Skip to main content

Handbook of Forgiveness Second Edition Book Review by Sutton

Handbook of Forgiveness
Second Edition

Edited by

Everett L. Worthington, Jr. &
    Nathaniel G. Wade (Eds.)

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton, Ph.D.

Let me state at the outset, I recommend the Handbook of Forgiveness, Second Edition to anyone interested in forgiveness studies. And, it belongs on the shelves of university and seminary libraries around the world.


I began following forgiveness studies in 2001. I had returned to academia after a full-time career as a psychologist. I naively thought all professors ought to conduct and publish research. As I was searching for research ideas, I came across a few forgiveness studies. I recognized the name, Ev Worthington—we had become friends as new graduate students at the University of Missouri. After contacting him, I received a massive packet of forgiveness articles. Now my task was to find something that had not been done. Meanwhile, I met Nathaniel Wade—not in person, mind you, but by his connection to forgiveness publications. So, for nearly two decades I have followed forgiveness research and contributed a bit on the fringe.


Worthington and Wade treat us to a massive summary of forgiveness research in 32 chapters, which are organized into eight Parts. This volume (I’ll call it HF2) picks up following the first edition by Worthington in 2005.

I got the paperback version to review for an academic publication. In this blog-post, I’ll provide a general summary along with some thoughts about some of the ideas. If my academic review is published, I’ll add that reference below.


Part 1 The Nature of Forgiveness

Scholars argue about the conceptual definition of forgiveness. The differences are covered in this section. By now there is a consensus that forgiveness is an internal process that changes a complex of motivations toward the people who hurt them.

Let me interject my view of the general model contained in the psychology literature. An offender acts in a way that is perceived by a second person, usually called the victim, as offensive. When the offensive act is not easily brushed aside victims may enter a state called unforgiveness. This state may include feelings of anger and sadness, thoughts of revenge, actions to avoid the offender, acts of retaliation, and efforts to seek justice.

Scholars propose that forgiveness is a process of replacing the complex of negative thoughts, feelings, and motivations (e.g., to avoid the offender or seek revenge toward the offender) with either a neutral or a benevolent complex of thoughts, feelings, and motivations.

There are a few theories about how forgiveness works. The most common theory is stress and coping theory. In this case, the offensive act is a stressful event producing common stress related effects in the offended person. In addition to those mentioned above (thoughts, feelings, behavior) there is a physiological impact and a social relationship impact. Forgiveness acts to reduce the effects of stress and return the offended person to a state of balance. To all of this I would add an impact on identity, which is a construction of the self, which for many can include spirituality.

An alternative theory of forgiveness is interdependence theory, which fits well with interpersonal offenses. Forgiveness is a process that paves the way for relationship repair. Repaired relationships follow a path of reconciliation, which is not a focus of HF2.

As is common in psychological science, human behavior is considered from the perspective of human evolution. We learn how this evolution might make sense in helping people cope with stress as well as the cost-benefit issue of forgiving an offender. In the latter case, a balance needs to be struck between cues that encourage offenders to continue harmful acts versus cues that offer relationship repair based on trust and the expectation the victim still wishes to have a relationship.

Worthington and his colleagues have recently been studying two dimensions of interpersonal forgiveness known as decisional and emotional forgiveness. In some cultures, forgiveness is expected, and people may make a decision to forgive soon after they have been hurt. However, emotional forgiveness takes time. Feelings of anger can resurface fairly quickly. Effectively dealing with emotional forgiveness may involve psychotherapy for those who find themselves worsening their inner distress by holding onto anger toward a person who hurt them years ago.

Part 1 closes with a chapter on ways to measure forgiveness. The major measures are the Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Inventory (TRIM), which addresses three motivational components of revenge, avoidance, and benevolence. The second measure is the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI), which examines changes in cognition, affect, and behavior.  The chapter also includes information on measures of trait forgiveness and the fast-growing field of self-forgiveness.

Part 2 The Psychology of Forgiveness

Some studies have addressed forgiveness in children and youth but more needs to be done. Many studies have examined religious and spiritual (RS) factors related to forgiveness. Forgiveness is consistent with the teachings of many religions and is a command for Christians. In this section, and elsewhere in the book, there are references to Christianity and Islam. There is also a reference to Hinduism, but you will not find Buddhism or Judaism in the index.

Part 3  Close Relationships and Forgiveness

Three chapters update research on forgiveness in families, married couples, and work relationships. Of particular note is the discussion of factors like power, commitment, apology, and amends. A second highlight is the third chapter covering forgiveness in response to acts of infidelity, intimate partner violence, and divorce.

Part 4  Forgiveness, Physiology, Health, and Well-being

 There’s one chapter each providing reviews or work on forgiveness related to physiology, health, and well-being. Forgiveness studies include a range of technologically supported indices of physiological changes linked to forgiveness and unforgiveness. In the future, we may be able to link biological differences to differences in transgressions and forgiveness. Forgiveness is linked to health and mental health in a number of studies thus, the relationships appear reliable. At this point, research is needed to identify how forgiveness might influence general health and well-being. If we can assume that forgiveness relieves or attenuates negative stress effects, it seems reasonable to hope for improvements in overall well-being.

Part 5 Forgiveness in Non-Western Cultures

Five chapters take us from an overview to studies that look at forgiveness in large regions of the globe outside of North America and Europe. We are reminded that forgiveness may look different in cultures that may be described as collectivist compared to those identified as individualistic. This contrast comes up more than once in HF2. Another relevant construct is enemyship, which is an ongoing relationship with features of hatred and malice that might be linked to efforts to interfere with the other person’s progress or well-being. Some writers referred to specific incidents of severe conflict within a region. Forgiveness studies outside of North America and Europe expected to grow considerably in the years ahead.
Part 6 Psychological Interventions to Promote Forgiveness

The bottom line is forgiveness works. The two leading models are the Process model developed by Enright and the REACH model developed by Worthington. The reviews document situations in which these models have been applied. A future need is for increased research on forgiveness in the context of psychotherapy for people with severe mental illness. Self-forgiveness is also reviewed and there is evidence supporting the value of a workbook approach as well as group interventions to reducing the distress experienced by those who have hurt themselves.

Part 7 Societal Issues Involving Forgiveness

A major contribution in this part is new research on intergroup forgiveness. A new scale, Group Forgiveness Scale, shows some promise as well. Another unique context is forgiveness in organizations. The idea of a forgiveness climate is put forward. And variables like power and the concept of power dynamics are important contributions. Another important area is the role of amends in promoting forgiveness. A final chapter in this section deals with peace and reconciliation. I particularly liked this focus because I think something is missing if we forget the potential value of forgiveness to contribute to reconciliation and interpersonal relationships within a society.

Part 8 Drawing the Threads Together

There are two chapters in this final section of HF2. First, an intriguing graphic shows the interrelationships of key forgiveness concepts in research. This provides a look at research at-a-glance. The authors cover five categories, but I was thinking of what is missing. Following are the five categories of studies related to forgiveness.

1 Conceptualization and Measurement
2 Individual and Personality Differences
3 Health and Well-being
4 Dyads, Organizations, and Societies
5 Clinical Intervention

In the graphic, you will find negative emotions like guilt and shame, but you do not find links to positive emotions we might expect when forgiveness works such as happiness and love or at least relief. And there’s no sense of intrapersonal or interpersonal peace.

The final chapter provides an extensive overview with several ideas for future studies.

My Thoughts on the Handbook of Forgiveness, Second Edition

In the Introduction, the editors invite us as readers to consider what might have been missed from the manual. I am inclined to think along these lines anyway, so it was nice to see the editors take a humble stance. In keeping with this attitude, I offer a few thoughts.

1. I am interested in the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality so I would like to see more on RS factors and forgiveness and reconciliation. We often see news stories about clergy abuse. There’s been a lot of news about Catholic priests who abused children, but their priests are not the only offending clergy. Protestant clergy have abused congregants and laypeople have abused people as well. Church doesn’t seem safe anymore. So much work needs to be done on the role of forgiveness in helping abused people move from victim to survivor. And we need to understand about healing communities ripped apart when a leader does so much damage.

2. I was surprised by the lack of studies referring to forgiveness and sexual minorities. Terms like gay, lesbian, or LGBT are not in the index. It’s no secret that sexual minorities have been hurt by many policies as well as hateful language and physical violence. I actually searched PsycInfo and Academic Search Elite and did not find a lot or empirical studies between 2005 and 2020. So, here’s an area in need of more research and likely a chapter in the next handbook.

3. I affirm the importance of paying attention to cultural diversity. I am not sure the particular continent-regional division used in HF2 works. One suggestion I have is looking at cultures of violence because the concept of forgiveness is bound up with the concept of harm. What greater challenge is there to forgive those who have murdered or raped a loved one? The UN has some data on homicide rates, which is a place to start in thinking about a range of high to low violent cultures. Presumably, there is less need to forgive people for serious offenses in cultures where relatively few people are killed, injured, or sexually assaulted. I can only offer hypotheses unless a reader knows some relevant research and posts a response.

4. Worthington mentioned the need for neuroscience studies in his last chapter. I certainly agree. But I am thinking about forgiveness and neuropsychology. Like many clinicians, cognitive assessment was part of a typical workweek. People with different intellectual abilities and memory capacities process the world and relationships differently. Although psychologists are aware of the need to get out of the college classroom when conducting research, there isn’t much focus on intellectual or cognitive diversity and relationship variables like forgiveness.

5. I have wondered about the contribution of Terror Management Theory (TMT) to forgiveness studies. Two studies by Daryl R. Van Tongeren and his team (2013) found that mortality salience (MS) linked to less forgiveness in less committed relationships. Hypothetically, forgiveness may be seen as an anxiety buffer especially for Christians who feel the need to forgive in order to receive God's forgiveness (Matthew 6:15). It would seem MS would elicit increased forgiveness for those who feel close to God. Making things right before death seems like a truism and forgiveness might be a part of that "to do list."TMT is not listed in the index to the handbook and thus may be a fruitful area of new research.


Worthington, E. L., Jr. & Wade, N. G. (eds.). (2019). Handbook of forgiveness:  second edition. New York: Routledge. Available on AMAZON.

 You might also like Chapter 6, Practicing Forgiveness in 

 Living Well: 10 Big Ideas of Faith and a Meaningful Life on AMAZON

 Related Posts


   My Page
   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton
   X   @Geoff.W.Sutton

Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)     
  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton   (PhD)


Popular posts from this blog

Denial of Death and the Meaningful Life- Book Review

  The Denial of Death   by Ernest Becker A Review by Geoffrey W. Sutton The prospect of death, Dr. Johnson said, wonderfully concentrates the mind. The main thesis of this book is that it does much more than that: the idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity—activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.  — Ernest Becker, xvii I completed a recent reading of this old classic yesterday (13 December, 2015) because I was interested in Becker’s contribution to Terror Management Theory, which I find so helpful in understanding the ways U.S. leaders are publicly responding to terrorist activities. Becker’s ideas are more than forty years old and many have not withstood the test of time. However, his basic premise that we deny the reality of death in many ways remains valid

WILLPOWER Setting & Reaching Goals- Book Review by Sutton

WILLPOWER Rediscovering the Greatest    Human Strength By Roy Baumeister & John Tierney Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton I go to a gym, which is crowded in January. Regulars know the early Happy-New-Year commitments to fitness will weaken sometime in February. Roy Baumeister has spent a good part of his career studying self-control. His book, Willpower   written with Tierney,  entertains and informs us with an organized set of findings explaining factors that influence self-control. Two critical factors weaken our judgments: food and sleep. We need glucose and sleep to be at our best when it comes to making wise decisions and marking progress toward our goals. A pretty woman can loosen a man’s grip on his career--we hear these news stories from time to time as one political group takes aim at each other's leaders--men who failed at sexual self-control and sadly blame women for their lack of self-control. Fat shaming happens. T

A Christmas Carol offers lessons in Psychology and Faith A Book Review

A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens A Review by Geoffrey W. Sutton My copy of A Christmas Carol was a gift on Christmas day, 1963. Two Christmases before I had walked the cold, fog-laden, smog drenched streets of Old London with my dad whilst my mother visited with her family. It was a grey day and a grey week. We took turns warming parts of our body by fireplaces here and there. After five years in the U.S. we had returned home to London on the occasion of my maternal grandmother’s death.  Dickens’ story paints a familiar tale textured by my early memories and enriched today by having watched my favourite rendition of A Christmas Carol ( 1984 ) with my wife on Christmas eve. My interest in reviewing the book is not just for a pleasant walk about the old streets of London but I'm motivated by a sense of appreciation for the poetic and colourful artistry with which Dickens plumbs the hopes and fears of humanity. So, follow