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A theological and psychological defense of self-forgiveness: implications for counseling.

In the burgeoning literature of forgiveness, self-forgiveness is an aspect that has not received as much attention as other areas of research on forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is important in dealing with negative feelings toward the self when one violates the conscience. However, because criticisms have emerged against this construct, we attempt a theological and psychological defense of self-forgiveness by addressing following four questions: (a) Is self-forgiveness the same as or different from divine forgiveness? (b) 'What is the nature of self-forgiveness? (c) Can we rationally address the criticisms of self-forgiveness? (d) How does self-forgiveness interact with divine and person-to-person forgiveness? After addressing these questions, we delineate four implications for counselors working with clients struggling to forgive themselves. Self-forgiveness, as one form of the virtue of forgiveness, now needs to be opened up more widely and deeply for more clients, and their emotional health may be further enhanced by this experience that frees them from self-condemnation when guided by a counselor who knows the essence of what self-forgiveness is and is not.

In the philosophical literature, self-forgiveness is perceived as a form of restoring self-respect (Dillon, 2001; Holmgren, 1998), a necessary part of the process of seeking forgiveness (North, 1998), or even a moral prerequisite for receiving forgiveness from others (Williston, 2012). In the psychological literature, self-forgiveness is perceived as one's healing journey from estrangement to a sense of arriving at home in the sense that one is now comfortable with the self (Bauer et al., 1992). It is generally conceived to be a construct similar to interpersonal forgiveness directed toward the self (Luskin, 2002), that is, a willingness to give up one's right to resentment (self-resentment in this case) in the face of injustice (self-offense in this case) while developing compassion, generosity, and love toward the self (Enright & the Human Development Study Group, 1996). Self-forgiveness is also seen as a series of cognitive changes that gradually diminish self-condemnation, cease retaliation against the self, and lead to the offering of benevolence to the self (Hall & Fincham, 2005). Further, it is seen as a coping strategy particularly dealing with feelings of grief (Jacinto, 2010a; 2010b) and a psychological mechanism of reducing shame and promoting self-esteem (Greene & Britton, 2012).

In recent years, self-forgiveness as a potential therapeutic tool for helping persons struggling with negative attitudes toward the self such as guilt, shame, self-anger, self-condemnation, and self-hatred has attracted more forgiveness scholars to examine its clinical utility (Hall & Fincham, 2008; Ross, Hertensein, & Wrobel, 2007; Wohl, DeShea, & Wahkinney, 2008). Such attempts are found with cases of domestic violence survivors (Turnage, Jacinto, & Kirven, 2003), caregivers who lost those for whom they were caring (Jacinto, 2010a; 2010b), alcohol abusers (Scherer, Worthington, Hook, & Campana, 2011), women with eating disorders (Watson et al., 2012), and soldiers with complex trauma and moral injury (Worthington & Langberg, 2012). Despite its promising research as a therapeutic tool, there have been some scholars concerned about the legitimacy of self-forgiveness as a viable construct (see for example, Murphy, 1998; Vitz & Meade, 2011). The cautionary views on self-forgiveness have been largely for two reasons: its lack of theological justification (Gassin, 2001; Vitz, 1999; Vitz & Meade, 2011) and its tendency for narcissistic pseudo self-forgiveness that occurs when the self-forgiver claims to have forgiven himself without acknowledging his self-offense and accepting responsibility (Hall & Fincham, 2005). Interpersonal forgiveness always occurs in the context of another's wrongdoing. If a forgiver believes that the offender did not do anything wrong, forgiveness is not necessary. Likewise, a self-forgiver must also realize his self-offense and be willing to accept consequences. For example, a study with smokers (n = 181) showed that increased self-forgiveness was found to be associated with decreased motivations for changing smoking behaviors (Wohl & Thompson, 2011). If smokers in the study first acknowledged smoking as a self-offense against them, then they might have responded differently. Thus, genuine self-forgiveness is different from pseudo-forgiveness in that the former accompanies a sense of remorse and responsibility for wrongdoing, self-acceptance without excusing, and reaffirmation of offended values that result in positive outcomes for participants (Fisher & Exline, 2006; Wenzel, Woody-att, & Hedrick, 2012; Woodyatt & Wenzel, 2013).

Given the academic contention surrounding this construct, we attempt here to resolve the controversies by defending self-forgiveness as a viable option for those who need it. We reason that self-forgiveness is a construct similar to person-to-person forgiveness. We define self-forgiveness as a moral virtue of forgiveness practiced toward the self, which involves not only giving up one's negative feelings toward the self but also offering unconditional love to the self even though the self-forgiver might not necessarily deserve such love. In defense of our view of self-forgiveness, we pose and attempt to answer four questions in this article: (a) Is self-forgiveness the same as or different from divine forgiveness? (b) What is the nature of self-forgiveness? (c) Can we rationally address the criticisms of self-forgiveness? (d) How does self-forgiveness interact with divine and person-to-person forgiveness? Finally, we offer practical implications for counselors working with those struggling to forgive themselves. Let us turn to the first question.

How Does Self-Forgiveness Differ from Divine Forgiveness?

When one forgives, the forgiver, without denying her right to resentment, gives up her right to resentment and offers kindness, compassion, and even love toward the offender who does not necessarily deserve such gifts (Enright, 2001). Forgiveness does not deny what has happened but clearly recognizes that there is someone to be blamed for the offense directed toward another person (Smedes, 1996). Then, it logically follows that there is only one party who can offer forgiveness: the wronged.

When persons forgive an offender, however, they do not forgive the offender's sins (distinct from interpersonal offenses) because only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21; Johansson, 2011). This distinction is crucial because in forgiving, both God and humans offer unconditional forgiving love toward the sinners/ offenders (Romans 5:8; John 13:34-35). In other words, God draws everyone in love through Jesus Christ's work on the cross, and humans in forgiving other persons attempt to emulate such sacrificial love. However, God does something more than humans do in forgiving; God waits for individuals to have faith in Jesus, returning to Him in remorse and repentance for the removal of sins and then reconciling (Acts 2:38; Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 1:19-23; Enright, & the Human Development Study Group,1991; Erickson, 1998; Grudem, 1995).

Some scholars might argue that repentance is not necessary for divine forgiveness because it is the recognition of what has been already done by God (See for example, Volf, 2005). We disagree. First, repentance is more than being grateful for God's action. If repentance is something real and meaningful, it must lead to something--an action by God. Second, God who unconditionally draws sinners in His forgiving love does not automatically grant universal salvation to all sinners. If this is the case, repentance as the mere recognition of God's forgiveness has no meaning in salvation. Instead, we argue that Jesus Christ's work on the Cross gives us the offer to be forgiven, not the action of being forgiven of sins. Sinners recognize the action of the Cross that has already taken place, but they still need to respond with the action of repentance that leads to the action of God's forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, in divine forgiving, unconditional offering of forgiveness of sins and conditional reconciliation preceded by removing of sins are not the same because the latter requires that persons have faith in Jesus and return to Him in remorse and repentance. Perhaps, this distinction is confusing for some because God, who freely offers forgiveness of sins based on His unconditional love, has a clear purpose of canceling the sins of those who would return to Him and then reconciling with those whose sins are removed. However, it is clear that in human forgiving, the cancelation/removal of sins that leads to reconciliation between God and humans is not part of what forgivers do when forgiving other persons.

Then, in the case of self-forgiveness, is the person forgiving his own sins? The principle of forgiveness should not be altered for self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is for the wrong done against oneself (the violation of one's own moral standards--namely conscience), and God alone forgives sins against Him. Therefore, when a person feels guilty and shameful (the evidence for one's sense of justice violated), the person can seek emotional healing by deciding to pursue the journey of self-forgiveness by offering unconditional forgiving love toward the self. Yet, because persons do not forgive sins, the person still needs Jesus Christ for the removal of sins.

In answer to our first question, self-forgiveness, as in person-to-person forgiveness, mirrors God's forgiveness only in one way, that of offering unconditional love to another, and the major difference between self-forgiveness and divine forgiveness lies in that only God can forgive sins. We now turn to our second question.

What Is the Nature of Self-Forgiveness?

Some have made the claim that self-forgiveness is an act of judgment toward the self (see Gassin, 2001; Vitz & Meade, 2011). As an act of judgment, self-forgiveness would be an irrational act precisely because from a theological perspective God is the Judge of our sins and we cannot be (Matthew 7:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, to claim that we judge our own sinfulness would be to contradict who we are and who God is. Yet, as we stated above, only God forgives sins. Does this then deny the premise that when we self-forgive we are judges of ourselves? Perhaps we are still judging not our sins but our moral character; we are making judgments of our moral turpitude (1 Corinthians 11:31). We have a built-in measure--our conscience--that we often depend on when evaluating others and ourselves. We are not the judge of our sins, but however imperfect, we are still a judge for our moral standards (which might or might not be congruent with God's standards). Even if this were the case, this could not be the entire story of what self-forgiveness is because if it is a moral virtue it is not only about judgments. Even justice, which is directly concerned with moral right and wrong, does not stop at the point of making a judgment. It goes further and tries to right wrongs (Matthew 7:5). There is action that accompanies cognition, in this case, the judgment of right and wrong.

To this point, self-forgiveness appears to be of such quality that people who self-forgive make moral judgments about themselves. What else are they doing? What else constitutes the construct of self-forgiveness?

To answer this question, let us turn to person-to-person forgiveness for some clues. Person-to-person forgiveness is generally seen as a moral virtue by both philosophers and psychologists (North, 1987; Holmgren, 1993; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). As a moral virtue, which is a sense of goodness that first develops within oneself and then flows to others for their good, forgiveness is always and without exception unconditional (Holmgren, 1993; Simon, 1986). It is unconditional because all other moral virtues (such as justice, kindness, respect, and love) can be expressed prior to any condition set up by another. Self-forgiveness as a moral virtue is a response of unconditional love to the self when one breaks one's own standards, thus offending the self.

A moral virtue can be practiced toward the self. One can be kind to oneself regardless of how others treat him or her. One can be patient, merciful, and just to oneself without any prior condition. If forgiveness is a moral virtue, as are kindness, patience, mercy, and justice, why does forgiveness have to be the grand exception and be applied differently? Is it not cruel if one is not allowed to love oneself because he or she violated his sense of justice by breaking his or her own moral standards? Does not loving others "as we love ourselves" imply that loving ourselves is a valid objective and practice in loving relationships with others (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39) ? How can we try to love our enemies if we are not allowed to love ourselves (Matthew 5:44) ? Ifwe can love ourselves only when we are lovable then it contradicts the very core of forgiveness, that is, unconditional love.

As a moral virtue, however, forgiveness does not work alone; it should work side by side with other virtues such as patience, kindness, love, and even justice. Love is never practiced in isolation of patience and kindness. To seek justice without harboring resentment, one needs to be forgiving. Likewise, forgiving oneself is one thing, and seeking justice by taking responsibility is another, but they are not practiced in isolation of each other. Thus, genuine self-forgiveness should lead to responsibility acceptance (Wenzel, Woodyatt, & Hedrick, 2012; Woodyatt & Wenzel, 2013) and might even make it necessary to receive or ask for forgiveness from others and from God (Enright and the Human Development Study Group, 1996; Worthington, 2013).

As a final point regarding the essence of self-forgiveness, we turn to the theme of reconciliation. Divine forgiveness of sins has a dual nature as we have examined above: (a) unconditionally drawing humanity in love through the Cross of Christ and (b) conditionally removing sins from those who have faith in Jesus and return to Him in remorse and repentance that leads to reconciliation with God. Reconciliation in human relationships, on the other hand, requires restoring trust between the offending and offended parties (Worthington, 2003). It requires efforts from both parties because it is a mutual action rather than amoral virtue. If the offender is deemed dangerous, reconciliation is not likely because the person is not yet trustworthy. If the offender is deceased, reconciliation is not possible because the person is not available to join in the mutual action of reconciliation.

In conjunction with divine forgiveness and in contrast to person-to-person forgiveness, self-forgiveness may lead to a sense of self-reconciliation between the self-forgiver and the self-offender (Enright and the Human Development Study Group, 1996). We say that self-reconciliation is necessary in self-forgiveness because unless a person receives his own love to the self and intends to behaviorally change accordingly (similar to the process of restoring trust in person-to-person reconciliation), it is evident that he has not fully offered nor received the moral gift of re-established self-love (in its proper use of that term; we are not implying narcissism here). Here, we are not saying that the offer of self-forgiveness is conditional; instead, we are pointing out a distinction in self-forgiveness that the offender is the self who also needs to receive his offer of forgiveness toward the self, thus, leading to self-reconciliation. In other words, self-reconciliation is conditional (you receive your offer of self-forgiveness to the self and then you have to restore your trust in you) while self-forgiveness is not. This means that some necessary changes from the self-forgiver are expected as evidence of receiving self-forgiveness.

Can We Rationally Address the Criticisms of Self-Forgiveness?

Now that we have explicated the construct of self-forgiveness, let us address the criticisms of it as a viable construct. There are five criticisms to be addressed.

The first criticism is that we cannot be the defendant and the judge/jury over our own moral failings (Vitz & Meade, 2011). Yet, this criticism appears to be a confusion of the essence of self-forgiveness. As shown above, when we self-forgive we do not judge our sins. Only God does that. We do judge the rightness and wrongness of our actions and so perhaps the criticism seems valid in this context. We, however, think not, because to self-forgive is not in the context of jurisprudence. It instead is the exercise of a moral virtue, apart from a judiciary hearing toward the self. As one judges the self, one then loves the self over time through a process not unlike that of forgiving others (Enright and the Human Development Study Group, 1996).

The second criticism falls into the category of condonation of one's own imperfections. These kinds of questions can ensue: Is it not too narcissistic to forgive oneself? Where is goodness in self-forgiveness if it just lets people off the hook? It must be made clear that pseudo-forgiveness is not forgiveness at all. When we forgive, we do not condone, excuse, pardon, or justify what has happened that wronged us (Smedes, 1984; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). Instead, we are to clearly recognize what has been done that deeply hurt us. Thus, assessing what has been done and uncovering the corollary anger are required in the process of forgiveness prior to making a decision to forgive (Fitzgibbons, 1998; North, 1998). Likewise, when we forgive ourselves, we do the same--we have to clearly recognize what we have done wrong and how we violated our sense of justice (which may or may not involve God or others). Yet, self-forgiveness as a moral virtue should not just stop there because forgiveness is more than ceasing to be angry or tolerating any injustice (Enright, 2001; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). Responsibility acceptance and necessary steps to right the wrong should ensue because the self-forgiver is offering love to the self, not without justice, but in spite of the self-offense that first invited him to the journey of self-forgiveness (Fisher & E)dine, 2006; Worthington, 2013). Self-forgiveness then remains a moral virtue because something good is expressed toward the self and possibly toward others as a result of acknowledging one's own self-worth as someone to be unconditionally loved.

A third category of objection to self-forgiveness is this: It is possible that the sources of one's own moral standards might be problematic (Vitz & Meade, 2011). The sources might be unhealthy because of abusive, authoritarian relationships, for example. In other words, the conscience is malformed and cannot adequately discern moral injury when it occurs. As a result of moral trauma against the person, the standards might be unrealistically too high. One's pride or psychological defense against failure might be also contributing to the high standards (Worthington, 2013). Whether under-recognizing wrong or being overly sensitive to perceived wrong, it is necessary to remember that forgiveness is not justifying or excusing on the one hand, nor is it condemning others (or the self) on the other hand (Enright, 2001; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000). We must remember that defects of conscience are not the problem of forgiveness, nor does it mean that they can stop us from practicing forgiveness, whether toward others or the self. Instead, forgiveness that begins with an attempt to objectively recognize what has happened might assist the self-forgiver in seeing more clearly his wrongdoing for which he is reasonably responsible. One is anticipated to have a healthy or at least reasonable conscience for either kind of expression of forgiveness, and so this discussion may be beyond the scope of this article.

A fourth criticism takes this form: When we violate our own moral standards, what we need is the forgiveness of sins from God. When we have residual negative feelings after confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness from God, those feelings are a symptom of our not fully accepting divine forgiveness (Gassin, 2001). We think this is an excellent point and one which psychologists should take seriously when working with faith-based clients. At the same time, this view does not seem to capture the entire cause of the inner discontent. To put our counter point simply, we are a person as God is a person. Therefore, there are at least two persons who have been offended by the sin that involves one's moral injury (the offender and God). When a person has reconciled with God, he may not have done so yet with that other person, the self. Self-forgiveness, then, makes possible this necessary reconciliation with the self, which as we have seen is part of the construct of self-forgiveness.

A final criticism is that self-forgiveness is not a moral virtue but instead is an act of self-acceptance (Vitz & Meade, 2011). Worthington (2013) states that self-acceptance is acknowledging who we are as flawed but precious. Our high expectations of ourselves might get in the way of accepting who we are--our failure and values. Accepting ourselves, including those of us who need to forgive ourselves, as precious in the eyes of God is crucial; thus, we are not arguing against the idea of self-acceptance itself. Instead, we argue that self-forgiveness is not the same as, as some seem to argue, but instead is more than self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a psychological construct because acceptance can be accomplished without any moral qualities such as respect or love. Acceptance can be morally neutral and therefore passive from a moral per-spective. Is self-forgiveness of this quality? We think not because we have to once again fall back onto the essence of what self-forgiveness is. We can once again rely on what person-to-person forgiveness is for some clues. Person-to-person forgiveness is a form of unconditional love and thus is always a gift--meaning not based on our own merit. Then, when we forgive ourselves, we do more than passively accept ourselves (Smedes, 1996).

Rather than being somewhat morally docile, as acceptance can be, we give the gift of love to ourselves in an active sense as someone unconditionally loved despite our wrongdoing. Self-forgiveness can allow us to flourish, focus on God and others, increase our health, and experience better quality of life and peace (Worthington, 2013). For example, in the Freedman and Enright (1996) research with incest survivors, once the women forgave, they became quite active in a self-loving and an other-loving sense. One woman, once she shed her depression, ended up taking her dream job outside of the city in which she was living. Another fed her dying father in the hospital and began to love him and herself to a greater degree. They were showing more than a passive acceptance of themselves.

We do see the place of self-acceptance in self-forgiveness. A theological way to perceive self-acceptance in the context of self-forgiveness might be that the self-forgiver accepts--different from accepting what has happened or accepting who she is as the self-offended--the unconditional forgiving love offered to her based on the unceasing love of God. Yes, we need to acknowledge that we are flawed but precious (Worthington, 2013). This seems to be in line with Cooper's (2003) recognition that self-acceptance is something to be encouraged by God's grace when our underlying insecurity leads us to self-contempt and pride. These are excellent points about self-acceptance. However, this does not mean that all of self-forgiveness (a specific response to a moral injury) is contained in this action of accepting God's forgiveness. Our point here is that acceptance, as an important entity itself, does not encompass the whole of what we mean by self-forgiveness that specifically deals with our own moral injury.

In addressing our questions in this section the answer is yes--we can counter each criticism of self-forgiveness in a rational way. We are not our own judge and jury when we self-forgive. We do not condone our own actions. We are not prohibited from making determinations of right and wrong toward our own behavior because we do have consciences. If one experiences the accident (to use an Aristotelian word to signify that this does not typify the prototype of humanity) of a deformed conscience, this does not invalidate the general observation that we all have consciences and therefore can assess whether to forgive ourselves. In self-forgiveness, we do not forgive our sins; thus, self-forgiveness does not make it unnecessary to seek God for the forgiveness of sins. Finally, self-acceptance cannot replace the construct of self-forgiveness. Otherwise, we are left with the philosophical conundrum of not being able to offer to the self other moral virtues such as kindness, self-respect, and the Biblically exhorted virtue to love oneself.

How Does Self. Forgiveness Interact with Divine and Person-to-Person Forgiveness?

Divine, self-, and person-to-person forgiveness, as distinct as they are, do not occur exclusive of one another. Several scholars have noted that self-forgiveness should be practiced alongside divine forgiveness because some people, even after sincerely repenting of their sins, might continue to experience residual feelings of guilt and shame (Enright and the Human Development Study Group, 1996; Worthington, 2003). One such example is found in the case of postabortion men who, after feeling confident that God had forgiven them, continued to struggle with self-condemnation (Coyle, 1999; Coyle 8c Enright, 1997). Such a discussion seems to assume that divine forgiveness comes first and then people, who so choose, engage in self-forgiveness. Is this the proper sequence from a theological and a psychological perspective?

To answer this question, we have to remind ourselves that divine forgiveness of sins and human forgiveness are not identical. Thus, there are at least two distinct persons involved in each kind of forgiveness as pointed out earlier: God for divine forgiveness and the self-forgiver for self-forgiveness. Then, it seems logical to conclude that self- and divine forgiveness do not occur simultaneously (as one entity), nor does one of them always occur prior to the other. Instead, they should be viewed as occurring with different paces while facilitating the process of each other. In a recent study, it was shown that one's sense of receiving divine forgiveness facilitated the process of self-forgiveness (McConnell & Dixon, 2012). Therefore, for some, a sense of receiving divine forgiveness might allow them to forgive themselves (and seek forgiveness from others when possible). Yet, it is also feasible that for others, a sense of unconditional love toward the self that came first might awaken them to seek divine forgiveness from God, who availed such love in the first place. This distinction is important because as a moral virtue, forgiveness can be practiced toward the self even if the person has not yet cultivated a sense of faith.

Regarding the interplay of self- and person-to-person forgiveness, by the same logic, there are at least two distinct persons involved: the self-forgiver for self-forgiveness and the wronged for person-to-person forgiveness. They, as distinct constructs, do not necessarily occur simultaneously but with different paces while facilitating the process of each other. Particularly, in the wrongdoer's perspective of forgiveness, a sense of forgiveness toward the self is anticipated prior to seeking forgiveness from the wronged because feelings of guilt and shame might prevent him from seeking forgiveness in the first place (North, 1998). Again, the opposite direction also seems plausible. Those who have a sense of having received forgiveness will be prone to offer forgiveness toward the self, now with comfort that they are forgiven from victims (Hall & Fincham, 2005; 2008).

As seen above, it seems crucial to recognize that three kinds of forgiveness (divine, self-, and person-to-person forgiveness) might develop at their own pace while interacting with the other kinds of forgiveness. Perhaps it is appropriate to remind us here that forgiveness is more than a decision to forgive and is often a long process that takes at least several months to achieve a certain level of emotional healing (Baskin & Enright, 2004). Thus, in all likelihood, the interplay of the three kinds of forgiveness will take time to achieve the desired result.

Beyond self-acceptance and self-love is the theme of reconciliation in self-forgiveness. We offer unconditional love toward the self and others as God has offered His love on the Cross of Christ. One's faithful response is required for the removal of sins and reconciliation in divine forgiveness. In person-to-person forgiveness, reconciliation is an option when the offender is ready and available. Nevertheless, the offering of forgiving love is complete in and of itself even when the forgiver rejects reconciliation with God and when reconciliation is not possible with the other. Perhaps as a person continues to forgive unconditionally, he is more open to these forms of reconciliation.

Self-forgiveness, in contrast to forgiving others, must result in a sense of self-reconciliation (Enright and the Human Development Study Group, 1996). The self-forgiver will offer self-forgiveness only when she is ready to receive it. In other words, self-forgiveness in its essence encompasses both offering forgiveness toward and receiving forgiveness from the self, making reconciliation implicit in the process. These similarities and differences among the three kinds of forgiveness are noteworthy because they can allow us to practice self-forgiveness with an awareness of where we stand with respect to divine and person-to-person forgiveness. See Table 1 for a summary and comparison of these three kinds of forgiveness.
Comparisons of Self, Person-to-Person, and Divine Forgiving

                  1. Unconditional  2. Receiving of  3. Canceling
                    Unconditional      forgiveness      of Sins

Divine            God             When we receive   God removes
Forgiveness       demonstrated    God's             sins from
                  His             unconditional     those who
                  unconditional   forgiving love,   return to
                  Forgiving love  we respond in     Him.
                  for sinners     faith and
                  through the     repentance.
                  Cross of

Self-forgiveness  As we Forgive   When we receive   We cannot
                  oursclves, we   forgiveness, we   Forgive our
                  offer U fl Co   receive           sins. We can
                  fl di tional    ourselves as      only go to
                  forgiving love  unconditionally   Christ for
                  toward          loved.            canceling of
                  ourselves.                        our sins.

Person-to-person  As we forgives  Ihe offender      We cannot
Forgiveness       we offer        might or might    forgive
                  unconditional   not receive       offenders'
                  forgiving love  forgiveness when  sins (distinct
                  toward          offered by the    from
                  offenders.      forgiver.         interpersonal
                                                    offenses). We
                                                    can only lead
                                                    them to Christ
                                                    for canceling
                                                    of their sins

                  4. Reconciliation

Divine            Sinners are
Forgiveness       reconciled to God
                  when their sins
                  arc canceled.

Self-forgiveness  A sense of self-
                  reconciliation is
                  implicit in the
                  process of self-
                  forgiveness and
                  necessary to enjoy
                  the effects of

Person-to-person  We seek
Forgiveness       reconciliation
                  with oflnders only
                  when it is
                  forgiveness does
                  not always lead to

In this final section, we have shown how each kind of forgiveness, as a process, can occur at its own pace while facilitating the others and how the three kinds of forgiveness share some fundamental elements but are displayed differently, particularly, with regards to reconciliation.

Conclusions and Implications for Counseling

First of all, who are the clients in need of self-forgiveness? We follow the wisdom of person-to-person forgiveness. In that kind of forgiving, we only forgive people for unjust actions/intentions. Thus, self-forgiveness is practiced when our sense of justice is violated and we become resentful toward ourselves (which can occur more in certain events such as domestic violence survivors, soldiers with trauma and moral injury, caregivers who lost chose for whom they cared, and so forth). The self-offense, which might or might not involve other people or God, has to be something that has a moral quality. For instance, you do not forgive yourself for failing an important exam, if one tried one's best. A failed exam in this context lacks a moral quality because of good intentions and practices. You forgive yourself for not doing your best on your preparation for the exam. To be clear, we are not promoting self-forgiveness for any kind of negative feelings that clients might have toward themselves. When they did nothing wrong but perceive themselves as worthless, then, what they need first is not self-forgiveness but a revaluation of who they are. Likewise, if a client believes that he did something wrong and yet concludes that he is not guilty of a moral transgression then there is no sense of justice violated in him. In this case, the counselor's helping the client see that perhaps there was a mistake but not a transgression might be the priority. However, the client might later realize what he has done wrong and then self-forgiveness becomes a relevant topic in chat case, along with righting the injustice where possible.

We offer for counselors four final suKestions which center on clients' understanding of this subtle idea of self-forgiveness. First, counselors need to identify how clients view self-forgiveness. Do they understand the difference between divine and self-forgiveness? Do they understand that we forgive ourselves not of sins but of self-offense committed by morally wounding ourselves? This distinction frees the client to pursue self-forgiveness if he chooses to do so.

Second, counselors need to take some time to help clients learn what forgiveness is and is not. Do they understand that forgiveness as a moral virtue can be practiced toward the self, as can kindness, justice, and mercy? Do they understand that forgiveness is not excusing, condoning, forgetting, justifying, or calming down? Do they understand that self-forgiveness is different from abandoning responsibility? Do they understand that self-forgiveness is not a form of narcissism? Without a proper understanding of what forgiveness is and is not, self-forgiveness can turn into pseudo self-forgiveness, not genuine self-forgiveness.

Third, counselors should address the criticisms of self-forgiveness with clients. Do they understand that they are not the judge and jury for their sins? Do they have a clear sense of what they have done wrong against themselves, others, and/or God? Do they have a healthy conscience without under- or over-evaluating their offense? Do they understand that they still need to seek God for the removal of sins? Do they understand that self-forgiveness is more than self-acceptance? If these criticisms lead clients to doubt the feasibility of self-forgiveness or if some clarifications seem necessary, counselors should take time to elaborate why such criticisms should be challenged.

Fourth, counselors should elucidate the interplay among the three kinds of forgiveness (divine, self-, and person-to-person forgiveness). Of course, if the client does not believe in God, then divine forgiveness will not be part of the discussion. Counselors should demonstrate to clients how these kinds of forgiveness work side by side but independently. Do they understand that they, as different constructs, occur with different paces while facilitating each other? In particular, do they understand how reconciliation might or might not be achieved in each form of forgiveness? Do they understand that self-forgiveness always leads to self-reconciliation while divine and person-to-person for-giveness might not? A clear understanding of divine and person-to-person forgiveness should help clients, rather than obstruct them, in their journey toward self-forgiveness.

The science shows that as people forgive those who hurt them, then emotional healing can be realized. Self-forgiveness, as one form of the virtue of forgiveness, now needs to be opened up more widely and deeply for clients to explore. Their emotional health may be enhanced by this experience when guided by a counselor who knows the essence of what self-forgiveness is and is not.


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Jichan J. Kim and Robert D. Enright University of Wisconsin-Madison

Author Information

KIM, JICHAN J. Address: Department of Educational Psychology, 859 Educational Sciences, 1025 West Johnson Street Madison, WI 53706. Email: Title: Graduate Student, Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Degrees: MA & MDiv--Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Ec1M--Har-yard University. Specialization: psychology of forgiveness.

ENRIGHT, ROBERT D. Address: Department of Educational Psychology, 859 Educational Sciences, 1025 West Johnson Street Madison, 'WI 53706. Email: Title: Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Degree: PhD--University of Minnesota. Specialization: psychology of forgiveness.
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Author:Kim, Jichan J.; Enright, Robert D.
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Date:Sep 22, 2014
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