely
  • Moving forward and leaving the incident in the past
  • Stopping negative thoughts about the hurt that was caused
  • Living without anger and choosing peace
  • Starting over

Going back to Jake and Julie, Julie doesn't have to reconcile, or continue her marriage with Jake in order to forgive him. This is a personal choice. Instead, Julie could decide to move on without Jake and start over. She can leave him and his affair in the past and not dwell on the negative feelings she had about the situation.

Forgiveness as a Process

Psychologists have identified several different paths to follow in ordered to forgive someone. Below are the steps in the forgiveness process:

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