Forgiveness is an essential positive response to conflict or negative events that pervade people’s everyday lives. Forgiveness can serve to discharge bitter feelings in relation to an offender, avert cycles of retaliation, and ultimately confer psychological benefits to the forgiving party, as well as the forgiven party where forgiveness is explicit. Since forgiveness involves adopting a positive attitude towards the offender, it leads to improved relations, both intrapersonal and interpersonal. As an approach to conflict, reconciliation involves mutual agreement made by parties previously engaged in a conflict to hold a dialogue about the conflict, express the hurt, show remorse and rebuild the broken relationship. The primary difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is that the former can be one way whereas the latter must involve at least two parties. The two concepts relate in several aspects. In particular, either of them can pave way to the other.
Both reconciliation and forgiveness are approaches to conflict. Forgiveness is a process that entails changing emotions and attitude towards an offender. It involves releasing the feelings of anger and the urge to retaliate (American Psychological Association, 2006). On the other hand, reconciliation is a process that involves reunion of previously hostile parties and their mutual acceptance to adopt positive attitudes and actions towards each other as circumstances may demand (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Forgiveness and reconciliation are related processes that can be used to resolve conflict and repair ruined relationships. The first similarity between forgiveness and reconciliation is deduced from the definition of the two processes. Forgiving entails that the offended party develops a positive attitude toward the transgressor. Reconciliation involves mutual acceptance by the warring parties. This mutual acceptance also encompasses developing positive attitudes towards each other (Staub, Pearlman, Gubin & Hagengimana, 2005).
Secondly, some theories describe reconciliation as a fundamental part of the process of forgiveness. For example, a reconciliatory process could lead to an understanding of circumstances surrounding a conflict, and mutual agreements to seek and maintain peace. Although not always, the mutual acceptance in the process of reconciliation may lead to forgiveness (Staub et al., 2005). Thus, reconciliation may be viewed as an integral part of forgiveness in some instances.
Forgiveness can also be an important component of reconciliation. When forgiving takes place optimally, that is, in reaction to an acknowledgement by the offending parties of their misdeeds and apology for their actions, such forgiveness is likely to promote reconciliation and may be even referred to as a part and puzzle of it (American Psychological Association, 2006). For example, after a bloody conflict where the former victims and the offenders or perpetrators continue living close to each other, for forgiveness to be meaningful and constructive, benefiting the victims and their future relations, mutuality in the forgiveness must be acquired (Staub et al., 2005). In such a situation, forgiveness that does not entail the perpetrators acknowledging their responsibilities and expressing remorse may be detrimental. It may maintain and probably even enhance an imbalance in relations and may be a major contributor to impunity (Staub et al., 2005).
However, forgiveness and reconciliation differ substantially. As previously mentioned, forgiving is widely presented as involving a change in the offended party whereas reconciliation is mutual, that is it involves change in both parties. Forgiveness is an internally invoked process where an individual works through the feelings of bitterness, gains a comprehension of what occurred, reconstructs a sense of safety and lets the resentment go. Thus, the offender is necessarily not part of the forgiving process (Cahn & Abigail, 2014). Therefore, it is possible to forgive a dead person or someone who the victim sees no more, as well as someone who has no intention of asking for forgiveness or apologizing. On the contrary, reconciliation process is interpersonal and implies that two warring parties engage in a dialogue about what happened, exchange views, express the bitterness, listen to each other and show regret and start reconstructing the broken trust. Therefore, reconciliation is a joint venture whereas forgiveness could be one sided (American Psychological Association, 2006). Further, since reconciliation is about creating a mutual acceptance between the parties in conflict, it is a more complicated and more involving process than forgiveness (Solomon & Flores, 2001).
Total forgiveness encompasses both intrapersonal and interpersonal forgiveness, which could be influenced by cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social and spiritual factors (Ashy, Mercurio & Malley, 2010). An example of total forgives is the case when one party willingly and voluntarily cancels a monetary debt owed by another party. By deciding to cancel the debt, the creditor gives what is rightfully owed to him or her without receiving anything in return. The debtor does not need to ask for forgiveness. When true forgiveness takes place, the debt is completely erased, and the creditor's and debtor's obligations are extinguished.
Reconciliation can be illustrated through an infidelity case. The party that suffers betrayal may first want to forgive the other partner. However, reconciliation can only happen if the cheating partner takes responsibility of his or her actions, expresses remorse and asks for forgiveness. In such a way, it may be possible to continue with the relationship if both parties mutually agree to do so. To sum up, it takes two persons to reconcile but only one person to forgive. Forgiveness can happen in the absence of reconciliation (restoration of a broken relationship) if one party is not willing to continue with the relationship (American Psychological Association, 2006).
One of the most important roles of the art forgiveness in enhancing both intrapersonal and interpersonal relations is restoration of trust. Building authentic trust requires intensive focus, commitment, honesty and sincerity in relationships, be it in business, politics or family. Trust is paramount because it yields a sense of satisfaction in the relationship. However, occurrence of conflict may erode the trust. Rebuilding ruined trust is almost a hopeless initiative since the common perception is that the essence of aggression or betrayal is complete destruction of trust while giving way to distrust (Solomon & Flores, 2001).
However, forgiveness is one of the ingredients in possession of every individual to make the rebuilding of broken trust possible. Forgiveness could be either verbally articulated or internal. In the latter case, the victim indicates that he or she has forgiven the offender by, for example, just behaving in a way as if no grudge exists. The victim puts him/herself into a state of mind, in which the offence is no longer viewed as significant. In addition, the victim undertakes some steps to continue the relationship as if not betrayal ever happened. Ideally, the victim forgives and forgets (Solomon & Flores, 2001).
Hatred provoked by offense and unforgiving tendency is likely to escalate the conflict and deter successful conflict resolution. However, forgiveness serves as a means of providing closure with respect to the offense, and prepares a stage for reconciliation. Forgiveness prevents possible use of negative conflict approaches thus allowing the warring parties to escape the cycle of negative reciprocity of vengeance that would lead to further distressed relationships. (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Forgiving gets the victim out of a chronic angry mode. Hurting that follows a conflict comprises an enormous burden to an individual. Intense anger, sadness and inability to be in control of one’s feelings abound. Research shows that genuine forgiving leads to reduced levels of stress, which helps force out anger. In turn, the person creates peace within self and is also able to relate well with other individuals and groups despite the previous conflict (Cahn & Abigail, 2014).
Forgiving others facilitates self-forgiveness, which is a key element to psychological health. Research shows that individuals who seek forgiveness for an offence are more able to forgive themselves. The study also shows that in a theoretical situation, individuals who make amends with those they committed an offense towards have more probability for successful self-forgiving. Failure to forgive one is associated with the feeling of an individual that he or she deserves to feel bad. However, forgiving others gives permission to let go (American Psychological Association, 2006).
The act of forgiveness is also linked with health benefits that translate to psychological health. There is a direct correlation between forgiveness and decreased blood pressure. For example, a research showed that when a victim of a conflict forgave the offender, both parties experienced lower blood pressure and improved psychological functioning. Strikingly, the study also showed that offenders who showed more conciliatory behavior from the victims experienced significantly low blood pressure if compared to those who showed less conciliatory behavior (American Psychological Association 2006).
In summary, forgiveness is a conscious intrinsic process that involves dispelling bitterness, anger and resentment towards the offender or victimizer. It is a deliberate decision to set oneself free from the urge to retaliate in spite of the harm suffered. Forgiveness culminates in the victim adopting a positive attitude towards the offender. The myriad health and psychological benefits that accrue from forgiveness are imperative for healthy intrapersonal and interpersonal relations. Reconciliation is the process of restoring a broken relationship. Forgiveness can, but not necessarily, lead to reconciliation. Essentially, both processes entail embracing positive attitude and behavior towards the offender. The major differences between forgiveness and reconciliation is that forgiveness may be one sided while reconciliation must bring together all the parties of the conflict. Reconciliation necessarily means going back to the ruined relationship, but forgiveness just means letting go negative sentiments towards the offender, without necessarily restoring the broken trust and relationship.