Why Forgive Another?


Why Forgive Another?


Coping strategies vary according to the variety of adverse life experiences.  One particular kind of painful ordeal comes when you are wronged, hurt, or attacked by another person.  The injury could be physical, sexual, mental, or emotional.  It may involve an insult, an offense, or a betrayal.  It appears that the natural first inclination of human beings to such injuries is to respond in such a manner as to reciprocate harm.  The two other typical responses are a desire to avoid the person or to seek revenge.  Obviously, such responses breed negative consequences.

Forgiveness is the one act we can commit that can disrupt the cycle of avoidance and revenge in which we often find ourselves.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation.  It is not the re-establishment of a relationship with the transgressor.  Forgiveness is not a pardon, which implies justifying, minimizing, or tolerating the victimization or hurt.  Forgiveness does not mean excusing, which offers extenuating circumstances.  “Forgive and forget” is a misnomer since forgiving does not involve a decaying of memory for the event.  In fact, truly forgiving someone involves contemplating the injury at some length.

How do you know when you have forgiven?

You have forgiven when you have experienced a shift in your thinking, such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good has increased.  You have forgiven when you open your heart to find the good in the other and act like a friend in spite of their flaws.


Why Forgive?

Clinging to bitterness or hate harms you more than the object of our hatred.  Empirical research confirms this insight: forgiving people are less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, or neurotic.   They are more likely to be happier, healthier, more agreeable, and more serene.  They are better able to empathize with others, forgive hurts in relationships, and reestablish closeness.  Finally, the inability to forgive is associated with persistent rumination or dwelling on revenge while forgiving allows a person to move on.

In a marriage, a subtle way in which forgiveness is shown to be wanting is the relative percentage of giving and getting you practice.  If there is a high degree of focus on what you get from your partner as opposed to what you give, then there is a relative lack of concern for your partner’s well-being.  A healthy intention means that we focus on what we get to give not what we get in our marriage.  In order to keep this intention alive on a daily basis we must practice forgiveness.


Ways of Practicing Forgiveness


Appreciate being forgiven.  Recall a time that you did harm to another person.  If those individuals forgave you, how did they communicate it to you and how did you respond?  Do you think they benefited from forgiving you?  Did the experience teach you anything or change you in any way?  What insights do you have about the experience right now?  This exercise will help you see the benefits of forgiving and perhaps provide a model for your own forgiving.


Another way to appreciate being forgiven is to seek forgiveness for you.  Write a letter of apology, for either a past or present wrong.  Recognize and accept that you are sometimes the transgressor so as to give yourself insight into people who are transgressors in your life against you.

In marriage, a common pattern that develops due to the daily intimacy of living together is to sometimes experience the other’s actions as personal insults.  We then blame the other for our bad feelings that occur.  We create a grievance story, which we rehearse, that then serves to close down our hearts and make us feel vengeful.

If this pattern belongs to you consider asking for forgiveness (in your letter) by emphasizing that you chose the person you are married to.  Second, admit that you are flawed and so is your partner and consequently, problems will occur.  Third, acknowledge the good qualities of the one who caused you pain.  The latter is the human predicament: we all want love and choose from a flawed position someone who is also flawed.


Emotional Forgiveness Through Imaging

Identify a particular person who you blame for mistreating or offending you.  Then engage in an imagination exercise during which you consider the following in order to grant forgiveness.  There are four steps one can take to complete a forgiveness process.  Sometimes you may get through only the first step or two.  If this happens, do not be dismayed.  Understanding alone can be a very helpful first step to provide you a sense of licking your wounds rather than refreshing them.


UnderstandingWhat were the person’s motives for acting the way they did?  What needs were they acting on?  What emotions do you think were behind the person’s actions?


EmpathyMake up a story about the transgressor that might explain why he acted the way he did.  Recall a time when you were motivated by similar needs.



Acceptance.  What prevents you from moving on and accepting the situation for what it is?  How would accepting the event as something negative that happened and is done with benefit you?  Would the altruistic gift of forgiveness hurt you?  How?


Forgiveness.  Granting forgiveness does not necessarily imply excusing or tolerating the offender’s behavior, but it does entail trying to let go of your hurt, anger, and hostility and adopting a more charitable and benevolent perspective.  While doing this imagining, make an effort to consider your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in detail.  The practice of empathetic and forgiving thoughts (as compared with nursing grudges and wallowing in painful memories) leads people to feel a greater sense of control over their thoughts, less sadness and anger, and less reactivity to stress.




Write a letter of Forgiveness

This exercise involves letting go of anger, bitterness, and blame by writing, but not sending, a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you.  Consider the people throughout your life who have injured you or abused you and whom you have never forgiven.  Does this experience, and the lack of forgiveness lead you to persist in dwelling on the person or the circumstances of the hurt?  Does it keep you from feeling happy and free of intrusive images and thoughts?  If the answer is yes then consider writing a letter of forgiveness.

The letter of forgiveness can be one of the most powerful interventions you can possibly make on behalf of your heart.  In it describe in detail the injury or offense that was done to you.  Illustrate how you were affected by it at the time and how you continue to be hurt by it.  State what you wish the other person had done instead.  End with an explicit statement of forgiveness and understanding (i.e., “I realize how that what you did was the best you could do at the time, and I forgive you”).

Below are some real life examples from a variety of people:

  • I forgive my father for his anger
  • I forgive my friend for using me
  • I forgive my graduate professor for telling me I couldn’t speak as well as I write
  • I forgive my wife for not being there for me when I was depressed
  • I forgive my brother for committing suicide

You may have a hard time writing a forgiveness letter.  You may take the position that the act is unforgivable or that you are so overwhelmed by the event that you can’t even begin to think of letting go.  If this is the case, put the project aside and try again in a few weeks.  Forgiveness is a strategy that actually takes a great deal of effort, willpower, and courage.  It must be practiced.

Another strategy to help you overcome a block in writing a forgiveness letter is to learn about other people who have successfully forgiven.  I once interviewed a mother whose child was murdered.  She eventually became a death penalty protester outside the gates of San Quentin Prison.  She is a kind of beacon much like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King, Jr.  Others can teach us about this strength that can often seem out of reach.

Practice Empathy

Empathy is the vicarious experience of another person’s emotions and thoughts.  It often involves feeling sympathy, concern, compassion, or even warmth for that individual.

One way to practice empathy in your daily life is to notice every time someone does something you do not understand.  Stop and think.  Try to imagine such a person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.  Why did he behave the way he did?  If possible ask him yourself.  You will learn something.

Make Charitable Attributions

A key factor that facilitates forgiveness is positive attributions about the transgressor.  An effective way to generate these attributions is to write a letter you would like to receive from the transgressor in response to your forgiveness of her…. her apology letter.  What explanations might she offer for her conduct?  Do you buy the explanation?  Do you find it reasonable and adequate?  Would you give her the “benefit of the doubt”?  As you right down her responses to you, you may feel your perception of the situation shifting.

Why are apologies so helpful in fostering forgiveness?  They produce empathy.  They humanize.  When the person who has caused you pain apologizes they are showing you a side of them that is vulnerable and imperfect.  Perhaps they made a big mistake.  Perhaps they underestimated the harm.  Perhaps they were motivated by more benign intentions.  No matter what, you wind up seeing the situation more from the other’s perspective.  This makes forgiveness a lot easier.

Ruminate Less

People who brood on or obsess over a transgression are more likely to hold on the their hurt and anger and less motivated to forgive.  You probably know how these kinds of ruminations feel.  You go over (and over) the event in your mind. You feel angrier and angrier, more resentful, humiliated, and mistreated.  You plot what you want to say or do to the person who has hurt you.  The original event grows and grows in your mind.  There is no end in sight.

Some people feel that this kind of imagination exercise is a kind of healthy catharsis.  A long history of research has shown that this thinking is dead wrong.  Fantasizing about how you might physically or verbally cause pain to someone may make you immediately feel better or release some tension, but it actually increases rather than releases hostility.   This is because each time you remember the offense, you trigger all over again the old feelings of hurt, blame, antagonism, and rage.  If images of an offense become intrusive in our daily life you need to deal with them head on.  Utilize distraction techniques (immediately diverting our attention to another thought) or just say, “Stop!”  Ceasing the rumination is the first step towards forgiveness.


Make Contact

Sometimes it is appropriate and healthy to send a letter of forgiveness.  The act of writing the letter and believing in it is something you do for yourself.  Communicating that act is something you do to benefit the other person and your relationship to them.  The risk is that it may backfire.  Be prepared.  Also know that communicating forgiveness might end up restoring your relationship and ultimately bring you more joy than you could have imagined.  Only you will know whether to send that letter or not.  The alternative is simply to be kind to the person you have forgiven.

Don Crowe, PhD


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Pets for Vets

Holding a doctorate in psychology from North Carolina State University, Don Crowe, PhD, has served for nearly four decades as a clinical psychologist. An active member of his community, he also donates his time to numerous causes, including the Oakland Diocese of the Catholic Church, where he offers psychotherapy services to individuals who are homeless.

The nonprofit organization Pets for Vets has also been the recipient of Dr. Don Crowe’s philanthropy. Outside of his clinical psychology work, Dr. Crowe has earned licensure as a certified professional photographer with distinction. Utilizing his skills, he created a photographic exhibit of veterans with their companion animals on behalf of Pets for Vets.

In 2013, the San Francisco Bay Area Pets for Vets celebrated 11 years of successful operations. Established by Dr. Russell Lemle, chief psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, Pets for Vets serves veterans solely with donated funds. Since its inception, the program has presented veterans certificates for the adoption of 169 animals.

Pets for Vets helps veterans in ways supported by research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC studies show that pet owners experience measurable health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure and decreased cholesterol levels. Furthermore, on an emotional level, pet guardians tend to see a significant reduction in feelings of loneliness.

Stan Lewandowski, who was the first veteran to receive a Pets for Vets certificate, brought his certificate to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals and adopted Punkin, an adult female cat. He shopped at a local pet store and exchanged Pets for Vets coupons for his new companion’s litter, litter box, food, toy, and collar. According to Lewandowski, Punkin gave him many years of loving interaction.

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Don Crowe: What Is Type A Behavior?

Clinical psychologist Dr. Don Crowe has been providing psychotherapy and psychology services to individuals, couples, and families for more than 35 years. A firm advocate of the power of positive thinking to create change, Dr. Don Crowe works with clients in a wide range of areas, including managing the effects of Type A behavior.

Now a household term, Type A behavior is generically used to describe individuals who are competitive, self-critical, and obsessed with work. More specifically, according to specialized research studies, the major characteristics of a Type A personality are impatience and a strongly developed sense of time urgency, along with generalized hostility and aggressiveness, which may or may not be overtly expressed. Type A individuals are also highly oriented to achievement and success, both professionally and in their leisure activities.

In addition to the social consequences of unmanaged Type A behavior, such as alienation of friends or colleagues, due to impatience and rudeness, or social isolation, due to an overly narrow focus on work, there can be significant physical and health consequences for Type A individuals. Empirical studies have linked Type A behavior with an increased rate of heart disease and hypertension, particularly in men. Other physical symptoms that may become problematic in the long term are facial tension, especially in the jaw, teeth grinding, and difficulties resulting from lack of sleep or relaxation.

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Don Crowe: the American Psychological Association

Don Crowe is a California-based practitioner and has been licensed to practice clinical psychology since 1981. He is a member of the American Psychological Association.

The American Psychological Association (APA) is a United States-based organization representing psychology professionals. It is the largest of its kind, with in excess of 134,000 member educators, researchers, clinicians, and students. The organization seeks to improve the quality of people’s lives through the dissemination of psychological knowledge. It promotes research, improves research techniques and applies subsequent discoveries. The APA maintains high standards for professionals within the field, both in terms of ethical behavior and in career development. Professional growth is encouraged by way of meetings, networking, discussions and publications. The organization maintains a detailed website with an abundance of resources on the subject of psychology. Its commitment to the community is emphasized by such initiatives as its partnership with the YMCA, which assists families in addressing unhealthy lifestyles.

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International Programs at Heartsent Adoptions, Inc.


Holding a bachelor of arts in psychology and a doctor of philosophy in social and clinical psychology, Don Crowe provides psychotherapy services from his office in Orinda, California. Also an accomplished photographer, he volunteers to take photographs on behalf of numerous organizations, including Heartsent Adoptions.
Policies surrounding international adoptions continue to change at rapid rates. In the last few years, many of these changes have encouraged adoptive parents to consider new countries. As a result, many new international adoption paths have opened. At present, Heartsent Adoptions maintains direct programs in Taiwan, China, Thailand, and Colombia. Soon, the organization will facilitate direct adoptions from Haiti. Other locations in the Heartsent network include Russia, Ethiopia, the Grenadine Islands, and Saint Vincent. The networking programs involve other agencies that cooperate with Heartsent to place children in loving homes.

Heartsent also provides foundational home study and post-placement services for families who complete an adoption through another agency. The organization maintains relationships with several other agencies in the United States, making it possible for families served by Heartsent to adopt from countries in which the agency does not have a direct program. This arrangement has allowed families to adopt from Ukraine, Nepal, the Philippines, India, Korea, and other locations.

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Aging Well

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There are six well studied life tasks, first proposed by Erik Erickson and modified somewhat by George Vaillant.

The six adult life tasks are as follows:


Identity:  Prior to entering the adult world it is well that the adolescent achieve a sense of identity: a sense of one’s own self, as sense that one’s values, politics, passions, and tastes are one’s own and not one’s parents.   Only then can the young adult move on to the next stage of life, Intimacy, and forge close reciprocal bonds with a mate.  There needs to be a sustained separation from social, residential, economic, and ideological dependence upon family of origin.    Such separation derives as much from the identification and internalization of important childhood figures a sit does form the ability to master modern life.  If this task is not accomplished, even by age 50, there is an inability to master satisfying work or achieve sustained intimate friendship.


Intimacy:  The task of living with another person in an interdependent, reciprocal, committed and contented fashion for a decade or more seems neither desirable nor possible for the young adult.  Once achieved, however, the capacity for intimacy is as effortless as riding a bicycle.  Several women in the Terman study achieved intimacy with a close female friend in an asexual relationship.  Homosexual relationships dropped out of the study.


Career Consolidation:  Mastery of this task involves expanding one’s personal identity to assume a social identity within the world of work.  On a desert island one can have a hobby but not a career, for career involve other people.  Individuals with personality disorders often manifest a lifelong inability to work.  There are four crucial elements that transform a hobby into a career identity: contentment, compensation, competence, and commitment.  Obviously, such a career can be “wife and mother” or “husband and father”.


Generativity:  Mastery of this task involves the demonstration of a clear capacity to unselfishly guide the next generation.  Generativity reflects the capacity to give the self away.  Generativity reflects a capacity to be in relationships where one “cares”

for those younger than oneself, and simultaneously respects the autonomy of others.  Generativity  (and leadership) means to be in a relationship in which one gives up much of the control parents retain over young children and learns to hold loosely.

Generativity means community building.  It can mean serving as a consultant, guide, mentor, or coach to the young adults in the larger society. 

Research shows that between he ages of 30 and 45 our need for achievement declines and our need for community and affiliation increase.


Keeper of the Meaning:  The role of keeper of the meaning is less selective than generativity, which involves the care of one person rather than another.  Justice, unlike care, means not taking sides.  The focus of a Keeper of the Meaning is on conservation and preservation of the culture in which one lives and its institutions, rather than on the development of its children.  Some people may feel that such a dispassionate approach to life is stodgy, but that misses the point.  To preserve one’s culture involves developing a concern that extends beyond one’s immediate community.  This is not trivial distinction making.  Consider for a moment the difference in social maturation between the partisan George W Bush who called the other side “The Axis of Evil”, and a wise leader like Abraham Lincoln who did his very best to heal and forgive the wounds of civil war.

The generative person cares for another in a direct, future oriented relationship; for example, as a mentor or teacher.  In contrast, the Keeper of the Meaning speaks for past cultural achievements and guides groups and bodies of people toward the preservation of past traditions.  Consider the simple and universal example of grandparents.  Who has not known a seventy—year –old woman who was able to be closer, wiser, more empathetic toward her grandchildren than she ever had been in the prime of her life toward her own children?  They, and they alone, elicit a special trust from grandchildren and teach them meaningfully about the past.


Integrity:  integrity is the last of life’s tasks.   It is an experience that conveys some world order and spiritual sense.  It is the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be and that, by necessity could allow for no substitutions.  If care is the virtue of generativity then wisdom is the virtue of integrity.  This kind of wisdom is a detached concern with life itself, in the face of death itself.  It maintains and learns to convey an integrity of experience about one’s life in spite of decline in bodily and mental function.



Emotional Maturation: developing increasingly adaptive coping mechanisms

Successful aging means giving to others joyfully whenever one is able, receiving from others gratefully whenever one needs it, and being selfish enough to develop one’s own self in between.  Such a balance comes not only form following Erickson’s orderly sequence of life tasks but also employing elegant unconscious coping mechanisms designed to make lemonade out of lemons.

We need to be aware of some relatively maladaptive, unhealthy coping strategies: projection, passive aggression, dissociation, acting out, and fantasy.  We often associate such strategies with adolescence and personality disorders.  In essence they are sins against others.  With projection unacknowledged feelings are attributed to others.  With it also comes prejudice and injustice collecting. Passive-aggressive individuals turn anger against themselves towards others in the most provocative ways.  This is the proverbial cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.  Theatrical type people have the capacity to disassociate themselves from painful emotion and replace them with pleasant affect as if they were on stage.  In real life we scorn those with disassociation tendencies as being “in denial” and “self-absorbed”.  Acting out obscures fantasies ideas and feelings with tantrums and impulsive conduct such as delinquency and child abuse.

Schizoid fantasy replaces real human relationships with imaginary friends… a habit that is chilling to the recipient of such engagement.


Don Crowe, PhD



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Communication Rules (Revisited)

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Communication Rules (Revisited)



(1) You statements. Make “you” statements when you feel like nothing else will do, but know that you are doing it, so that you won’t be surprised by the effect… namely your partner getting defensive.

Know how to make I statements so that you will be able to make them effectively when you want.

Recognize you statements as clues to hidden I statements.


(2) Always or Never. “Always” and “never” are likely to slip out of your mouth even when you are trying mightily to suppress them.  You are likely to feel even further frustration since it will be easy for your partner to point out an exception.  Always and never are stand in words for important feelings and are clues to those feelings.


(3) Don’t Interrupt.  Interrupt your partner if that is what you want to do, but know the danger exists that your partner may become angry or dispirited and can’t listen.  Refrain from interrupting your partner if that is what you want to do, but know the danger exists that you may become an angry or dispirited person who can’t listen.  Strive to become more effective in interrupting: find ways to express your objections without completely cutting off your partner.


(4) Paraphrase what your partner just said.  The problem here is that people often don’t feel like paraphrasing, acknowledging their partner’s feelings, when they feel like their partners aren’t acknowledging theirs.  On the other hand, the insight about paraphrasing is that we often slip into not listening to the other, the adversarial mode, and to repeat back what your partner just said can stop this unhelpful stance.

Appreciate how important listening to your partner is, how quickly problems arise when you don’t, and how easy it is to think you are listening when you aren’t.  Realize you aren’t listening because you feel unheard yourself. 

 Realizing that your partner feels unheard, and that’s why she or he isn’t listening to you, will make you automatically try and listen and, trying to prove to your partner that you are listening.  You will learn your own unstilted version of paraphrasing.


(5) Don’t mind read.  It’s true that we don’t like others making guesses about our feelings and intentions.  Mind reading is jumping to conclusions about the others behavior and is a clear communication error…. but also a clue.  It is most often a worry or concern stated in terms of an assertion. 

Realize that mind reading may be an incomplete statement.  Recognize that mind reading is an expression of worries or fears stated too strongly.


(6) Stick to one topic.   Multiple issues on the table often leave us feeling hopeless about a seemingly unmanageable situation.  But there are good reasons as to why we don’t stick to one topic: the main one being that sticking to one topic can place us at a disadvantage.  We switch topics when we feel we are losing ground on the current one, and jockey for better position.

Know that shifting topics will frustrate your partner and make it even less likely you will be heard.

Know that you are doing this to either  (a) put yourself in a better position, (b) move away from a point your partner made you fear may be valid, (c) to amass further evidence to convince your partner you are right.

Try to remember that all efforts to convince your partner are essentially futile.  In an argument the point is to refute what the other says.


(7) Don’t dig up old grievances.  Grudges are difficult to deal with because they are about sensitive and unresolved issues from the past.

What we need to recognize is that grievances about the past are often about the present.  We bring up the past because we are having some difficulty justifying complaints we have in the present.

Know that bringing up the past is likely to offend your partner and make him or her less likely to listen.  Realize that you are defaulting to a past grudge because you are seeking a dramatized version or clearer form of an important concern now.


(8) Don’t get sidetracked arguing about irrelevant details.  We sometimes get bogged down in irrelevant details that make us seem ridiculous and child like to ourselves (and to others), stubbornly holding on to irrelevant details that have nothing to do with the main point. We hold on because as things exist between two people in the moment, any and every detail is a place to make a stand against what each sees as the other’s unreasonable, unyielding, know-it-all, or self-righteous behavior.  It is also a chance to give some expression to the general displeasure that each person feels towards the other.

When you and your partner get bogged down discussing irrelevant details, realize that the argument is no longer about issues (if it ever was), but is about your general frustrations with each other, and that whatever sense of good will that may have existed between you has for the moment disappeared.


(9) Don’t label or name-call.  When we name-call we are momentarily feeling so frustrated, hurt, or un-listened-to that we are willing to resort to almost anything, even to words that a moment’s reflection would tell you will get you exactly the opposite of what you want.  Know at those times you may not care to reflect, and may not care whether your partner becomes angrier and less likely to listen.  Recognize that name-calling is a clue that the intensity of your feelings has exceeded your ability to think through, sort out, and talk about those feelings.

Our ability to sort out and think through our feelings is imperative even in calm moments.  Recognize that quiet name calming; sub-vocalizing those words instead of yelling also demands an ownership of your feelings that have been disturbed.


(10) Don’t dump stored-up complaints.   We are taught to be polite, respectful, and tactful.  Being these things requires suppression of complaints, which sometimes works if the feelings seem to quickly disappear.  If feelings persist, suppression means that complaints are being stored.  Storing leads to dumping.

Expect that you and your partner will dump out stored complaints.  The suppression of complaints is too automatic a process to eliminate entirely.  Appreciate that dumping serves a purpose.  If things were not dumped they may not ever get out at all and be talked about.  This is a far more dangerous practice.



Prefacing Rule.  Prefacing is what goes on before a fight.  There are words we can use when we have a vague sense that what we are about to bring up is not going to go over very well.  Anything we might say to give our listener the idea that we are having difficulty making the complaint, that we are worried the complaint might be provocative, or that we are partly unjustified in having the complaint, or that the complaint is perhaps exaggerated because it has been held in will make it easier to be heard since it is a bid for empathy.




Recovery Rule

Expect yourself to make all the classic errors of communication but devote yourself to recovering from them.  You do this by becoming familiar with how each person makes their errors and the effect these errors have, so that after anger has subsided you can sit down and figure out what happened.



Don Crowe, PhD


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