Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves: Understanding & Healing Our Emotional Wounds

Dynamically explores what is really keeping you from forgiving or seeking forgiveness. Draws on insights from many fields—communication, psychology, counseling and theology, as well as original research—to explore the mental and emotional barriers in your path. Includes reflection questions for individual and group use.

Myra Warren Isenhart, PhD, and Michael Spangle, PhD

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6 x 9, 160 pp | 978-1-59473-600-1

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Start your healing journey to forgive or seek forgiveness—buoyed by spiritual and psychological insights and practical steps.

“We have both witnessed the power of forgiveness as well as the devastating sense of loss that comes from withholding forgiveness. We invite you to journey with us as we explore all the dimensions of forgiveness, learning how to apply this gift to yourself and your life, as well as using it to guide others toward a happier, more peaceful existence.”

—from the Introduction

Everyone seeks forgiveness at some point in their lives—in families, from friends, in workplaces, in communities or from ourselves—but we often falter when we discover the practice takes more than simply saying or hearing “I forgive you.”

In this dynamic look at the process of forgiveness, conflict resolution experts Myra Warren Isenhart and Michael Spangle look at what is really keeping you from forgiving or seeking forgiveness. In addition to focusing on the soulful benefits of forgiveness, they also draw on insights from many fields—communication, psychology, counseling and theology, as well as their own original research—to explore the mental and emotional barriers in your path.

Learn how to:

  • Make distinctions between forgiveness, apology and reconciliation
  • Identify the conditions that make reconciliation appropriate or inappropriate
  • Understand the elements of an effective apology
  • Extend forgiveness to yourself
  • Assist others in their own forgiveness journey

“Draw[s] on many different religious traditions and scholarly disciplines…. Successfully explores the many dimensions of forgiveness … remarkable and useful.”

Rev. Anita L. Bradshaw, PhD, author, Change and Conflict in Your Congregation (Even If You Hate Both): How to Implement Conscious Choices, Manage Emotions and Build a Thriving Christian Community

“A rich, well-researched and thoughtful guide to forgiveness. Offer[s] a wide array of tools to help the reader navigate the difficult paths to forgiveness.”

Frederic Luskin, PhD, author, Forgive for Good

“A comprehensive guide for helping people understand forgiveness and assisting them through this often challenging process. Invaluable for psychologists and mediators who facilitate the forgiveness process with their clients.”

Scott Poland, PhD, psychologist and mediator, Fort Collins, Colorado

“A tour de force—empirically based and applicable! Helps us better understand the facets of forgiveness—psychological, relational, spiritual—and offers a wide array of approaches for putting them into practice in our everyday lives.”

Diane M. Millis, PhD, author, Deepening Engagement: Essential Wisdom for Listening and Leading with Purpose, Meaning and Joy

“An exceptional resource for every practitioner who is looking for new ideas to reframe and often heal life’s hurts and offenses. Equally useful for every person wanting to give or receive genuine forgiveness.”

Elizabeth Loescher, founder and former executive director, Conflict Center of Denver, Colorado; founder, Georgia Conflict Center

“In a world of ever more amplifying conflict, a constricting world in which we cannot escape the inevitable rage and hurts others feel, Isenhart and Spangle give us a gateway. If you are in the business of trying to deal with wounds, read this book.”

Peter S. Adler, PhD, author, Eye of the Storm Leadership

“Profoundly addresses this essential element in a healed and whole life…. With wisdom, practicality and concrete suggestions for making forgiveness real in one’s life—a truly important tool for any individual or any helper in any field.”

The Rev. Marilyn Schneider, Episcopal priest and spiritual director


How did you come to write this book?
In our experience as conflict resolution professionals, inability to forgive is a major stumbling block. Whether counseling families or consulting in organizational teams, our experience has taught us that repeated contact with the same people insures repeated conflicts. How these conflicts are managed is the key to ongoing relationships that are pleasant and productive. When forgiveness is missing, grievances pile up and resolutions are hard to come by. We started thinking about difficulties with forgiveness, read up on the topic and offered our first workshops; before we knew it, we were hooked! Both of us enjoy writing and we have published two other collaborative books about conflict resolution (Negotiation and Collaborative Approaches to Resolving Conflict). We have been working together for eighteen years.

There are many other books about forgiveness. What’s different about your book?

  • The advantage of a holistic approach. As communication scholars and practitioners, we were shocked that the major textbook in interpersonal conflict outsourced the chapter on forgiveness to a theologian. From our perspective, the spiritual dimension is absolutely important—but we see the psychological and interpersonal components as critical also. That’s why our book covers all three: the spiritual, psychological and interpersonal dimensions of forgiveness.
  • The contribution of communication. We are trained in a practical discipline. As we reviewed other books on the topic, we found several we respected that are serious and scholarly. Occasionally their findings are mentioned in our book. At the opposite extreme, we found a number of books that offered advice mostly based on personal experience. We have tried for the golden mean: our book provides a solid foundation for understanding how and why forgiveness is so difficult, and also offers clear, concise approaches to moving forward.
  • Research-based knowledge. We began this process by asking what people actually do in regard to forgiveness. Participants told us what is hard or impossible to forgive. They told us how they go about requesting and granting forgiveness. With data from almost three hundred participants in our survey, we feel confident drawing conclusions about what facilitates forgiveness and what can block it. The words that were written by our anonymous survey participants convey messages about forgiveness in vibrant and impactful ways. Examples and stories from our clients also help us connect directly with our readers; as they recount their own struggles with forgiveness at home and at the office, we can all relate.

Who will benefit from reading this book?
The readers of this book will find inspiration and practical advice for various situations involving forgiveness:

  • Forgiving others who have moved on. Whether or not the person who has harmed you is still in your life, forgiveness is a gift you can give yourself.
  • Forgiving others when they reach out. Whether or not you want to reconcile with the person who has harmed you, you can forgive and move on with your life.
  • Requesting forgiveness from others. When you are confident you’ve mastered all the elements of a satisfactory apology, you can offer it to the person harmed.
  • Forgiving yourself. Sometimes your harshest critic is you. Getting over disappointments and negative thinking are important steps for improving quality of life.
  • Assisting others. Our research indicates that many are already turning to both professionals and lay people for help. The book addresses facilitation by third parties and offers concrete examples of coaching both the offender and the offended persons. Whether you’re a mediator, counselor, pastor or family member, you will find useful material for helping others.

What do you hope readers will understand after finishing this book?
Throughout the book, we use quotations that seem to capture the feelings that we want to convey. Here are two of many that you will find:

“Having looked the past in the eye, having asked for forgiveness and having made amends, let us shut the door on the past—not in order to forget it, but in order not to allow it to imprison us.”
    —Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican Bishop

“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate ... making the present comfortable and the future promising.”
    —Maya Angelou

Forgiveness is a choice. It is granting yourself and others the freedom to make mistakes and to begin again. We, the authors, consider ourselves practitioners of peace and we invite you to join us in building a healthier world through the gift of forgiveness.

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Chapter One: The Nature of Forgiveness

  • Based on your experiences, how would you define forgiveness?
  • Describe times when you have had difficulty letting go of negative feelings associated with particular experiences. What made letting go difficult?
  • If someone has wronged you, what do you require of the wrongdoer in order for you to release bad feelings you may harbor?

Chapter Two: Ways We Experience Forgiveness

  • How do you typically respond to situations requiring forgiveness: with grace, by working through your emotions, by encouraging dialogue or by setting down conditions?
  • List some examples of the psychological, relational and spiritual perspectives of forgiveness in your life.
  • What helps you get over harm that’s been done to you?

Chapter Three: Benefits of Forgiving and Being Forgiven

  • What physical feelings do you experience when someone does something to you that requires your forgiveness?
  • How have you been affected by someone else’s quarrel?
  • How might your family benefit if you were to achieve forgiveness in a relationship important to you?
  • What are the needs for forgiveness in a community in which you are involved?
  • When has lack of forgiveness affected your workplace? How? Who were the players and what was the outcome?

Chapter Four: Resisting the Practice of Forgiveness

  • Why is it sometimes more difficult to forgive a loved one than someone who isn’t as close to you?
  • Can you remember a time when you experienced a desire to avenge a hurtful act? Did you take revenge? Why or why not? If you did, was revenge satisfying?
  • When, if ever, is forgiveness possible without an apology?
  • What are the norms relating to forgiveness in your community?
  • How do you feel about offering forgiveness to someone who has harmed others?

Chapter Five: What Facilitates Forgiveness?

  • Is there any offense that is unforgiveable? If so, what is it?
  • How did those in your family of origin practice forgiveness? Or did they just ignore issues requiring forgiveness?
  • How do your religious beliefs align with your practice of forgiveness?
  • What do you consider the most important aspect of a situation in deciding whether or not to forgive someone for a serious offense?
  • Describe typical practices of forgiveness that you see in your community.

Chapter Six: The Path to Forgiveness

  • Where are you on the forgiveness journey with respect to some hurts in your life? Just beginning, down the road a bit or at the end and seeking closure?
  • What is it within you that makes you want to hold on to unpleasant memories?
  • What would it take for you to forgive and let go, understanding that this doesn’t mean you have to reconcile with the person who harmed you?
  • What would it take for you to extend mercy and benevolence to someone who harmed you in the past?
  • What is the connection between asking for forgiveness and forgiving others in your life?

Chapter Seven: Self-Forgiveness

  • For which behaviors or attitudes do you find it most difficult to forgive yourself?
  • What past community practices seem shameful to you?
  • What does your inner critic say about your past mistakes?
  • Ask yourself, “Does the energy I am spending on self-loathing help anyone? If not, how might that energy be better directed?”
  • When you are successful in forgiving yourself, how does it happen?
  • To whom can you turn when self-talk doesn’t do the job?

Chapter Eight: The Role of Apology

  • What’s important for you to hear when you feel someone has said or done something that offended you?
  • When you have apologized to another, what did you want the other person to know?
  • When you received an apology from someone in the past, how did it affect the relationship?
  • There may be many ways to apologize without words, such as changing behavior, sharing a hug or doing something kind for someone. What are some ways you apologize without using the words I’m sorry?

Chapter Nine: Reconciliation

  • If you are the victim of someone else’s harmful actions, what is your response?
  • In your life, how has forgiveness been related to reconciliation?
  • When you were a child, how did the adults in your life model reconciliation? Did people just hope bad behavior would be forgotten or did they openly discuss the behavior?
  • What are some situations where you could forgive but not choose reconciliation?
  • Where in your life do you need to experience reconciliation? What would it take to get that process started?

Chapter Ten: When Forgiving and Reconciling Are Difficult

  • How well do you manage your emotions when you have to meet with someone you have had difficulty forgiving?
  • When you have harmed someone by something you’ve said or done, what steps do you take to repair the relationship?
  • What was your family drama? What evidence of it do you see in your adult life?
  • When you know you are in the presence of a difficult person, what do you do to protect yourself from potential harm?
  • Where in life could you expand your expectation square and reduce some of the stress in your life?

Chapter Eleven: Helping Others Forgive

  • Have you ever helped another person offer or seek forgiveness? If so, what was the experience like for you?
  • What has helping others navigate the process of forgiveness taught you about your own ability (or inability) to forgive?
  • Would you ever say no to a request for help from someone who wanted to forgive or be forgiven? If so, what would be your reasoning?
  • If you do say no to a request for help, what resources might you suggest to assist your friends, family members or colleagues?