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The Psychological Significance of Forgiveness

The ability to forgive becomes a crucial element in loving, intimate relationships. Then comes the question, what does it mean to forgive? How is it accomplished? What role can forgiveness play in the process of psychotherapy? Are there times when forgiveness is not in service of healing - when, in fact, the injury or trauma has not been fully acknowledged or understood - or when "forgiveness" is used by the ego for its own ends? 

The idea of forgiveness, defined simply as the absolution from blame or sin, lies at the core of genuine relatedness. How often have we struggled to forgive the people in our lives - a demanding boss, a gossiping co-worker, a friend's thoughtlessness, a family member's broken promise? Yet these injuries pale in comparison to the profound betrayal that can only be committed by the ones we love and trust the most (read James Hillman's remarkable essay on betrayal here).

Psychologically speaking, resentment, rage, disdain, distrust, or anxiety toward another are often bound up with unconsciously projected unwanted inner aspects of the personality. When approached from a depth psychological perspective, forgiving can begin with the identification and integration of projections. Such work typically occurs through psychoanalysis, Jungian analysis, and post-Jungian psychological approaches to therapy. Reflecting psychological transformation of the highest order, forgiveness is crucial within the field of psychology.

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