Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

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