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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

The Psychology of Forgiveness


"She hit me first!” “He never said he was sorry!” "She doesn’t care if I forgive her, so why should I?”

From the time we are very small, our interpersonal relationships are based on conflict. But in this edition of Two Guys on Your Head Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about the psychological purpose of forgiveness.

Forgiveness, as Dr. Markman points out, benefits the forgiver. It allows us to get past the wrong we’ve received and move on. If we don’t forgive, we have a hard time forgetting the negative elements of the event, and subsequent interactions are therefore imbued with retribution; it’s hard to start over.

But what if my enemy is not sorry? In fact, that doesn’t really matter from a psychological perspective. You can still reap the benefits of forgiveness, even if your aggressor doesn’t repent. 

The roadblocks we place in the way of forgiveness are often cultural, and even though it may feel like we don’t have a choice in the matter, we do.

We might say, “I’m not going to forgive him until he says he’s sorry.” But this may never happen. So why wait? If we hold on to the pain and refuse to let it go “until,” we are the only ones hurting.

Like Oscar Wilde said, “Forgive your enemies — nothing annoys them so much.”

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
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