ABSTRACT

From the perspective of the history of science, the study of forgiveness qualifies as but a child. Arguably, it was “born” only in the late 1980s with the publication of Enright, Santos, and Al-Mabuk (1989). In that paper, the authors provided evidence that reasoning about forgiveness progresses in a manner similar to Kohlbergian moral reasoning. Specifically, these authors found that across the first half of the lifespan, when asked to justify forgiving, people moved from an emphasis on reciprocity and/or social pressure as prerequisites for forgiveness to an understanding that it can be an unconditional expression of ethical principles such as generosity or even love. Since 1989, the field has grown and diversified greatly. We find evidence of that diversity in this chapter, in which I connect forgiveness studies to continuing bonds (CB) in various ways. For example, although many psychologists distinguish forgiveness and reconciliation, as we will see below, the forgiver usually hopes for restoration of a relationship. When the offender is already deceased, perhaps it is more accurate to say the forgiver opens herself to adaptive CB. In addition, we have initial evidence that CB can promote forgiveness, which in turn often provides mental health benefits. In this chapter we explore the concept of forgiveness, reasons to expect it is linked with bonds that reach beyond the grave, what the research suggests about this link, and how this information can be relevant for future research and applied work with bereaved individuals.